Counsellor (Administration & Consular) in Pretoria Mission
My company and my job
I started as a First Secretary, and have since been promoted to my current role as Counsellor for Consular and Administration at the Singapore High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa. This means that if a Singaporean requires consular assistance anywhere in South Africa, he/she will most likely be in contact with me. I help the High Commissioner with the day-to-day logistics of the Chancery so that the High Commission operates smoothly like a miniature version of MFA.
Before this posting, I was posted to the Singapore Embassy in Berlin and while at HQ previously, I was part of the emergency planning and crisis management section of the Consular Directorate.
How I got my job
The interview process involved written and aptitude tests but the most challenging hurdle was the assessment centre – where one is put through a series of tasks that simulate the work of a Foreign Service Officer.
Having done various internships at international organisations such as the European Commission and the World Bank, I did not find the tasks any different from my daily work at these organisations. I was thankful that I had picked up these useful skill sets – they were also the ones MFA was looking out for in their candidates.
The highs and lows
I was pleasantly surprised when I was presented with the opportunity of a posting to Pretoria. The first thing that ran through my mind was not the perceived challenges (many of which are unfounded) but how fortunate I was to work at a place where few Singaporeans would consider moving to for work.
While there are various infrastructural and security challenges, these are not insurmountable. The training by MFA has given me the resilience and can-do spirit needed to get the job done!
Training and support
When we are posted overseas, there is the possibility of a crisis (terror attack, natural disaster) or a consular incident (accident, arrest, death of Singaporean citizens). We are expected to respond to these challenges with professionalism. MFA has devoted many resources to ensure that we continue to acquire new skill sets and remain relevant in the global threat environment.
Besides the regular MFA in-house training programmes, I have also attended joint training programmes organised by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as well as the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).
Having been with MFA for over 10 years, I enjoy the unpredictable nature of my job. One cannot really predict how each day will turn out because we have to react to any situation that unfolds. During the Mumbai terror attack of 2008, the crisis management team worked for three days consecutively to assist affected Singaporeans.
However, I remember that we were never tired; the adrenaline kept us going. At the end of the crisis, there was a feeling of deep personal satisfaction that we were part of a larger government effort to assist our fellow Singaporeans.
My advice to all Singaporeans is to never underestimate the value of learning! My counterpart in the Namibia foreign ministry and I get along very well even though we started out as perfect strangers. Namibia was a former German colony and German is still widely spoken in commercial circles there. My counterpart and I were able to have a good professional working relationship because we both speak German – the friendship had grown from there.