By SGN | 2 Oct 2020
Think life in the Big Apple and you’d probably picture yourself on the high floors of Wall Street or immersing yourself in the arts at one of the many swanky galleries in the city. For Natasha Lim and Melinda Lauw, living the New York dream is a reality that they’ve carved out for themselves.
From an Island City-state to the Empire State
For anyone who is relocating, adapting to a new culture and way of life can be quite the experience. If you’re living in a foreign country alone, leaning on a support system of friends, family and connections becomes especially important.
Natasha, who had graduated from New York University’s (NYU) Stern School of Business in 2019, is now an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Group. While she has spent much of her teenage years in the US, there were multiple nuances she had to pick up when she first arrived, such as calling adults by their first name instead of auntie or uncle and tipping after meals.
“When I first moved here for boarding school, it took time to adjust. Fortunately, I had a strong support system of friends and faculty who became my family away from home. College was a much easier transition as NYU has a very international student body and I grew up in big cities,” Natasha shares. On top of going home around three times a year and having her parents visit often, she also stayed connected with loved ones through daily texts and frequent video calls.
The communities she lived in in the US were also quite liberal and this experience exposed Natasha to a wide range of perspectives. “My classmates were outspoken, displayed affection openly, loved small talk, and seemed to strongly prioritise athletics. I admired their confidence and worked to adjust to new expectations,” Natasha recounts.
Watch as Melinda and her team at Whisperlodge take their guests through an immersive performance of live autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) treatment.
On the other hand, Melinda who is co-creator and artistic director of New York-based immersive production company, Whisperlodge, had moved to the US after completing her bachelors degree in London. “I was rather used to being away from Singapore. Although I would miss certain Singaporean dishes, it was never that bad for me. I learned how to cook most of the dishes I missed, so it was good training,” Melinda says.
Comparing the cultures in London and America, Melinda says that the American culture is a lot louder and individualistic but also much more open and liberal. “As an introvert, I found it difficult to be outgoing at first – society favours extroverted people here. However, I also found it to be incredibly welcoming and diverse. As there were quite a lot of Asian Americans in New York, compared to my experience in London, I felt less of an outsider and more comfortable speaking up despite my cultural difference.”
P.S. If you’re looking to expand your social (or professional) network quickly, you might want to check out our tips here.
Natasha’s and Melinda’s Insider Tips For A Career In The US
Working or studying abroad can sometimes be overly glamorised by what we see on the screens – chances are, it won’t be as easy as how Rachel Green from Friends went from waitressing in a quaint coffee shop to the top of New York’s fashion industry in a mere matter of TV seasons.
“I think it’s important to know why you want to be working overseas. It’s not always easy so having a clear goal or intention will help to guide you!” Melinda says. She also adds that the hiring process can be very much different in the US than Singapore.
For one, the workforce in the US is generally less rigid so if you have a specific company you would like to work for, you can reach out to them directly. Natasha shares the same sentiment and adds that being thoughtful and proactive is key to finding success in the hiring process.
Before you deep dive into the job market and start the search, be mindful that Singaporeans applying for jobs in the US will require a company to be willing to sponsor your visa.
This is a crucial consideration as many firms do not necessarily hire international applicants. Natasha suggests that Singaporeans check with the human resource department or reach out to connections working at these companies to confirm before applying.
Hiring processes can be incredibly competitive, especially for entry-level positions. Having a prior understanding of what the company you’re applying for does and having contacts within the firm can give you a better context on how it’s like to work there.
Some ways you could build these connections are to intern during school breaks and contact alumni or people you share a relationship with to learn about their experiences. You may also use professional networking applications like LinkedIn to connect with relevant profiles. Doing research ahead of time will also demonstrate that you have a genuine interest in the questions you’re asking and are mindful of the time these people are giving you.
During the interview, do your due diligence on the company and prepare your elevator pitch and elaborate on how you can add value to the firm. You should also prepare and expect to answer questions about your resume, behaviourals, and industry understanding.
List down the areas you need to prepare for and break them down into more manageable goals. Make small but steady progress each day to fully remember specific information about the firm and industry you are applying for. Write down your answers and schedule time with friends to simulate an interview setting to improve your delivery in a natural, conversational manner – or if your friends are busy, whip out your phone or use a mirror!
You may also create a presentation deck to proactively suggest improvements or solutions to companies – which Melinda highly recommends doing for the companies you are interested in.
Staying In Touch With Your Roots
Natasha is actively involved with the Singaporean community in New York, and helped to organise Pasar Singapura, an annual charity carnival held with SGN, among other events. Joining such activities help many Singaporeans living abroad feel a sense of connection to home. The Consulate and SGN teams organise many events to bring the community together and has been an integral part of her meeting other Singaporeans in New York.
“I also had the pleasure of moderating last year’s Singapore Speakers Series with GIC CEO Lim Chow Kiat. Given that physical gatherings are on pause due to COVID-19, a team of five Singaporeans and I have been holding virtual events for the community. Past sessions include panels on wellness, immigration, doctors at the frontline, networking, happy hour and much more,” Natasha says.
Having the right connections is important when moving into a foreign country. Before Melinda made the move to New York, she had reached out to US-based seniors and friends of friends to gather advice and build foundational relationships ahead of time.
At the time of her move, New York happened to boast multiple Singapore-centric art events including Singapore Inside Out organised by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), and Something to Write Home About, a Singapore Arts Festival independently organised by creative Singaporeans living in the city – both of which resonated well with Melinda’s interest in the arts and helped her to gain many friends and connections in the new city.
It is no wonder that Melinda’s pro-tip for relocating Singaporeans is to find and connect with a local community through a shared interest. “My deep interest in immersive theatre helped me settle in. I would go to lots of shows on my own and I would either invite my newly found friends to join or made friends with other immersive junkies at the shows themselves! There’s a community for everything, so having an interest in something automatically allows you to find your people,” she says.
Last Call For Final (On)boarding
Before you pack your bags and pack your bags in a new city, Natasha has one piece of advice – being able to succeed in a new environment requires adaptability. She explains that considering a job overseas requires one to consider the potential difference in the workplace and team dynamics, on top of getting used to a change in living environment and lifestyle.
Melinda agrees, and adds that being resourceful is key in such situations. “You’ll have to rely on yourself a lot being overseas, usually on a budget and without local knowledge. You’ve got to be able to do your own research, to build a community for yourself and to seek out opportunities independently,” she says.