Michelle Balmer moved to Singapore with her young family in 2010. In this interview, she talks about what she learnt from doing busines in Asia and how her family handled expat life.
The credit crunch motivated Michelle to follow her husband and his job to Singapore, despite only recently finding out she was pregnant. It was her chance to carve a new path for her family on the otherside of the world.
What went through your head discovering you were pregnant one week after your husband agreed to take a post in Singapore
I knew that Asia was in a boom time and I had just taken voluntary redundancy from the law firm I worked in due to credit crunch cutbacks. We moved house due to this and scaled back on our household bills. It was a complete change from the UK in every way at that time. This appealed.
How difficult was the decision to move there in Jan 2010?
The hardest decision was leaving our families, particularly my family as we are very close due to my brother and his learning difficulties and physical disabilities. I also felt it was time to carve out our own family path too. Little did we know that with Skype, photos and videos on iPhones and connectivity all over Singapore we would be so connected to UK friends and family too. Facebook was a lifeline to keep us connected too. Technology and keeping in touch kept us all relevant and close.
Were there any challenges to adapting to life over there as a family?
The food was a big one, garlic pigs intestine and Duran fruit are acquired tastes for expats.
One big challenge that turned out amazingly well was our helper Bernadette, she was from the Philippines originally. I was certain I didn’t need one, but there is so much housework in a humid climate and no childcare as easy to hand as a maid. Bernadette was not just employed by us, I like to think I helped her have more respect for herself, to be a confident woman. She was very much loved by us all and treated as a member of our family, we all miss her and still keep in touch most weeks via Facebook messenger. It was fascinating to learn about her culture too.
Doing business in Asia is interesting, Singapore likes to be the best it can and this gave massive opportunities at a high level. By this I mean I noticed that Singapore in tech, social media and political notions were three years ahead of where the UK was. I would compare when we returned to the UK each summer, and still do draw comparisons even now. Saving face in Asian culture is huge, learning when people said yes but meant no or said nothing was tough. Giving face was also a big deal, in other words, a well-placed business compliment went a long way.
You set up your own business while in Singapore, Blue-Sky Balmer PTE, what made you decide to do this?
I wanted to have a business that worked with my family life balance and allowed me to pull upon my experience of both professional services and commercial industry. A skill set I found was somewhat unique in Singapore. Many businesses in a booming country grow quick but don’t sure up the foundations because of it.
How has working with so many different nationalities shaped how you do business?
I see how it is possible to shape relationships as these were key to healthy business partnerships. Not ‘fluffing’ things up, direct communication. In the UK we put the point we actually emailed for as the very last point or add-on. We use too many pleasantries and muffle the doing of business because of it. Learning from my Aussie colleagues, I learned to stand my ground and believe in myself, they are good at that.
Mostly I believe that every day is a school day, I love to learn something new!
What made you decide to move back to the UK?
An uncertain expat future in Singapore, as they clamped down on the expat criteria to live and work there to provide more jobs for local people. Also, my husband had a great opportunity to progress with an exciting company. Lastly, we wanted to reconnect the children with the family again and know what it was to be British. We all related to living in Asia and Singapore more than the UK.
Did you have plans and a set path after moving to Singapore or were you more inclined to go with the flow and see where you ended up?
We looked upon our return to the UK as expatriating again. We didn’t know Warwickshire at all. The school was first, then husband in the new role and then, for me, I worked locally in a job for the National Trust, a charity I have always supported.
We still celebrate all the national Asian holidays as we did when we lived there including Deepavali, Vesak Day, Australia Day and Waitangi Day.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of moving to a different country with a young family?
- I would be sure to ask around, chat forums through social media are a great starter.
- See if there is an expat society to join, they are fantastic ways to make friends and get your expat family up together.
- Make the most of it, enrich your family’s life with experiences.
- Be very respectful of all cultures and explore new ways and beliefs.
- Use technology to keep in touch. I still use it to keep in touch with my extended global expat family.
What’s your biggest achievement in business to-date?
I would say being brave in many different ways throughout my career. By this, I mean recognising my true, honest, happy, self. I think that’s important whether it be personally or professionally. I believe in striving for the best version of yourself, it affects everything I do.