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The Big Move

Boat Quay Singapore

I guess many of us harbour thoughts of moving to another country to work at some point in our career. If, like me, you always thought it was something that only happened to other people, you may be pleasantly surprised to find one day that it is your turn to get that call. For me it was late 2017 and just another day in the university office.

My mobile phone buzzed and showed an acquaintance calling. I accepted the call and after the usual polite exchanges, the caller got down to business and explained the interruption to my day. I soon realised I was being offered the opportunity to be considered for a senior position in a private institution in Singapore. Yes, that’s right, no-one says, ‘we are offering you this job’ – it’s more like, ‘would you like to be considered for this post?’ At that point, your mind starts to go into overdrive, and you start to miss crucial parts of the conversation. I recall saying something along the lines of, ‘well I’d really need to speak to my wife about this’, subtext – ‘I couldn’t possibly decide this on my own.’

And so, I did, that night when I got home. It’s strange when discussing an offer like this as it’s not the same as applying for a new job in the same city or even country. It’s a move that’s nearly 7,000 miles away. So over dinner that night my wife and I started to talk over the pros and cons of such a move and then began writing up a list of questions as we realised we might be serious about making this, what would be, a huge move for us. What might we need to consider? Well, money is important and even though an overseas move may sound like a large uplift in salary there’s also other factors to be considered. Local taxes? Yes, reasonable in Singapore but no automatic pension, so savings would be important. What about accommodation, food and transport? Phew, early investigations showed that renting a relatively small two-bedroomed condo apartment would be expensive and buying a car simply out of the question. Luckily food is generally reasonable unless visiting any of the many more upmarket dining facilities, but more of that later. We were still at the feasibility stages!

I recall the next couple of weeks going by in a bit of a blur with constant thoughts of the potential big move never far from my mind and seemingly the only topic of conversation across the dinner table. I imagine that while our wine consumption during these mealtimes probably also exceeded prescribed norms, it was fun at the time. Talking about it though definitely helps and we chatted it over with our family and importantly with my elderly mother who was immediately positive and urged me to take the opportunity. Eventually there comes a point where one must either discard the option or proceed (as I did) and after two interviews I was provided with a formal offer of engagement. I had been with my previous employer for a substantial part of my career, and it was a nervous day writing up the notice of resignation. I suppose there is the thought of employment safety and security, solid pension and lengthy annual leave, working with great people, amongst other considerations that I realised I was giving up, but you know, deep down I was confident that I was doing the right thing. Hard to pinpoint but it just felt right.

Three months’ notice felt like a long stretch initially but suddenly it was the last day and saying goodbye to a lot of close academic pals was perhaps one of the hardest parts of leaving the university for the last time. It was two weeks before Christmas 2017 and luckily with the festivities to celebrate, there was little time to over think the move in the first week of January. Before I knew it, I was there in Singapore.

After a few days in a hotel, I also moved into my apartment in Jervois Road, only a few miles from work and the city centre. Whilst it was expensive and liberated a fair chunk of my salary, I was compensated by a huge swimming pool just ten steps from my veranda and a five-minute walk to the local shops and bus stop. But it’s the small things that take up time when moving to a new country. From setting up a local phone account, bank account, home facilities, internet and furnishings, travel card to just finding your way around, it all takes time and effort. One of the great things I found in Singapore though was that the transport infrastructure was amazingly efficient and inexpensive, and I quickly managed to find my way around on the bus and the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) rail system.

After a few days it was time to get into work and I was excited to meet my new colleagues in the school. Even though my academic team was generally much younger than I was, I was bowled over by their enthusiasm to welcome this stranger into their midst. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunities to share and help develop teaching teams and working within the Singapore private education system was a rewarding experience for me during my time there. As ever, there are differences in approach between different countries’ rules and parameters for teaching delivery but as educators, we regularly need to adapt to changing and challenging developments. I do believe though that the disciplines, ethics and norms that were already deeply embedded within me as an academic helped to fortify me during periods when things did not go so well.

So, would I recommend taking up the offer of an international opportunity? Well naturally, it is something that you as an individual need to carefully consider in terms of right fit and career timing. But broadly speaking absolutely yes, I would say to anyone considering such a move!

I look back now on my time in Singapore and think how fortunate I was to have such great experiences and see many other countries that I would not have otherwise visited. I believe one of my best decisions was to avoid the whole expat scene (although I do understand why some choose to immerse themselves in it) and as a result I left having only made friends with some local Singaporeans whom I have no doubt will still be friends forever.

Would I do it again? Yes absolutely, but part of the fun now is thinking about where in the world I would like to immerse myself into next!

If you are thinking about such a move (these opportunities will come again post pandemic), and need someone to chat over your options, get in touch anytime, happy to help if I can.

Long Beach – East Coast Singapore

Bernie Quinn works as an education consultant specialising in the development of transnational education partnerships. Get in touch anytime if you wish to have an informal chat about potential global academic partnerships.
0044 (0) 7918184572
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