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To go or not to go overseas? Children’s studies come first

SINGAPORE — Fresh out of university in 2005, Mr Lionel Fah scored a job in a multinational corporation that would take him halfway across the world.

To go or not to go overseas? Children’s studies come first

Lionel Fah says working overseas had posed some challenges for him and his family. Photo: Lionel Fah

SINGAPORE — Fresh out of university in 2005, Mr Lionel Fah scored a job in a multinational corporation that would take him halfway across the world. 

To date, his work has brought him and his young family to the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and now China. 

Looking back, Mr Fah, 36, said it was an easy decision at the start to take on the overseas posting. He got married a couple of years after he started in his job. “My wife was relatively young in her career (as a teacher) at that time. There was nothing much for us to lose … Her willingness to put her own career on hold and to take on the challenge of living in different countries has helped,” said Mr Fah, who is now a supply chain manager based in Shanghai.

Even so, there were challenges, as the couple realised. Sharing their experience, Mr Fah — who is back in Singapore briefly for work — noted that when a spouse takes on an overseas assignment, the partner could face difficulty finding a job in the same country and may end up sacrificing his or her career. This would also mean only one breadwinner in the family.

The couple have two children — a five-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son. Both hold Singapore passports, and are enrolled in an international school that follows the British curriculum in Shanghai. They studied in private schools in the other countries that Mr Fah was posted to.

To remind the children of their Singapore roots , Mr Fah and his family return home at least once a year and speak to their extended family regularly. They also watch the National Day Parade online annually. 

“But these are very light activities. In the end, getting to know Singapore society and the Singapore system would be a culture shock,” he said.

In its report released on Thursday (Feb 9), the Committee on the Future Economy recommended that Singapore deepen and diversify its international connections. To provide more support for Singaporeans deployed overseas for work, the committee proposed that the Ministry of Education make available its online learning platform — which is being developed — to children of Singaporeans working abroad, to help them keep in touch with the national curriculum. 

While Mr Fah intends to return home for good at some point — he is still not sure when — an important consideration would be how well his children can reassimilate into the education system here. “That’s the most difficult part — when you have kids. How easily can the kids integrate back into the Singapore education system with less consequence for their future?” asked Mr Fah. For now, the plan is for the family to return home after his younger child passes the primary school-going age, so she does not have to take the Primary School Leaving Examination in Singapore. 

Similarly, for senior manager (consumer and shopper design) Gio Chan, 36, his children’s education was a big factor to consider when he was recently offered the opportunity to work in Bangkok on a permanent basis. 

“Education is a key issue for me. My company offered to pay for my kids’ international school fees in Bangkok. But I felt it was nowhere as good as Singapore,” said Mr Chan. 

He decided against relocating and now splits his time between two countries: He travels to Bangkok for work on weekdays and returns home to his wife and two young children — a four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter — on the weekends.

While his job takes him away from his family for most of the week, Mr Chan calls his wife regularly and uses the CCTV he has installed at home to see how his kids are doing. 

“I make it a point to be back home every Friday evening to pick up my son from nursery. And on Mondays, if I can, depending on my flight timing, I send my son to school,” he said.

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