Name: Harkirat Singh Ahluwalia
Company: Validus Capital
Country: Singapore (Click here for InternSG, Singapore’s number one internship platform)
Two weeks ago, I got to speak with Hark, a former QCIB member and Queen’s Commerce student. Hark worked as an intern in Singapore last year and sha
red with me his favourite parts, and most challenging parts, of an internship abroad. Read along to hear how the culture and adventure influenced his work experience.
To start, what made you seek an internship abroad?
In second year, I was late to recruit for a summer internship and only started looking in January. I searched for 2 months, and in March, most of the job postings that were available weren’t aligned with the experiences I was looking for. The decision was between staying in Toronto and doing a job I didn’t feel that I was best suited for, or finding something abroad and trying something new.
I also missed Asia because I hadn’t been back in so long. I was born in India, and then moved with my family to the Philippines, Malaysia, Dubai (UAE) and Jakarta (Indonesia) before finally settling in Toronto. Asia has always been home for me.
How did you find the job?
In terms of the job search process, I talked to my parents about my options and interests. It turned out my dad knew someone at a firm in Singapore, and was able to connect me. We had several conversations, and after a few weeks the connection offered me a job. So, I told my friends I was going to Singapore.
What was the preparation like?
One important thing to know is that you need a special work visa to work abroad. There are only a certain number of visas given for international internships, and the process takes some time – so this was pretty important to take care of as soon as possible. The career centre (CAC) was able to write me a validating letter and was really helpful during the process. In terms of culture, I generally knew what to expect.
But you hadn’t lived in Singapore before – so something must have thrown a curveball at you.
Yes, the first few weeks were interesting. I walked off the plane and thought “where do I stay, what do I do?” While I was finding accommodations, I was lucky enough to be able to stay at my dad’s friend’s place. Singapore residences are really expensive so I contacted a few real estate agents. They thought that since I was technically an expat, I would be able to afford an expensive place – they first tried showing me one-bedroom apartments for $3500 CAD. As one can imagine, that was just “slightly” out of my budget. After a week I finally found a somewhat affordable option to share a flat with three other people.
Tell me about your job. Was anything surprising there?
On day one I showed up in a full suit and tie…and everyone at the office was dressed relatively casually. I had assumed that business formal was the way to go for a professional internship. One co worker said to me, “Hark, you look as if you belong on Wall Street. When you come back tomorrow, no suit, no tie.” I eventually started showing up in jeans and a QZ.
Wow, I haven’t done a lot of research but wouldn’t have expected that.
I hadn’t either, but it makes sense – Singapore is too hot to be walking around in a suit and tie.
Otherwise, Singaporeans give really direct feedback on things which I liked much more than the way we skirt around things in Commerce groups. Everyone was really professional and smart – I was very lucky to work so closely with such knowledgeable people.
How did working in Singapore give you a better job opportunity?
Singapore is great in terms of innovation, especially fintech. I wanted to experience some of that growth and to learn what the excitement was about. P2P SME lending – the industry that Validus operates in – is relatively new to Asia. Developed markets already have established players, while in Asia, many firms are in the start-up phase.
In terms of the work itself, I was given a ton of autonomy which forced me to think for myself. This experience is certainly possible at any type of firm in any geography, but personally, the combination of living and working with limited guidance made me learn a lot.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Living independently was a huge jump – you need to find things to do on your own and make time for the gym, meals, etc. Establishing a routine was huge. I also had to make new friends and meet new people. Thankfully my girlfriend was in Singapore for a few months just before her exchange, so that was a great thing! Plus I made friends with my co workers and got drinks with them – it was awesome to learn from them and get to know them better.
What is your biggest recommendation for people who are interested in an internship abroad?
In terms of looking for a job, try to be really open. It’s hard enough to get a job at home, let alone get a job abroad in another country. One can learn new things from any job in any place, but the biggest learning from working abroad is from actually living in a different country and learning how to integrate.
If you’re considering working abroad you have to be ready for ambiguity: learn to do difficult things, find food, find accommodations, and handle your own life. It’s different to exchange because there’s no set program with scheduled social activities. It is a unique experience and it made me feel a lot more independent, and as if I actually had control over my life – I was finally ‘adulting’ of some sorts.