Accidental Researcher Abroad

By Lauren Baxendale

I occasionally have to remind myself exactly how I ended up here – a 26 year old from Greater Manchester, now conducting market research in Singapore. I completely buy into the  ‘Accidental Researcher’ theory. For me, it started fresh out of University with a temporary contract in the technology team at market research agency Join the Dots (JtD). One graduate programme and two research teams later, I was thrilled to be given a secondment to our office in Singapore.

Now I’m an Accidental Researcher Abroad!

For those familiar with Karl Pilkington’s bleak outlook on travelling, rest assured I’m more optimistic about the wonders of experiencing other cultures. I do, however, sometimes relate to his bewilderment at some of the huge differences you can experience in some of the most mundane parts of day to day life.

Here are some of the key things I’ve learnt working, and more specifically researching, in Singapore:

Working Day Routines Shift

Back at JtD in the UK, flexible working policies meant that people would often start early (whether to enjoy the calm before the storm, or to work around school drop-offs); power through lunchtime with a quick desk sandwich; and then rush to finish at 5:30.

14 hours Eastwards, it’s a completely different story. I’ve had clients who can’t make meetings before 10am because that’s “too early”; lunch is a more leisurely affair lasting a couple of hours (allowing time for group lunches or mid-morning workouts). At the other end of the day, nobody bats an eyelid if you’re still in the office at 9pm.

Whilst there are extremes here in both cases, it still takes getting used to, and working across time zones only adds to this. Having said that, embracing the good and bad bits of both has kept things interesting. Yes, it can be frustrating waiting for the late risers to come online, but at the same time I’m fully on board with the trips out for $10 Thai lunches…everybody wins!

Brits Love Small Talk, But Others Aren’t So Sure!

It’s a common misconception that you can spot a Brit a mile away. They’re the one who’s chewing over the weather. Not true. I was surprised to learn this is quite an unfair stereotype. I’ve met plenty of Aussies, Singaporeans and various other nationalities who are all equally as happy and as likely to say “Isn’t it humid/hot/stormy/stuffy!?” on a daily occurrence, and often with ridiculous specificity. Great – the weather’s a global language!

What is sometimes harder to deal with is having the overly British and unnecessary small talk exchange replaced with the more direct-to-business approach to interactions that often comes with the busy Asian lifestyle. As someone who’ll talk to anyone, I used to take so much time enquiring about colleagues’ activities. Nowadays, calls are over much quicker and emails containing a ream of project updates, enquiries about wellbeing and a host of upcoming weekend pleasantries are often met with those three little words – “please find attached” or “received with thanks”.

Whilst this definitely has the bonus of making interactions shorter when you’re up against a deadline, and emails easier to re-read at later dates, it does now mean our poor UK team is subjected to more inane small talk than even they’re probably used to.

Being a Researcher Isn’t All About Doing Research

OK, so this isn’t completely different to being back in the UK – I still had a fair share of training sessions, corporate meetings and team related things to do there too. However, there were also plenty of other elements and aspects at play in the company that I barely touched. Tech Support, Accounts and the Business Development teams all operated in the background – all very lovely people but all with very mysterious jobs of which I knew little to nothing about.

What differs when you join a satellite office, with a team 95% smaller, is that you suddenly become ALL these departments. I’ve done more marketing, accounting, supplier management, networking and pitching in the past year than I’d ever done in my whole life. A lot of these things continue to blow my mind and I’m still much happier putting together a questionnaire, or getting stuck into a report. However, I now do have a new found appreciation for the teams that absolutely ace that sort of stuff on a daily basis.

After nearly 18 months on secondment in Singapore I by no means feel equipped to navigate all the cultural nuances yet. At times I still feel like a newbie in town and I must pinch myself frequently to make sure this is all actually happening to me. One thing I’m sure of, however, is my decision to hop on a plane to the other side of the world and get stuck in. It’s been a learning curve. Learning is my favourite part of this job and, just occasionally, when I get the appreciative nod from our Singaporean colleague, I’ll know I’ve got it right, and that’s cool.

So whether you’re an Accidental Researcher or not, I’d say grab any opportunity you get to do what you love overseas, immerse yourself in the culture of other countries, and learn everything you can from the people you meet – not just colleagues and clients, but people from all walks of life.

By Lauren Baxendale, Join the Dots