Experiences from the 39th St Gallen Symposium

I had been trying to write a post on the St Gallen Symposium, but I had so many things to say that it was hard to write anything at all. I think whatever I remember right now is what will stay with me for a long time. Everything else is either lost or hidden in my memory.

First about the symposium. It brought together 200 students from 68 countries along with a couple of hundred high quality business delegates and university professors. The idea is to create an atmosphere for debate and exchange of ideas between qualified and important stakeholders on an important world theme. This year was the 39th symposium and the topic was ‘Revival of political and economic boundaries’. The organizers pay for all the expenses of the traveling students. It is a free trip to Switzerland with no strings attached. Just write the essay.

Hanging out before the conference.

Hanging out before the conference.

Because they can

Because they can

Most students were accommodated in apartments of University of St Gallen students or in a youth hostel. My host was exceptionally accommodating and that made my experience very pleasant. I can’t thank him enough or stop talking about his wonderful thatched house.

The beautiful house my host lives in

The beautiful house my host lives in

I really loved the internationalism of the entire conference. The student participants all hailed from different backgrounds which created opportunities for lively dinner table discussions and debates, in addition to learning more about different cultures. And all of them had qualified through an essay competition which meant they were very smart, especially when it came to economics and business, which was the major focus of the symposium. I was in the mini-club of engineers and scientists at the symposium and in the smaller club of non-academically inclined. Most students were pursuing economics, political science, international relations, business, law, etc. Since I hardly have any friends who are in similar disciplines by virtue of interest, I enjoyed their company. In fact I felt they were my peers compared to my Pilani classmates, since I have very few friends I can have a stimulating discussion with on politics, energy or economics. Towards the end of the conference most of us agreed that an university that consists only of the symposium attendees would be an amazing place to study in! I will miss the people I talked to and learnt so much from a lot. Also a friend from Japan who till the symposium was planning for a masters in biotechnology, decided to instead get a masters in economics. That is the kind of influence this conference can have on lives!

Eating together

Eating together

Good old coffee and conversations in the sunshine

Good old coffee and conversations in the sunshine

One very comforting truth I realized there was that we all might have been from completely different cultures and value systems, but we all had so much in common; mutual respect, curiosity, passion for knowledge and genuinely trying to make this world better. Me and a French student had surprisingly so much in common not only in the way we thought but also in movies, music, websites or books we loved. The world really is such a small village. And for the first time I was actually finding a practical use for all the random trivia that I have stuck in my head. For example just being able to recollect the capital of Mongolia or the flag of Portugal is such an ice-breaker and comfort builder. I was very surprised by the amount of knowledge people had about India and their interest in the country. Also a few of them had traveled in India. My substitute for lack of traveling outside the country, was a fantastic recollection of country capitals, personalities from lots of countries.

One of the fun pre-conference activities

One of the fun pre-conference activities

Not sure whats happening here

Not sure what's happening here

BRIC citizens :)

BRIC citizens 🙂

The quality of the conference itself was outstanding. They had a wide gamut of topics for discussion in either the keynotes or in the smaller special sessions. Topics covered themes of financial crisis, energy, government regulation, emerging economies, politics, automobile and aircraft industry, BoP, etc. It had something for everybody. With the financial crisis on everybody’s mind, there was quite a bit of focus on it. But it also meant that not too many peopel were over-optimistic or arrogant with their thoughts. And also students were the loudest mouths in the Q&A sessions. Perhaps the business leaders wanted some fresh ideas, so they were interested to listen. Not all sessions satisfied me, but some surprised, while others excited me. I listened to all energy sessions carefully, and though I was disappointed with a few answers to my questions, over all I got a lot of perspective on what my career could be and future of energy for the world. I would suggest going through the videos of the symposium to get bites of the sessions. 

One of the keynote speakers talking about oil security

One of the special sessions

One of the special sessions

About 20% of the time was dedicated to Q&A, which the students just loved

About 20% of the time was dedicated to Q&A, which the students just loved

Finally I can’t help, but feel inspired by the ISC team which organized the entire conference. 24 undergraduates leading 300 others pulled off the entire conference, with a budget of certainly a few million USD. I’ve attended the Fortune Global Forum 2007, which had some of the most famous businessmen of the world and I can tell you organization-wise, this was way better. Everything was well planned and the students were friendly, calm and helpful. There was hardly a glitch! And my room was much better than the 27K INR-per-night suite at a 7star hotel. I was surprised that they had hired a few ex-airforce men to teach the committee how to handle stress!


One of the volunteers for the Food&Beverages team

One of the volunteers for the Food&Beverages team

They had these cute cars branded with the symposium logos to drive people around

They had these cute cars branded with the symposium logos to drive people around

They even dressed up in the cultural dress of the country they were serving food from. Here being taught the right way to serve something by the chef.

They even dressed up in the cultural dress of the country they were serving food from. Here being taught the right way to serve something by the chef.

So in brief about the symposium:

1. Its a free trip to Switzerland

2.  Its as international as you would want it to be

3. Brilliant speakers and sessions on business, economics, and politics

4. Posh treatment and hospitality

5.  One of the best experiences you would have as a student

6. And it is a lot of fun

I am applying again next year and I see no reason why you shouldn’t. It is totally worth the pain you would go through writing the essay.

ps: Ah and one last thing about my essay. I was reading essays of a few people I met at the symposium and compared to theirs mine looks so mediocre. Not in terms of facts or my style of writing, but rather in terms of actually contributing to the dialogue and discussion of the theme. Mine reflects the most obvious view point, which is decreased Globalization, without presenting any good case in its favor. A very journalistic account of things, perhaps I should have spent more time on making my thoughts clearer. I am glad that there are others who’ve got optimistic ideas for the direction the world should move in. I’ve personally always been quite libertarian in terms of how indviduals in a country should be treated, but I’ve been more leftist, inclining towards increased regulations in cross-border affairs. I don’t think this is against the spirit of economic Globalization.

10 Responses to “Experiences from the 39th St Gallen Symposium”

  1. May 28, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Amazing read. Great to see you that you had a whale of a time.

  2. 3 rahul
    February 3, 2010 at 2:27 am

    Do You need to be a graduate to apply for this symposium??I an currently pursuing my undergraduate degree and my application was declined saying that I have a bachelor’s degree..then how come u were able to do so..

    • 4 Abhishek
      February 3, 2010 at 2:39 am

      Till last year undergraduates were eligible. They unfortunately changed the eligibility criteria this year. Most of the delegates were already graduate students and I guess they decided to remove the undergraduate demographic completely. Did you submit a finished essay?

  3. 5 rahul
    February 3, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Yes I submitted a finished essay nd got to know later that I was not eligible…

  4. 6 rahul
    February 3, 2010 at 2:48 am

    Did you submit this tym..

    • 7 Abhishek
      February 3, 2010 at 2:59 am

      Nope. I had been informed about the new eligibility rules. I would love to read your essay if you don’t mind sharing it. My email is nayak.abhishek at gmail

  5. 8 Carlos
    March 6, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Hello Abhishek, it was really interesting to read about how this experience was for you.
    Today I received an e-mail confirming that I was selected for this years Symposium, so I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to get the most out of it.

    • 9 Alok
      March 22, 2010 at 4:40 am

      Hi Abishek,

      Thanks for your thoughts on last year’s symposium. Like Carlos, I too will be attending the upcoming symposium in Switzerland. If you have any thoughts to share, I would appreciate hearing them.

      Carlos – I look forward to meeting you in May.

  6. 10 Ra
    December 7, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Hi there,
    i was quite touched by your essey on skin color.
    i met a guy from delhi yesterday and while talking about the fact that ive grownup in hyd he made some silly gult jokes. which irritated me to no end since most of my best friends are from andhra pradesh. so i thought i should google to see if something like that exists in hindi slang or he was just making things up.
    am glad to say am not meeting this guy again 🙂

    Good luck with whatever you are doing

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