After four years in London furthering her studies, Jan Ong could have stayed on to build her career there. Instead, she felt convinced that the right decision was to return to Singapore, where she could get the best of both worlds - the comforts of home and exciting work opportunities in fast-growing Asia. Singapore, rather than the United Kingdom, “feels like the right place to be,” declares the 25-year-old.
Singapore’s open doors
Jan left Singapore for London in 2012 to do a business management degree at King’s College, followed by a Masters in Economics and Strategy for Business at Imperial College. After graduation, she had intended to accumulate valuable work experience in the UK and return home to Singapore and start a family.
By mid-2015, things turned out very differently from what she had envisioned.
The UK government had moved to clamp down on the number of work visas issued to foreigners, and Brexit - UK’s withdrawal from the European Union - had created great uncertainty for job seekers.
In contrast, Asia was teeming with opportunities. “With emerging Asian markets, there are so many exciting opportunities for collaboration and exploration, particularly with Singapore’s strategic position as a business hub,” she elaborates.
She landed her dream job in Singapore as an associate analyst at MasterCard even before completing her degree. The company had just started an Advisory Programme, which entailed consultancy and regional development work.
Home is where the heart is
Besides Asia’s professional opportunities, the emotional pull of home also played a major role in her decision to return.
“Although I had made very good friends in London, whom I call family, it was relatively challenging to keep this ‘family’ physically. Eventually, many of them returned to their respective countries,” she recalls. “At the end of the day, I realised that having a strong stable group of friends and family support mattered a lot to me. Family, friends, and the comfort of home are irreplaceable.”
Despite her eagerness to come home, she did find it a little difficult readjusting initially. Besides the challenge of rebuilding her social circle after four years away from old friends, she had to get reacquainted with a changing Singapore. “At times I felt like a foreigner in my own country as I have lost touch as to where the fun hangout places are, or popular cafes or restaurants are,” she said, adding that many new attractions like Gardens by the Bay had sprung up.
She was surprised by how gracious Singaporeans have become, with people giving up their seats for the elderly on public transport. They are also more open: “I find it easier to engage in conversation with strangers who are riding in the same lift or queuing for food,” she said.
She also appreciates the increased diversity in Singapore, which has attracted even more people from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
For fellow Singaporeans returning home, Jan encouraged everyone to adopt a positive attitude in embracing their new life here, rather than getting too caught up in the past.
“Apart from reconnecting with old friends, I think it is very important to keep in touch with other overseas Singaporean friends who have also returned home. Then you will realise that you are not alone, and it is normal to get lost, it is normal not to know where the best foods are, and it is fun to rediscover Singapore together again.”