Come Together
Lavonne Cheah 
From left: Norihisa Taguchi, Kairzhan Sovetzhan, Saroni Ghosh, Luke Brandon, Wu Di, Abigail Hail, Ashley Jerome Pierre, Hasan Alnajjar and Safinee Samsul

Nine strangers from different parts of the world were brought together in Langkawi for nearly two weeks last November to learn about one another’s country, culture and lifestyle.

ISC Innovators, an integrated strategic communications agency, collaborated with the Langkawi Development Authority (LADA) on Differences Aside, a nine-episode web series on understanding and appreciating our differences. The series can be viewed on YouTube.

“With Differences Aside, we want to show that we can start a conversation, share our views and be open about our differences. We want to show that real tolerance makes this world a better place,” says Paul Lingan, executive creative director of ISC Innovators.

ISC Innovators was the agency that conceived the Malaysia: Truly Asia campaign in 1999, which gave a strong and distinctive image of Malaysia as a must-visit destination in Asia.

“We hope that our nine visitors’ unique bonding immersion in Langkawi and Malaysia’s history, culture, cuisine and way of life show the world the true value of putting our differences aside,” chimes in Datuk Azizan Noordin, CEO of LADA.

The nine participants, of different ages and professions, were Luke Brandon from Australia, Wu Di from China, Saroni Ghosh from India, Abigail Hall from the US, Ashley Pierre from the UK, Kairzhan Sovetzhan from Kazakhstan, Hasan Alnajjar from the UAE, Norihisa Taguchi from Japan and Safinee Samsul from Malaysia.

None of the foreign participants had visited Malaysia before and hence, were excited to discover more

To be chosen, they had to be able to speak English, be open-minded, adventurous and active on social media. “They were chosen from countries that Langkawi wants to attract more visitors from. More importantly, we needed to make sure that the different continents are represented so that there was a good mix of races, cultures and lifestyles,” explains Paul.

None of the foreign participants had visited Malaysia before and hence, were excited to discover more. Over the span of nine episodes, they learned about Malaysia’s multi-cultural make-up and were awed with the friendliness of its people. Other than learning about one another, the nine also discovered that although they come from different backgrounds, they shared many things in common.

“We did not put together the different races from Malaysia because we felt we needed a bigger international stage to show that we’re able to live peacefully through acceptance and understanding of our differences. We’re not just talking the talk but also walking the talk,” Paul adds.

He wanted an initiative that would hopefully earn Malaysia the world’s attention, admiration and respect, as well as one that served as a breath of fresh air in an uncertain world.

“We all have friends, classmates, colleagues and neighbours of different races and cultures in Malaysia. We enjoy each other’s food, company, laughter and friendship. We have to keep this harmony and celebrate it. It’s the only way forward. Of course, every country has its share of intolerant and prejudicial people but, hopefully, their numbers are waning.”

He hopes Differences Aside could spread an inspiring message to the world and start a conversation about understanding and appreciating our differences and working together to ensure harmony with actions, programmes, policies and even laws.

As a multi-cultural nation, Paul opines that we should always remember and appreciate the good things that we have now and always have the courage, determination and discipline to never stop improving ourselves. “Malaysia is not a perfect country but we should always strive to have a better life. For the sake of a better country and a better world, understanding and tolerance are key.”

“We can learn from these nine strangers who came and lived together for 12 days. At the end of their stay, they not only became friends but it’s safe to say they became a family. We can do the same if we make a sincere effort to put our differences aside. And wouldn’t it be great if the spark for a better world came from Malaysia?” he smiles.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 269.