There has been so much negativity against foreign talent recently that I wanted to remind myself of the positive experiences I had while working for a multinational company in Singapore.

I dug into my files and found a little 2010 video that brought back so many happy memories! As I watched the video, I reflected on all the little blessings that I have received while working in an international firm alongside local and global talents who were adventurous enough to make Singapore their second home.

BLESSING #1: I WAS GAINFULLY EMPLOYED

Right now, with the economy looking bleak and people losing their jobs due to Covid-19, many Singaporeans are worried over making ends meet.

Back in the 2000s, I was lucky that I got a good job in a global bank within a month of returning to Singapore from my post graduate studies. I didn’t have to worry about being jobless, and was spared the anxiety of job hunts and multiple interviews.

BLESSING #2: PERSONAL GROWTH

Throughout my career, I was given opportunities for growth. Of course, I had fought hard for what I wanted. These chances didn’t drop onto my lap because of my connections or because I am a Singaporean or assumed to be a foreign talent (due to my Thai surname).

I still remember being benchmarked against a global talent pool, which meant that we were constantly stretched and challenged. I am not going to lie – there were plenty of tears, frustrations and stress, not to mention the insanely long hours as we painstakingly learnt how to work with each other and cope with the workload.

To be honest, while it was tough, it was one of the best times of my life! But there was also so much laughter, joy and love! I truly enjoyed every single moment – the good and bad.

My personal growth was only made possible with the support and guidance of the incredible mix of global talent that we had – from the Philippines, China, UK, India, Malaysia, Japan and of course Singapore!

Singaporean eating Nandos in London
Fun fact: In the second month of my stay in London in 2005, on Valentine’s Day, I had my first taste of Nando’s famous peri-peri chicken (the restaurant chain opened its first eatery in Singapore in 2010). Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart

BLESSING #3: INTERNATIONAL EXPOSURE & EXCHANGE

Of course when the team was first assembled, we were initially skeptical about each other. For locals like me, the thought of “Why do we need to hire foreigners when Singaporeans can do the job” did cross our minds.

Operationally, how would we work? Will our working styles clash? Do we even speak the same language – do our words in English mean the same in the different cultures? When we go out for team outings, what food should we go for?

But as time went by (and with better hindsight now), I realised that it wasn’t just about being able to do the job. It was about building a team that complemented each others’ strengths.

Building the team was about creating a rojak of different flavours through a potluck of diverse views that each and every one of us brought to the table. It’s almost like having all the best local hawkers and international restaurants within walking distance from your own house!

Watching a soccer match in London
Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart

Oh oh! And being part of an MNC, occasionally, we got to travel overseas – to London, Glasgow, Spain and the US – for short and long-term work stints. Can you imagine if our shores were closed to international brands and companies, and we all worked for only local companies? How many of us would be able to experience such globetrotting experiences? Answer? None or close to none.

BLESSING #4: EMPATHY, RESPECT AND GRACIOUSNESS

I still remember when I first visited the London office in 2005 and we were naively wondering why our colleagues seemed cool and not too welcoming towards us. At that time, we thought that our jobs were created due to global expansion of the brand. Little did we realise that several jobs at the headquarters had been affected due to the strategic outsourcing strategy to create “higher-value” hubs.

In other words, they suspected that we were the “foreign talent” here to take away their jobs!

Singaporeans meet international colleagues in London
Meeting with international colleagues in London in 2005. Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart

When we appreciated the reality of the business situation, we were empathetic and respectful towards the predicament of our UK colleagues. With that, we were able to build trust and forge strong friendships while ensuring professionalism in building the company’s regional hub in Singapore.

From cool and distant, my London colleagues became friends and embraced us unconditionally. It is to their credit that they acknowledged that it was the firm’s outsourcing strategy, and not foreigners like us trying to ”take away their jobs”.

Company gathering with UK Colleague
Our UK colleague-now-turned-friend came to Singapore to train us in September 2008 and we introduced him to our local makan culture. He was gracious to impart all his knowledge to us so that we could do our jobs well, even though he was at risk of losing his. Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart

That experience 15 years ago has proved to be invaluable to me now, as it has taught me to be empathetic and respectful of global talents joining our local workforce today.

Everyone is simply looking to make our way in the world. Business decisions, especially those made on a macro level, should not influence how we treat our colleagues personally. To quote an oft-overused phrase: “It’s not personal; it’s business”.

Yes, some foreigners did come to Singapore in search of better job opportunities, but if we as locals want to work at a multinational company, we need to be able to compete on an international standard in a global labour marketplace.

Other stories you might like

On the other hand, there have been instances where my foreign colleagues had little say in their posting to Singapore – they would have otherwise lost their jobs back home if they did not accept the move. We needed to understand that the pie was big enough for all – so we learnt to co-exist respectfully and graciously.

So when Singapore became no longer inexpensive to operate in, we were able to be just as gracious as our UK colleagues as we embraced the firm’s decision to outsource our jobs to another “higher value hub” in Asia. There were no hard feelings – because we understood that it was just business and nothing personal.

BLESSING #5: FRIENDS ALL OVER THE WORLD

I must say that the most valuable thing I got out of my years in the company are still the global friendships made in Singapore and in the other countries. We learnt how to coexist with each other and appreciated the diversity of our cultures.

For example, from my British colleagues, I learnt more about football, pub culture and beer, while each visitor to Singapore was warmly welcomed with a durian-tasting induction!

And the best thing was despite their half-joking complaints about having to eat “smelly fruit”, we are all still good friends today!

Foreigner trying durian in Singapore
When a colleague came to Singapore to train us in 2010, we took him to try durian and he did it in style – eating it with a fork! Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart

BLESSING #6: SINGAPORE’S ATTRACTIVENESS

Due to the lack of natural resources, attracting foreign investors and talent here would have been impossible without Singapore’s national strategy. I cannot think of any better solution to bring in more global employment opportunities for our people in Singapore, and at the same time, put the little red dot on the global map.

When I asked my UK boss back then why the company decided to invest in Singapore, he shared that the fight was very close but Singapore was favoured over Hong Kong as the company’s regional hub in Asia due to:

(1) its political stability,

(2) the many foreign-investor-friendly policies, and

(3) the incredible highly educated talent pool available in Singapore with a “can-do” attitude. Singaporeans, he said, were not as picky as the “seasoned” Hong Kongers and had fewer tendencies to job-hop.

To top it off, the living conditions in Singapore were attractive for many foreigners.

Not many people know that 3,000 Singaporeans would have been without a job then if this foreign company had not decided to set up shop here.

BLESSING #7: MOVING TOGETHER AS ONE

Everyone across the world has been hit by the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are many reasons that we should adopt a Singapore-first mentality, especially in this new Covid-19 normal.

It is easy to take refuge in insularity, just like many other countries that have adopted an inward-looking strategy.

However, we still need to be grateful and gracious to those who have come to our shores and who have come to regard our little red dot as their home away from home.

Times like these, I tell myself “一定要饮水思源,不能忘恩负义” (yi ding yao yin shui si yuan, bu neng wang en fu yi). Loosely translated, it means “we should remember the source of the water, and not forget the hand that helped you”.

Local or foreigner, talented or not at all; not everyone is good, and not everyone is bad. Let’s be slow to shout but quick to listen. No doubt that there are gaps to be addressed and improvements to be made. Let’s work together as a nation and not lash out at people who – no matter where they come from – have also contributed to the economic growth of Singapore.

If you like what you read, follow us on Twitter and Telegram to get the latest updates.

Top Image: Drinks with colleagues in London in June 2008. These folks are the most amazing people I have ever met and we still remain good friends till now! Image source: Li Woon Churdboonchart