Working in the public sector was not something Eileen Chong initially thought she would be doing. In fact, if she did not get to work overseas, Eileen at least envisioned herself working for a multi-national company. However, she eventually decided to take up a scholarship with MFA.
"Participating in Model UN during my JC years sparked my interest in international affairs and diplomacy," says Eileen. "I decided to take up a scholarship with MFA because it was a convergence of my two interests: The opportunity to represent Singapore's interests abroad as a diplomat while operating in a global environment."
Having received the Singapore Government Scholarship for Foreign Service, she studied International Relations at Peking University in China, and is currently pursuing her Masters of Global Affairs and Policy (International Cooperation) in Yonsei University, South Korea.
Reflecting on this opportunity, Eileen shares, "Living and studying abroad has made me more independent and culturally aware, while also helping me learn a lot about myself… [It] helped me connect the dots while developing an intricate understanding of Northeast Asia."
A Global Undergraduate Experience
Eileen's global journey has not been limited to her education. She has also interned across borders with MFA; first with the Singapore embassy in Washington D.C., and then the embassy in Seoul. She recalls, "It gave me the opportunity to shadow real diplomats at work – my mentors – and see how they defend Singapore's interests on an everyday basis."
Fellow scholarship recipient Calvin Wong was exposed to MFA work even before he started University. As part of the opportunities afforded by the scholarship, he did a three-month internship when he was fresh out of National Service, during which he was attached to MFA's ASEAN directorate. He says, "I also had the chance to visit Jakarta for an official ASEAN meeting. This internship gave me a better understanding of the job and made me more confident."
Calvin also did two month-long internships later during his undergraduate studies. During his internship with Singapore's Permanent Mission to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, he attended and covered the 2011 UN Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC) meeting. He then worked in the Singapore Embassy in Seoul the next year.
Recalling his experience, Calvin shares, "The UN ECOSOC is probably quite alien to most Singaporeans, including me initially. I was hence surprised and proud when many of the discussions praised Singapore as a possible model for developing countries. The UN was a great place for me to put theory into practice, since I got to interact with diplomats from all over the world!"
Singapore Government Scholarship (Foreign Service)
Master of Global Affairs and Policy (International Cooperation)
Yonsei University, South Korea
Bachelor of International Relations, Peking University, China
Serving The Nation's Interests
After settling into his job at MFA, Calvin's exposure to global politics proved critical. As a Country Officer in the Northeast Asia Directorate, Calvin must remain up to speed with political, social and economic developments in China, in order to understand certain decisions made by Chinese leaders and advise agencies on approaching engagements with China.
As part of his job, he supports Singapore leaders' visits to China as well as incoming visits by Chinese leaders, which are critical in strengthening the bilateral relationship. He explains, "On a strategic level, I help to suggest deliverables and agreements that can strengthen links between both sides. I also formulate talking points on issues that our leaders discuss with their Chinese counterparts."
The skills that Calvin picked up on the job have also trained him to tackle problems more efficiently. He says, "How do we tell what information is reliable? There's only one way to do this, and that is to strengthen your knowledge of the country… I learnt more about China from meetings with academics, other diplomats and officials than I could possibly read online or in books."
For Eileen, who is looking forward to starting work at MFA, her opportunities to live and study in China and South Korea help her meet her career goals. She shares, "I hope to contribute to shaping Singapore's foreign policy in Northeast Asia. MFA supporting my choice to pursue both my degrees in non-English speaking countries in Asia was very helpful [for me to] develop an intimate first-hand understanding of the region."
Singapore Government Scholarship (Foreign Service)
Country Officer, Northeast Asia Directorate
Shaping Your Own Future
As Eileen admits, one may not have had the initial ambition to serve in the public sector; or like Calvin, one may not even feel confident representing Singapore on the world stage as a Foreign Service Officer. However, as these two scholars have proven, what matters most is drive.
"This is a Ministry that values diversity and handles an incredible range of issues, for which different skillsets are needed," advises Calvin. He offers that strong analytical abilities and having an eye for detail is crucial to MFA's work. He adds, "As civil servants, integrity is key. You must also have Singapore's key interests at heart."
What words does he have for scholar hopefuls? Calvin says, "I would encourage all potential scholars to undertake an internship, or at the least speak to as many officers from within the organisation as possible, so you understand the pros and cons of the job, as well as the expectations for scholars."
Adding on, Eileen urges, "We are defined not by what we have achieved thus far, but by our potential and determination to achieve in the future. Taking a scholarship is not merely sourcing a sponsor for your studies, but choosing a stepping stone to a career that could put that potential and determination to great use."