?It is with a lot of excitement that I write this blog entry.
I had accepted a new job in Norway and will hopefully be starting by Jan 2012 pending my residential permit approval which I just successfully applied for last Thursday morning at the Royal Danish Embassy in Singapore.
It looks as though it is going to be an adventure of sorts. There are mixed feelings to this new step of life that I’m about to take. On one hand, I get to work in a new work culture, to experience life out of Singapore, a place that I can only now reminisce calling a home. On the other hand, I will miss my missus, Marianne, the only person that I have come to trust and love, who will stay in Singapore while I relocate there. Nonetheless, I will still come back on a half year basis (I will have a lot of annual leave to clear), and we will still have Skype to warm our hearts in between, but I will miss the morning hugs together, her rueful smile and big soulful eyes… It’ll be hard, after more than 13 years of being together, and especially after the shit that both of us had gone through a few years back with people we thought we could trust, thereafter realizing that it is only us that we can honestly rely on.
Still, I look at it positively, I am there to spy the land, like my biblical namesake, to try and see if living in Norway is actually better and whether we would be able to integrate well with society to actually consider a permanent stay there in the future.
Norway is supposedly the best place to work in the world but it is also among the most expensive. Tax is at 40% and overall, the standard of living is very high. Thus, the wages are understandably quite high too in comparison to Singapore’s. So after the taxation and so on, the take home pay is about the same. However, there’s quite a bit of welfare, medical bills are totally subsidized and so are some basic services. Even so, food is costly, and people would rather cook than spend time out at a restaurant/fast food joint (by the way, there are not much fast food joints in Oslo). Cigarettes and alcohol are extremely dear, and so are most cooked meats. The only thing that’s probably affordable is ironically, seafood. It’s not just food, but housing is also costly. An 18 square meters room in Oslo could cost more than a 1 room flat here in S’pore. Renting of rooms is quite rare in Norway, most people buy houses rather than rent rooms.
Culturally, I think Norwegians are a bit like the Finnish, they really distinguish between work and play. And they have a big emphasis towards family life. Women have 9 months maternity leave and men have 6 months. Norwegians are unassuming and shy, believing much that no one in particular thinks of him/herself as special. Humility is a great trait that is recognized and they value people’s privacy quite strongly. Sometimes, a little too strong, such that out of not embarrassing the person, they sometimes might appear as a little “cold” or aloof.
How I got this job was pretty interesting.
A bit of background…I had wanted to emigrate and thus was looking for a job overseas, but I didn’t want to take just any job just to emigrate, that would be back to square one eventually. I wanted a new work and social culture that thrives on making things work rather than solely making money out of things (or virtual things :))
I’m also basically rotting away in my current place of work. While that has given me ample free time to pursue my own interests, it does not help if your interests are actually what you do at work. I don’t really believe in the segregation of work and personal interests unlike most people I know. Of course, it’s natural to have other personal interests that fall OUTSIDE what you do at work, but I find it difficult to go on because I live to work, not work to live. Sadly, here in Singapore, you couldn’t really live to work, most of the time, one has no choice but to work to live. And that seemed to be the more preferred mindset of society, to my utter dismay. So I wanted out, I had enough of this.
However, it’s tough really finding a job in a society that I think I’ll really like. I tried applying to Japan, Switzerland and Ireland, I even got headhunted by Amazon, US. But most of these have negative replies after a while. My first choice was of course, Japan, but the language barrier (you need at least N1 in Japanese to just apply for a nominal job) and competition from the locals makes it hard. In my line, I’ve seen the Japanese really excel, they have more than enough talent locally so I think I don’t really stand a chance. That said, they have my utmost respect when it comes to delivering the quality of work where it concerns them. But that’s Japan, meanwhile, there are non-Asian countries that I would like to avoid like the Middle East, US and Eastern Europe, Africa. Within Asia, well, as I’ve tweeted before, that I’ll never step into China, India or the Philippines.
Nonetheless, after searching for a year or so, it got quite depressing and I got a bit desperate. Thus, I started reconsidering local sources even though I initially wanted a job out of Singapore. I mean, if I cannot emigrate due to language or culture acceptance, at the very least, I could try to get a job that I will enjoy here. Of course, my criteria for local jobs at this time round were extra picky. I became the ultimate choosy job seeker. But without sounding boastful, I think I’m entitled to it as I am not a newbie and I do have some experience. Nonetheless, It was a tiring process that really tests your patience and perseverance. Eventually there were two that sounds promising after going through some bizarre interviews.
One was quite desperate to land me, however during that time, I had already gotten some bad vibes from the interviews. The job that was advertised and what I’ll be actually doing sounds very different although related somewhat. Irregardless of firm promises that I’ll eventually ended up doing what was advertised, I still don’t like quite like the dishonesty even if it is in the excuse of career development. That’s because I’ve seen this before in my previous company. Promises made on the direction of your career development when not started out in the right note can be very deceptive.
The other was another research institute but they were more focused on computer science research rather than bioinformatics. I was actually very interested in this and I had a very productive interview. However, my initial favorable impression quickly became one of horror when they really screwed up the whole hiring process. They took forever to get back to me, despite repeated emails of query, not even a note to say that they are busy. And when they finally did, to my disappointment, they seem to already have found someone else.
It was during this time when my colleague left my current company to some envy of mine. We had a chat online thereafter and I sort of told him my frustrations. He told me that I should stick with my plans to move out. Frankly, I told him that I was quite tired of looking around, it was really difficult and so many times, I was really tempted just to compromise, just take any job that comes. He told me not to give up searching and most importantly, not to short change myself.
I reluctantly agreed and suddenly, as a wave of inspiration (and maybe desperation) I declared that I will take a job in a place where no one wants to go at this time. During then, this was right after the Brevik bombing and shooting massacre in Norway. I would imagine this would have scared off any potential immigrant going there to work, so for a lark, I did a Google search and came across a Norwegian ad lo
oking for a system administrator specializing in Apache, Linux and MySQL database administration. In my LPIC certification, those seemed to be my stronger points, so I thought, what the heck, why not. And it did help when the fact that they have mentioned that no one in their company uses Windows. +1 already. In retrospect, Norway was one of my choices where I wanted to emigrate to, just that their reportedly high standard of living was a bit of a deterrent. Still, I just applied, thinking, I probably won’t get this job, for I don’t know a word of Norwegian although the ad was in English. Here’s what I wrote:
I read with interest in the advertised post.
Although I am Singaporean (in Singapore) and I do not live in Norway at this moment,I am favourable to relocate to Norway should I be considered for this post. I hope you find my resume informative. Should you need more information, please email me. I’ll be glad to correspond with you.
Thank you for your time.
And the reply on Aug 29 reads something like:
The resume is indeed informative.
Would you be able to attend a short initial phone meeting this/next week?
The (technical) interview was eventually carried out as the interviewer was walking home and playing with his kids… now how cool was that…:-) and a Skype interview thereafter showed the team consisting of a Scot, Ethiopian, Danish, Norwegians… They sort of ran out of technical questions to ask me after a while and vice versa… hahaha.. so in the end, we just talked anything under the sun. Friendly and warm but sincere folks.
Oh yeah, Norway’s national day also happens to be my birthday. The creepy coincidence!. 🙂
On Oct 6, I finally signed the employment contract to start work on Jan 2 2012. I’ll probably have to go there earlier than that to find lodging and settle logistics.
More drama enfolded during this time.. The local research institute that I applied for previously suddenly did an about turn after their new hire flopped, and wanted to employ me because the “The situation changed drastically, and they needed to get back to their preference list”. Now, the hunter has become the hunted. I wavered for a while, thinking of the hassles I will save in moving abroad to work, but then well, you only live once and I realized I needed to move out of a zone that I am beginning to feel deceptively comfortable. Thus, I decided to decline the research institute’s offer.
In a way, the initial rejection by the research institute was a godsend perhaps, if it wasn’t for that I would still be working in Singapore. But honestly, if you get someone proposing to hire you in such a last minute haphazard manner after not replying when you have asked so much from them, would you be comfortable working with them? As an afterthought, maybe I don’t think I would.
I really look forward to starting afresh. I am glad I managed to stand my ground and not give in to desperation. I did tell my ex-boss before, if I were to leave my current job, it will not be because of an insufficient salary (like why some of my ex-colleagues left) and my next job that I find will be one that is overseas.
And sure enough, all these have come true. It may seem ironic but I’ve decided to become a “foreign talent” myself. But not just your typical opportunist “foreign talent”.
I was asked by my next employer if I am scared of working abroad or will be put off by the snow and cold. And I will end this long blog post with the gist of my reply to him:
Currently, working in Singapore seems to be a very ideal and favorable. The transport and labor infrastructure is sound, the country is prosperous and the overall political climate is stable. So, it is not stability that I am seeking for when I wish to work abroad. It is change. In Singapore there is a lot of emphasis on careers that oversee things, rather than careers that require to get your hands down and dirty. As a result there are a lot of consultants, managers, directors and the like but sadly very little people who see technical work as something to advance and excel in. These will be outsourced and left to vendors… and then the vendors will outsource to the cheap foreign labor and you won’t have much quality after that.
I wish to be in an environment that not only prides itself with products of quality but also appreciates the technology that makes them. That, is the main reason why I want to work abroad because so far, I have yet to see much of this in my country. But with <the new company>, things look rather promising.
Another reason will be on a more personal, and slightly political note. Singapore has a very liberal foreign policy. So liberal that it is expanding at a rate too fast for the locals to handle and they find themselves stifled out. Moreover, the quality of the foreign workforce isn’t really high, sad to say.
It is ironic that I say this, as a foreigner in Norwegian eyes, going to Norway to look for employment. To some of the locals there, I’ll probably be looked upon with some disdain as I might be taking a job opportunity from someone potentially employable. I’m not xenophobic, but I do believe that to settle in another country means that you have to be able to really respect their culture, contribute with what you have and work with everyone to improve the overall well being of the local society and not to be an obstacle.
Hence, if you ask me about the cold weather and odd day times, it is not so much an importance to me as compared to whether I can fit into the Norwegian society. I think that is more important to me than material comfort. Working in a system administration line means communicating efficiently with peers and clients, and to do that, I will need to accept, understand and appreciate the culture they are in.
I wish to be that foreigner, the foreigner who contributes rather than takes away.