The world is their oyster

Ever wondered if you should try your luck working abroad? We spoke to three women who made vastly different decisions to see what they’ve learnt from their experiences.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Every wondered if you should try your luck working abroad? We spoke to three women who made vastly different decisions to see what they’ve learnt from their experiences.

My Reading Room
Works here

MELISSA CHUA 29, has been working in Singapore since graduating from university. She currently does branding and content strategy.

I’ve been working for slightly over six years now, but never in one place for too long. Before working in my current job, I was in publishing, and before that, banking.

Unlike most of my peers, I took the winding road to where I am today. I lacked the career-mindedness or clear sense of direction that would have been required to climb the corporate ladder. In fact, I was still trying to figure out which ladder I even wanted to be on. While most would make some lifestyle changes when faced with existential crises, I chose to face my uncertainties head-on. 

I realised that being in a strange land, surrounded by strange people, wouldn’t help me figure out what to do with my life. I didn’t need distractions, but clear direction. In short, working overseas couldn’t have cured what ailed me, so I chose to stay in Singapore. What Singapore offers is an emotional support system, free housing and laundry services (if you still stay with your parents, that is), and (marginally more) freedom from the casual racism or sexism that gets thrown around so readily in other parts of the world. Of course, I would consider working overseas if the offer was attractive enough. But before I do that, I want to make sure I get to call the shots when it comes to my package. And so I need to build enough experience and expertise in my field, which will require a bit more time.”

My Reading Room

Works overseas

JANICE LEE 27, has been living in Stockholm, Sweden since 2015. She’s currently doing business-to- business sales in the travel industry.

I was stuck in a bit of a rut in Singapore, and decided to take a chance living in the same country as my partner.

It was challenging to look for a job because of the language barrier, and it was hard to compete with local graduates who speak Swedish, have done internships locally and are Master’s degree holders (it’s very common, since education is free in Sweden). In addition, because of the strict labour laws, companies don’t usually fire people. Hence, many companies are very wary when hiring.

I registered myself for Swedish classes to show potential employers, and also tried to network for jobs. I didn’t get called for many interviews in spite of the many applications I sent out, but was lucky enough to have found favour with my current employer, who appreciated my foreign background and Mandarin-speaking abilities. One of the biggest differences between Singapore and Stockholm is the work-life balance. We’re allowed flexible work hours so we can schedule our work around our personal appointments. Working overtime is quite rare and, for the most part, I’ve been able to get off work on time to go to the gym or meet up with friends.

There’s a lot of trust between employers and employees, and we don’t have to get an MC when ill. I’ve actually only been sick once in the last two years, so it must say something about the worklife balance! The leave system is also very generous, and it’s common practice to take two to three weeks off during the summer and winter holidays. Working overseas has taught me how to market myself better. In Singapore, it’s easy to fall back on things like your education background to impress others. I’ve also learnt that work is just a part of my life and that it shouldn’t consume me. I do plan on moving back eventually, just because it’s home and family is irreplaceable. If there’s an opportunity, I’d definitely consider staying in the travel industry or doing something related to tourism.”

“One of the biggest differences between Singapore and Stockholm is the work-life balance.”

My Reading Room

Worked overseas,works here now

AVRIL CHUA 32, worked in LA for a few years before moving back here. She’s currently an Art Director.

I moved to LA when I was 18 and lived there for eight years.

My dad used to work in the US for six months of the year, so he suggested I move there to finish school (at the ArtCenter College of Design) and gain a different experience. I started out in the advertising industry and am still in the same field. What struck me about working in LA was that I got to work with people from many different nationalities. The work culture there is a lot more open, and the people aren’t afraid of conflict. They’d rather bring any disagreements out in the open and sort things out face-to-face than let things slide or simmer down.

They’re also more open to forming close relationships by sharing about their personal lives and holding house parties. It’s common for colleagues to get to know one another’s partners well. However, there are also a lot more all-nighters there than there are here, at least in my industry. When I first moved back to Singapore a couple of years ago, I had a bit of a culture shock. I found that some of my colleagues weren’t as open and genuine, and that the conversations with my coworkers in LA were more meaningful. Complaining about other people seems to be a favourite pastime here. I decided to move back here because I wanted to be closer to family, and I’ve been very happy being back. Seeing Singapore with a new lens has made me appreciate it a lot more. I’d love to work overseas again, but not anytime soon.”

“Complaining about other people seems to be a favourite pastime here.”