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Occidentally orientated: Chong-Wen Hong' 11
  • Alumni
  • High School

I had grown deeply fond of my time in Britain, with its warm pubs and chilled lagers, its pleasant summer days and colourful autumn nights. Most importantly, it was the deep friendships that I have made, bonding over pint or pity, merriment and misery. I furrowed my brow in an intense determination to stay in my new home. "By a quirk of history, Commonwealth Citizens (such as Singaporeans, Malaysians) are allowed to work in the UK Government." However, the system did not make it easy for me to get a job and subsequently, a visa, to stay in the UK. Especially before the 2021 change in immigration law gave fresh jobseekers up to two years past their university graduations to secure work and a visa sponsor. In 2018, I had two months after my own graduation from King’s College London.

At the time, with EU citizens having preferential treatment, and being visa-free for decades, most UK businesses neither had the experience nor the legal, commercial or corporate capacity to hire internationals. I had made it to the final rounds twice only to be told that they did not sponsor visas. There is always a demoralisation when your job application gets rejected. There is another kind when you are not even allowed to compete.

However, through patient perseverance, a lot of early planning (I started six months before my final exam), and the support and encouragement of my friends, I was able to secure my first job working in the UK Government’s Department for International Trade (DIT) as an investigator in trade remedies and had accustomed myself to the peculiarities of the operation and international trade law of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). I was incredibly grateful to have carried on my time in Britain a little longer.

Celebrating Christmas & Chinese New Year 

Dreams do not always end so neatly though. That first role, although providing me with the means to stay, was mired in the troubles of Brexit’s lack of resolution, which had stifled a core function of my role and provided limited progress. The job itself was based in Reading, about one hour or 70 kilometres westwards and the cost of a weekly commute from London to Reading had sapped me of both purse and energies, with its early mornings and later returns.

After 18 months, in April 2020, I was able to move to the PM’s Trade Envoy Programme, as a Relationship Manager. This role relocated my job nearer to home in London (as was everyone due to the Pandemic) and I found myself in a far more engaged setting, working on the UK’s export promotion through the Trade Envoys. However, while I was given the chance to plan and deliver my own projects, had the opportunity to travel to Kenya on a trade mission and learned many soft office skills, the job scope fell firmly in an administrative camp. I had relished something more ambitious and focused on policy and communication.

Coming full circle, in October 2021, I applied and was successful for a role in the DIT team that is responsible for the UK’s representation at the WTO and other international forums such as the G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. My everyday role is a reporting and briefing function, creating processes to record my team’s WTO work and providing briefings for Ministers, cross-Government officials and the Devolved Administrations.

It is in this third role where I truly believe I have found great satisfaction in the scope and challenge of the job, and it is where my office skills ‘niche’ has come fully formed and I have grown comfortable with expertise in project planning, delivery, stakeholder and communication policy and developing institutional processes for my team. I have also found myself in many frankly cool situations, note taking at the G7 meetings, planning the UK’s representation at the WTO’s Ministerial Conference and briefing lines on the UK’s response to the Russian-Ukraine crisis at the WTO and other fora. There are times when I walk through the government buildings that make up London’s historic Whitehall, the sound of Big Ben ringing in the distance and pub drinks after with many merry friends, that I can scarcely believe I am still here with this as my every day, many years after another disappointing rejection and impending ‘deportation’ of 2018.

I end off with some advice from my experience for those seeking to live overseas and those looking for that ‘perfect first job’.

  1. Put your heart into it and know what motivates you. Even with the new rules, it is still difficult to secure a visa in the UK. Learn to keep pushing for you may fail many times before you succeed.
  2. Plan early and plan big. Once you decide what you want in life, give yourself enough time to suss out the obstacles in your way and time to overcome them.
  3. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect first job’ and that is okay. You will find that what you set out to do at the end of university and what you are good at doing are different things. Unburden yourself on the need to find perfection and take the time to explore different paths, learn new skills and from experiences good and bad. With some patience, diligence and a little luck, you will get there!

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