Alumni Spotlight: Vongvieng Saensathit
Originally from Laos, Vongvieng Saensathit came to Japan in 2000 to study international relations at APU. After graduating, she went on to Columbia University (New York, USA) on a Fulbright Fellowship for a Master’s Degree in international affairs.
Having worked in international NGOs and the Lao Government / Permanent Mission of the Lao PDR to the United Nations, she is now Special Assistant to the UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, stationed in New York City, the United States.
We caught up with Ms. Saensathit recently to hear more about her time at APU and what led her to a career in the United Nations.
Please tell us about what kind of work you are currently involved in and the nature of your work:
I am currently working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). My office, the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, is responsible for delivering development projects in 36 countries in Asia and the Pacific. As the UN’s global development network, our core mission is focused on supporting these countries in achieving their national development aspirations and sustainable development. We help developing countries to achieve the simultaneous eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion.
I usually work under extreme pressure in a politically sensitive and challenging environment. The nature of my job requires me to be on call 7 days a week, handle multiple responsibilities, and fulfill a great deal of assignments in tight deadlines. I always have to go the extra mile to make sure that all missions are successfully and timely accomplished.
I really love my work and enjoy what I am doing. It indeed gives me the biggest sense of fulfillment and motivation knowing that my efforts have somehow contributed to helping people build better lives, creating employment opportunities, and giving people access to education, health care, sanitation, energy services and justice. My organization’s mission is certainly a rewarding undertaking, and I am thankful to be a small part of it.
Why did you initially want to study at APU?
It had always been in my interests to attend an international university. I love to learn and experience cultural diversity. APU offered a great learning environment and the College of Asia Pacific Studies also offered an interesting curriculum and concentration that matched my academic interest. For these reasons, I decided to pursue my undergraduate studies at APU after winning a Japanese Grant Aid for Human Resource Development Scholarships (JDS) to study in Japan.
How do you think you grew during your time at APU?
My time at APU was a significant part of my education and a unique life-changing experience that helped me grow both academically and personally. APU gave me the required skills and knowledge to pursue my dream career at the United Nations. Working closely with students of different nationalities, languages, and perspectives helped to strengthen not only my communication and networking skills, but also my understanding of other cultures and traditions as well as my ability to think globally, critically, and logically.
What were your priorities while studying at APU?
(1) Study was always my top priority.
I tried to learn from as many professors as possible and took all the courses that seemed to give me the knowledge I needed for my desired career. I also loved spending time reading books in the APU library. I think the APU library offered limitless learning potential. It has a wide variety of excellent books and resources which all APU students should take full advantage of.
(2) I participated in multicultural student clubs, circles, and community exchange events.
These experiences not only brought me joy and leisure but also helped me expand my circle of friends, opened my eyes to qualities in people, and offered me invaluable life lessons.
(3) I tried to make as many friends from as many countries as possible.
Good networking and communication skills are the keys to success. I also developed true friendships at APU. Many of the contacts that I made during my time at APU were instrumental to my career decisions and further education.
(4) I always looked for interesting exchange programs, study tours, and conferences/seminars.
One of the most memorable experiences that I had was the participation in a study tour to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a buffer zone between North and South Korea established by the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War. Having witnessed firsthand the political and social tension at the DMZ, I deeply understood the impacts of war, the importance of peace, and the role of the United Nations.
Do you have a message for prospective students thinking about studying at APU?
Keep dreaming and have the courage to follow your heart and passion. No matter what gets in your way, never give up doing what you love and never be afraid of making mistakes because mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. I have learned from my own experience that all dreams are possible as long as we have unwavering determination and work hard for it. And remember that good education is the passport to making your dreams a reality, and that is why I'm always thankful for everything APU taught me.
Your experience is truly inspiring. Thank you, Vongvieng, for sharing your story with us!