Sunday, May 3, 2009

BTO: Desert diplomacy

Business Times - 02 May 2009

Desert diplomacy

Wong Wai Hon
International graduate
for priority banking,
Standard Chartered Bank


ASALAMALAKUM! In Dubai it is common to hear this as a form of greeting and it has certainly helped me to interact with the locals.


I was given the opportunity to work for Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai after my graduation from Singapore Management University in July 2008. Ten months have gone by and I love every moment of my time here. The fact that I had never been away from Singapore for more than a month during my travels, and the thought of working overseas and meeting people from around the world, only made the journey here more exciting for me.


The first thing that struck me when I arrived in Dubai was the high number of expatriates living here. In fact, you will find more expatriates than locals in almost any part of Dubai. On my very first day of work, I was introduced to my fellow international graduates from 12 different countries. I now have friends from over 30 countries and I continue to meet new people every day.


Food is a major draw here, especially for Singaporeans, and I for one explored my options and enjoyed every minute of it. Dubai offers a wide variety of cuisine - Korean, Japanese, Chinese - you name it and you will find it here.


My first gastronomical adventure was at a Lebanese restaurant recommended by my Lebanese colleague. I was virtually blown away by it. I ordered chicken tikkas and my colleague taught me to eat the tikkas with hummus, Lebanese bread and fresh vegetables. This particular dish has become a favourite that I enjoy at least once a week.


Driving luxury cars is no longer a dream here in Dubai and many Singaporeans living here have bought cars that they usually would not be able to back home. It is not uncommon to meet up with a group of Singaporeans who are all driving BMWs!


Weekends in Dubai are never boring as there are all kinds of activities. The Desert Safari tours are a must for the adventurous. For racing fans, the auto dome is hugely popular as well. Sports lovers can look forward to great tennis matches in January and the inaugural F1 race in Abu Dhabi in November 2009.


Working in Dubai has its fair share of challenges, and being fresh out of university, I was eager to learn and put my best foot forward. The interactions with clients and staff were fruitful and I learnt that the key to doing well is to be responsive, both towards clients and colleagues. Doing so has helped me build better relationships and trust with them.


I was fortunate to have great support from my bank, as well as fellow Singaporeans living in the UAE. That helped me to settle down in Dubai fairly quickly. It was then I realised that when you are abroad, it is essential to lend support to fellow Singaporeans who are moving over.


That is the reason why I founded the SMU Alumni Chapter in Dubai in 2008. Just as I have benefited from having a network of Singaporeans helping me, I hope to help people adapt to the local culture during my stay in Dubai. For example, students who are here on internships and graduates who have taken up postings in Dubai. To date, I have helped two student groups.


My parting advice to those who are coming to Dubai would be to keep an open mind and venture out of your comfort zone. Only by doing this was I able to adapt quickly to the local environment. It has made my experiences in UAE a memorable chapter in my life, and a great story to tell my children in the future.

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