Migrating from Thailand to Singapore: Thoughts on Global Citizenship, Somtam and Missing Home

Thai translation available here

At first sight, Jin appears shy and quiet. She stumbles into the cafeteria where we’ve agreed to meet, not knowing who I was or what I looked like. She glances around at the five of us, all unacquainted colleagues, seated separately. She takes her chances, and waves gingerly in my direction. Realizing that she got the right person, she smiles sweetly with a slight sense of relief.

Jin is a soft-spoken 25-year-old who works in our Regional Operations Customer Service function. She joined the company early this year, and has since been working on Shopee’s Live Chat feature. Formally named Prapatsorn Tiloganart, she’s a Thai national who has travelled widely and has many stories to tell.

Here’s what happened when I sat down with Jin to talk about moving for work, global citizenship, Russia, somtam (papaya salad) and missing home:

Jin and her friends as undergrads with Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Arts in the background

Jocelyn Kaylee: I’d like to start at the beginning – when did you first think of working overseas?

Jin: Hmm… I don’t have an exact age, but I’ve always thought to myself that there has to be a larger world than the one I knew inside of Thailand. Thailand, especially Bangkok where I come from, has a lot to offer. But something about the world outside tugged at my heart all the time.  

Travel captures whilst in the United States for an exchange program

JK: Would you say you identify with being a global citizen then?

J: Yeah, I would say so. My parents sent me to the United States for an exchange program when I was 15, and that experience helped me realize that we’re simply humans wherever we go. It really doesn’t matter which country we come from, which gender we dress according to, what religion we associate with or what race we’re physically born into. At the end of the day, we’re human beings who have the freedom to move wherever we wish to go.

Jin in Russia’s freezing climate, frolicking under light snowfall

JK: You speak like a seasoned traveler who has seen your fair share of the world “out there”. Was there a country you visited that shaped your perspective on global citizenship?

J: Hmm… Probably Russia? I took a solo backpacking trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg just last December. I had read about Russia’s absolute usage of the Cyrillic language – even for street signs in relatively more touristy areas – so I learnt to recognize Cyrillic alphabets and read words to help myself navigate. And I really was able to! I found my own way around without very much help. That experience sort of strengthened my identity as a global citizen. I would say the only boundaries we have are the ones we create for ourselves?

Alleyway street signs in Cyrillic

JK: That’s an amazing story and a whole lot of motivation for a tourist. How did you learn the Cyrillic language?

J: I downloaded an app, and tried to get the hang of Cyrillic alphabets and basic words/phrases. I probably could’ve resorted to playing charades with non-English-speaking locals, but I wanted a full experience, you know? I thought it would be fun to read names of subway stations instead of just counting the number of stops. Learning to read the ‘Exit’ sign was also important because you just never know when you need it haha! Learning the basics of the language really helped me to be emotionally and intellectually invested in my trip. I’ve also always been inclined towards languages, so having a reason to learn a new one was just very fun for me.

JK: Would you have wanted to work in Russia?

J: Well… I wouldn’t want to cut short my chances and say no! I’m an opportunist when it comes to working abroad, so anywhere is possible. I’m happy working in Singapore though. This is my second job; towards the end of my tenure at my first company, I sent in job applications exclusively for overseas roles. Shanghai and Hong Kong were in my list of desired cities to work in, but Singapore made it to the top and I’m grateful that my first choice came to pass.

Jin and her friend at the entrance of Universal Studios Singapore

JK: Why Singapore?

J: I personally believe Southeast Asia will continue to grow until it becomes the new epicentre of the world. Europe and the United States are sort of past their glory days; China is becoming stable. Southeast Asia is still developing and there’s a lot of potential here. Singapore is definitely the place to be within Southeast Asia, and for good reason too. It’s the best environment for expats, in terms of language accessibility, transportation systems, urban organization and safety. Being the central hub for many businesses and corporations, Singapore is probably also the best bet for career development.

Jin and her Regional Operations team celebrating Shopee’s parent company Sea Group’s first post-IPO anniversary

JK: You make Singapore sound like it’s an outstanding place to work in and I’m not sure that we match up to your expectations as a country. Seeing as you spend most of your hours in Singapore working, is there anything about Shopee’s environment that is helping to maintain your relatively good experience in Singapore?

J: Yeah, you’re right. No country is perfect. Singapore has its fair share of down sides, although that’s a reality we uncover everywhere if we stay in one place long enough. I do agree with you on my work environment having a direct impact on the quality of life I have here though. In general, I find myself having a lot in common with my colleagues, and that’s always nice. People here are very dedicated in their work – they take full responsibility for their projects, are respectful of differences and generally get along well. This is on top of getting to work with people from different native backgrounds due to my regional role. I do enjoy this a lot.

Jin and her family on her graduation day

JK: I’m happy that you’re enjoying your life here – in Singapore and in Shopee. Do you miss home sometimes though?

J: Definitely! I’ve never realized how amazing it would be to go home and have family waiting for me – until I started working here and going back to an empty room. Skype helps us catch up face-to-face, but it’s a different feeling seeing my family and friends in person. Returning to my hometown sometimes makes me emotional for this reason. I do miss my family and friends, and I think of them often.

One of Jin’s favorite hangout spots in Bangkok

JK: That’s the unseen reality of working abroad huh. Does eating Thai food here in Singapore somehow help you conjure happy thoughts of home?  

J: I wish it did, but Thai food here just doesn’t taste the same haha! It’s strange, isn’t it? The same somtam can taste so dissimilar in another country. The different dining experience probably also plays a part. In Singapore, Thai food is served in restaurants with comfortable seats and service charge. In Thailand, food can be found by the streets, alleys and floating markets – something about the cacophony of noises, beckoning sellers and laissez-faire atmosphere makes eating different. I also miss out on the companionship of my friends and family when hunting for food, so having Thai food here isn’t really my source of comfort because it’s just different without them.

JK: Do moments like this make you second-guess your decision to leave Thailand and work overseas?

J: Not at all. I miss them greatly, but I don’t regret moving out. I’ve learnt more in the past five months that I’ve been here than I probably would if I stayed in Thailand. I wouldn’t have learnt to work with people from different cultures, and I wouldn’t have had a reason to pick up a new skill that is SQL. I’m looking forward to the day when I can code the way my colleagues can. I graduated from the Arts faculty and am determinedly abstract, so this is just one of those things I never thought I would do, you know? But working here surprises me all the time and I like it that way!

Jin and her friend at a cocktail-making class

JK: I couldn’t agree more. One last question – what would you say to fellow Thais who wish to work in Singapore?

J: If you’re someone who is happy staying in Thailand all your life, please don’t feel pressured by the decisions I’ve made. Stay where you are if that helps you achieve your goals, and help to build our systems and raise up new generations who are serious about their work. Find a good company that will give you opportunities to be better on both professional and personal levels.

And if you’re adventurous like me and prefer living overseas, I would say be brave and just take a step out. You’ll have to put in effort to prepare yourself for a different environment, such as getting familiar with the dominant language and with the people culture, and you’ll have to be responsible for your freedom. Join a company that offers a regional role – it’ll help you broaden your horizons, which is what working abroad is all about 🙂

For career opportunities in Shopee Singapore or other Shopee offices in the Southeast Asian region, get in touch with us at https://careers.shopee.com/.