Expat Living – My Reality of Working in Singapore so far

Note, this is a personal account of working in the little red dot. It is limited to one organisation, and not a broad statement about organisations or the country as a whole. Its just one persons difficulty and frustrations in making it work…

I don’t work here. Its just a picture i stole


My Experience

So i have been working for six months now in Singapore, and for the most part its been positive. I was quite unprepared about some of the cultural differences between working in Asia versus in the West.

Of course i was not totally naive about the cultural differences. Despite Singapore being a westernised country, it very much still retains its Asian heritage. I knew coming up that the working styles would be different, that longer hours would be expected, there would be no small talk, and the way to get things done would change.

However, once it hits you in the face, its a little harder to take. And at times I have felt angry leaving a good place back home to put myself through this experience.

It can be isolating working as an expat in Singapore. I think a lot of it depends on the type of function you work in (sales, back office support, finance, etc.) and the company itself. These two factors will greatly influence how well you get to bond with your colleagues. Some people come over to Singapore, and have the absolute time of their lives, becoming BFFs with other like minded employees at work, and having no concerns at all.

After all, when you are at work for 8-9 hours a day, you want to at least have a good relationship with your colleagues, maybe have a coffee from time to time; grab a bite to eat; knock down a beer or two. These experiences that i had back home in my previous employers, is no where to be seen here.

Why is that? Of course i’m not totally free of fault here. I can be a little introverted at times. Though in Singapore I felt like i really tried to mesh with the teams and make a conscious effort. That means suggesting team coffees / lunches, making the effort to ask questions like what people got up to on the weekend, what they had planned, where they were from, the usual stuff. All to no avail.

I believe that a lot of the workplace is built up on cliques. Now of course there are people you are more close to in the office than others, that’s normal. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Naturally you gravitate to those similar to yourself, or with similar interests.

The cliques here seem to be across racial barriers though. I’ve noticed that the Indians stick together, the local Singaporean Chinese stick together. Even the minority Filipinos stick together. I see this not only in the workplace, but sometimes in the public as well, with other groups, school kids etc. I get it, people want to be able to converse in their native languages. Unfortunately as i only speak English, whilst resembling a local Singaporean (I’m ethnically Chinese), it puts me in a weird spot.

Anyway, I’ve tried, and will continue to try to fit in. But for the most part, I find that making meaningful connections is easier done outside of the workplace. Anyone else had a similar experience?

7 thoughts on “Expat Living – My Reality of Working in Singapore so far”

  1. I know how you feel. Although i am a local but even i feel the same when i first joined the org where i am now. After a while i dont try to fit in. Just do what i need to do re work, show teamwork etc and be on my way. Gets tiring to maneuvour round office politics.

  2. I used to visit Singapore and Malaysia often because I had a team based in these countries, the teams are very diverse though as we catered to South East Asian countries so we had Thai, Indonesian, Malaysians, Singaporeans and Filipinos generally working in their own respective teams (except for the Singaporean and Malaysian teams that had a number of Indians/Filipinos). I gotta say there are cliques, but generally we are able to bond together even across teams. There was a lot of cultural differences from the way everyone worked and some would prefer to hang out with their own precisely because they want to speak their local dialect. it can be tough but it can be done 🙂 hang in there!

  3. I’ve considered moving to Singapore in the past as I did a bit of work out there a few years ago, so I find this really interesting. Thank you!

  4. HI there! Singaporean living in California here! I saw that you liked one of my posts about Community Colleges here and checked out your posts. I really liked reading about your experience working in Singapore! I also really like your blog icon the Pandan Kueh haha!

  5. Sorry to hear to hear that your office experience in Singapore isn’t very good. I understand that people of the same race tend to stick together.. things just gravitate that way I guess. The younger generation speak mainly English rather than their ‘mother tongue’, so hopefully, just hopefully, the colours will blend better in the future.

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