I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had just arrived in Bangkok to finish my business degree. I stepped out of the airport, the heat consumed me, and I entered a taxi to start the journey of a lifetime.

I had never been so inspired.

Everywhere I turned, there was something else to write about, something else to think about, something else to ponder. My mind was working about 100 miles an hour. I walked down the street just smiling. Soaking it all in.

I didn’t want the feeling to stop.

Living, breathing and getting under the skin of another culture is such a wonderful opportunity. Not only do you start to really appreciate the idiosyncrasies of that place, but also you start to see other ways of doing things.

You start to see new trends, different needs and demands.

The end of 2014 saw the completion of four more fascinating placements with our brilliant TIE Alumni situated around the world – this time Malawi, Zambia and Brazil.

And with them, we got another window into the lives, cultures, and trends in those places.

But we also wanted you to benefit from their new perspectives.

Keep reading for 4 insights that could impact future briefs, in Lorna, Yewande, Milla and Sam’s own words:

Lorna Burt (Leo Burnett), Greenroot Finance, Malawi

I’ve written about this on my blog, but for me one of the biggest questions being here has raised has been around the long-term effectiveness of traditional development attitudes. What I’ve seen is the erosion of the private sector, and with it the agency, control and responsibility that comes with entrepreneurialism and the competitiveness of a capitalist economy. This is largely because development agencies of all descriptions have made their presence felt in every aspect of Malawian society, handing out food, building roads, providing doctors, teachers, farm equipment and expertise. They’ve filled the vacuum that could be filled by Malawian businesses and people. And instead relegated local people to beneficiaries. For me there is no doubt that, and whether this is truly the right thing or not I don’t know but I do think it is inevitable, Malawi’s future prosperity relies on their ability to compete on the economic world stage, where they will be judged by international standards – they will need the skills, the work ethic and the infrastructure to compete or at least work efficiently with the Chinese, the Americans, Europe. For me, this means development agencies’ roles need to shift from providing hand outs to supporting entrepreneurialism. Supporting Malawians in their own initiatives rather than providing ready-made Western-run programmes, and providing the education, advice and even funds to help kick-start them. I think Oxfam had it right, too long the West has been giving Africa the fish that’ll feed them for a day. The time has come to teach them how to fish instead.

Yewande Sokan (WPP), ActionAid, Brazil

I think a shift in the balance of power globally is inevitable. I think this is probably a good thing for countries that aren’t in the West. I think technology is allowing many developing nations to take leaps as opposed to steps when it comes to their economic development, however rule of law, effective infrastructure, basic universal healthcare and security can’t be overlookied. I don’t think people necessarily want to live like people in the West, I’m not sure the West’s lifestyle is all that attractive. I think above anything, people want to live in a safe environment, where they can raise their children, send them to school, put good food on their table, afford the roof over their heads and actively worship and take part in society should they wish to do so…and have a little extra disposable income for entertainment/a treat now and again. I think everything else is above and beyond and most of the time, doesn’t add much to base levels of happiness. People just want to live at peace.

Milla Chaplin (WPP), CPP, Brazil

Something that has really struck me here is the strength of cultural, state and national pride. While infrastructure and sanitation etc are crucial to the development of the region, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage are equally important. Starting with what a region has at its heart, and building on that, will hopefully ensure that a sense of community and local spirit can thrive as development occurs. Trying to impose alternative culture and ways of living would dilute the spirit of Pernambuco.

Samantha Miller (Grey New York), Barefeet Theatre, Zambia

Western ideals are very prevalent amongst the emerging middle class in Zambia. The malls in Zambia have western clothes and western food stores and western movies, but they refuse to move away from Zambian culture entirely. Popular music here is still very Zambian too. The people of Zambia want political and financial security. BUT ultimately in Zambia, people just want enough. Not all people, but most people just want enough education to get a good job, they want enough food to keep their family happy, they want only what they think will improve their lives. Here it is not about excess.