TL;DR – Watching historic moments unfold while living out of a suitcase.
Over the last 4 years, Valerie Chua has spent a good amount of time in planes, trains, cars… and sitting in different departure halls at airports. As one of Economic Development Board’s (EDB) Regional Directors, she was based in New York and handled various US companies on the East Coast.
Her work saw her flying almost every week, sometimes even making work trips to 3 cities within the week.
The art of traveling light
She is definitely someone who has honed traveling light to an art.
“I actually never unpack my suitcase… even back in my own house,” she laughed as she recounted memories of work trips. “It’s always open and ready for the next trip. Oh and everything I own from toiletries to skin care is in travel sizes.”
For work trips, their entire few days to a week of necessities was contained within a single cabin size luggage. “Nope, we do not do check in. Everything must fit within that cabin size luggage.”
I asked how that was even possible. “You wear your heaviest items – winter coats, even running shoes on the plane. And everything else I have is wrinkle resistant so they can be packed compactly.”
Living out of your suitcase is one thing, Valerie shared that while traveling for work has been mostly fun, there had been its downsides.
“I’ve had a 15-hour flight delay and a colleague even had a 19-hour flight delay on what was supposed to be a day trip. This meant he did not even have a change of clothes while being stuck at the airport. I’ve also driven to a meeting 3 hours away only to be stuck in a snowstorm on the way back, spending a good 5 hours on the road. My car even had to be dug out of the snow! All I wanted to do was get a hot shower once home!”
Watching historic moments unfold
But her work certainly had its perks as it had given her opportunities to work with some of the top companies in the world – General Electric, Coca-Cola, FedEx, UPS just to name a few.
I asked her to tell us her more interesting exploits.
She shared that one of her most memorable experiences was being invited to watch SpaceX launch their rocket as one of the companies she worked with, Bigelow Aerospace, was sending their expandable space station module into orbit for testing. She watched as history was made when SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 booster rocket on a drone ship in the ocean for the very first time.
“It was super tense in the room, just like in the movies where everyone was eagerly awaiting a successful landing. The previous 4 attempts have ended in failure and the room broke out into simultaneous cheering when the Falcon 9 safely landed. It felt amazing to be part of such a historic moment!”
Another historic moment Valerie witnessed first-hand was the listing of Singapore’s first multi-billion tech unicorn, Sea Group, on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2017. The company raised over $800million from the IPO at a $5.39 billion valuation. She describes the euphoric moment when the Sea Group representatives rang the bell right in front of everyone.
“When they rang the NYSE bell, I cheered too.
I felt like they were flying Singapore’s flag high.”
Working overseas broadens horizons
Just like how foreigners seek a different kind of lifestyle and experience when they come to Singapore to work, being exposed to different cultures through working overseas has really broadened Valerie’s perspective.
Valerie spoke fondly of a leadership course she went for in 2017 when her client General Electric invited various ASEAN government officials to share insights and learn from each other.
“At first I was nervous because the list of participants included many senior state officials, chairmen, CEOs, company presidents and here I was, the only participant in her 20s. Some participants even had children that were my age. But I took up the challenge to really immerse myself and gleaned so much insight from the sharing by ASEAN leaders, professors from New York University as well as US Government officials.”
“It helps you approach issues differently, trying to see how various stakeholders will look at things. Expanding your mind is very fundamental to thought leadership.”
A lot of these experiences Valerie had are hard to replicate unless you work overseas or work alongside people of other nationalities and cultures in your daily life.
And that increasingly is what globalisation is all about, the exchange of people and ideas. Only through constant contact with diverse cultures and ideology can one really challenge your long-standing beliefs and have a broader world view.
Foreigners in Singapore
Valerie quips “In my line of work, we work hard to bring in investments to Singapore.”
“We get big companies to set up base, invest in Singapore and hire workers here so that we can grow the economy and benefit future generations. On top of that, they actually bring a certain cultural diversity to Singapore. And that is why we are known as a melting pot for cultures.”
What she said was similar to Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing’s recent speech in Parliament about balancing the need for foreign workers in Singapore. Indeed we cannot open the floodgates to drown Singaporeans, but neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce.
A much better approach laid out by Minister Chan is to accept the investment into the economy and while relying on some foreign workforce to meet manpower demand of these companies, train and upskill Singaporean workers so that they would be able to take over these jobs one day.
Turning away the investment means Singaporeans would not even get the opportunity to possibly fill these roles in future. In that speech, Minister Chan also reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to placing Singaporeans at the heart of what they do.
Home is still the best
Being a self-professed foodie, Valerie shared that one of the hardest things about being overseas was missing all the local food in Singapore. There was just something about hokkien mee, prata and Block 85’s bak chor mee that she missed while overseas. She even resorted to buying vacuum sealed bite size bak kwa and popped 2-3 pieces into cup noodles on a cold day to remind her of Singapore.
“Being away from family was tough too, but thank goodness for technology! But after all the thrills of traveling, it’s good to be HOME.”
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(Featured image: Valerie Chua at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida)