Travel Broadens the Mind
by Byron Karuppiah, Legal Counsel, Legal Department


Travel, it broadens the mind – one of the many tropes put out there without a passing thought. But, what if one only travelled to work? Will we still subscribe to the notion of a broader mind when confined to repetitive days of hotel room and meeting room only?

These are some of the questions that my work gives me the privilege of answering for myself. I came from an international arbitration background, so I had already seen the insides of the airline lounges and the perfectly appointed Tribunal rooms. However, none of the above was strictly relevant to the experience which was to follow as Counsel for IPOS’ International work.

My calendar is filled with penned in dates (firmed up at the last minute), my inbox filled with email addresses with foreign domain names (I recall once trying to fill in my Russian counterpart’s email address, but being unfamiliar with Cyrillic script, copying and pasting it in), my news feed is of the political situation in various countries across the globe, and the clock on my phone displays the various time zones I communicate with. Now, that’s an international context even before leaving my office seat!

Then comes the actual negotiation rounds, which has seen me bounce between Singapore and Latin America and around the Asia Pacific region. True, we hardly leave the meeting room, but I suppose one is still aware that a Shaolin temple lies in the horizon. But, in that moment, one ceases to think of the outside, instead it is the political climate and legal regime of the countries of your 15 counterparts which you are trying to parse. In some form it can be seen as a crash course on other countries. Not just legal regime, or political situation, but culture as well. When, surrounded by delegates from all across, you find that you can no longer rely on social shortcuts familiar to only your countrymen. Perhaps that stray “lah” confuses your lunch partner, but then it also leads to a laugh and then perhaps a tale of a country specific medical syndrome (look up Paris Syndrome). In this melting-pot, one is forced to listen, and to engage. Passively meandering through the rounds just will not work. These meetings are like the great world expositions, but indoors. So, does travel for work broaden the mind?

As an aside, I watched my first Australian Football Match as a consequence of the enthusiasm for this rather remote sport by my Australian counterpart, while at a dinner in Bangkok.

In the thick of negotiations (ASEAN and friends; with Byron in the middle)