When I was in university, I flirted with the options of working as a business consultant, journalist, civil servant and even for a global non-profit organisation. After my internship at MFA's Northeast Asia Directorate, it occurred to me that I wanted a career that was about getting things done, serving the greater interest of my country, and challenging enough to get me out of bed every morning feeling excited. That path led me to MFA.
I previously served at the Singapore Embassy in Qatar. The core team comprised of five Singaporean diplomats, supported by a team of local staff. The key objectives of the Embassy are to manage our bilateral relations with Qatar, assist in the formulation of strategies to further Singapore's interests in the Middle East, and provide consular assistance to Singaporeans.
As a Political Secretary, I report on key developments pertaining to the host country and the region. There is a sea of information available and the challenge is to sift out the ones which are relevant and cross-check them against reliable sources. More often than not, there is a dearth of reliable information, which requires time and effort to obtain. It is thus critical to have a wide network of contacts. To maintain and expand my network, I get to meet with local officials, fellow diplomats, business people, academics, journalists, and professionals from various trades who may provide different perspectives to issues.
I also facilitate visits by leaders and officials between both countries. There is the challenge of putting together a substantive programme and logistical arrangements for the visiting delegations, and ensuring that the visits run like clock-work. As many of these visits are arranged at short notice, we often operated under very tight deadlines.
There are many visits between Qatar and Singapore. One particularly memorable one was the Qatari Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani's visit to Singapore in November 2013. He was accompanied by six Ministers and many dignitaries, and they met with our leaders. The visit involved several ministries and agencies from both countries, and would not be possible without cooperation among the different parties. I have also never encountered such a long motorcade of vehicles to transport the dignitaries from one location to another.
The life of a diplomat is anything but routine, and it will not be a walk in the park. The work is fast-paced and high-pressure, requiring speed, accuracy, and the ability to cope with tight deadlines. When I was a new officer, I faced a steep learning curve that has helped to discipline me, particularly the way I work and analyse issues. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the best and brightest people in this field who possess a wealth of experience.
When our FSOs are sent on overseas postings, they tend to be much younger than their overseas counterparts. In a field which age is often equated with experience and ability, our FSOs have to rise up to the challenge and prove their worth. We are often entrusted with more responsibilities and are expected to be able to manage difficult assignments. This requires adaptability and resourcefulness. It is a career that moulds our officers from the start and instils a habit of lifelong learning. In fact, every day at work is different as we are always learning something new about the work, the world, and of course, ourselves.
MFA also requires a lot of team-work, not just within the ministry, but across the civil service. Through this, I have made many friends with whom I share a sense of camaraderie. More importantly, the work is fulfilling, as you are a part of the team that shapes a nation's foreign policy and protects the country's interests.
Stay hungry for challenges. Stay curious for knowledge. Stay positive for growth.