We were lucky to have the opportunity to sit down with Susan Knudsen-Pickles, Partnership & Events Manager at Expat Living Magazine, Singapore to find out more about her life as a Danish/Filipino living the expat lifestyle!
1: Tell us about your expat journey.. You are a Danish/Filipino living in Singapore.. How did you get there? Job/ trailing spouse/education?
My education in Denmark was in Retail Management, I was employed as an all around trainee for 3 years for a Danish company called 'Bodum'- the famous coffee plungers you can buy all over the world. With 'Bodum' I got to work in Switzerland and in Frankfurt learning everything about the business from logistics, customer service and visual merchandising so mention a few. It was at a retail fair or “messe” in Frankfurt that completely changed my life. I met Sarina Lim, she was the distributor of 'Bodum' in Singapore and we immediately hit it off and with nothing to lose, I asked her if she wanted help with Bodum in Singapore. She liked the idea and we emailed back and forth. Then 6 months later I landed in Changi Airport with my very red suitcase. I was 22 years old and was ready to take on the world! My job in Singapore was to open 'Bodum' shops in shops, which meant opening 'Bodum' counters in department stores. I also got to do it in Kuala Lumpur and in Bangkok.
My contract in 'Bodum' was 2 years after that my plan was to go back to Europe and work in the 'Bodum' office in Copenhagen or in Switzerland, however plans always have a detour, don’t they.
In 2023 I met my husband James, who is from Sydney Australia- I met him through mutual friends, naturally I was not ready to go back to Europe as i wanted to see how our relationship was going to evolve. I started a job in advertising sales at a company called 'Zocard', which was run by my friends Monica and Pierre Perret, a Swedish/Australian couple who were great people. I basically sold advertising on postcards- hard work but great fun and I met so many people through them.
In 2005 I met the boys from Catcha Publishing, back then they ran a handful of magazines including the very fabulous JUICE and OK magazine. I did media sales for them and had the most fun ever. Meanwhile the love department was going pretty well. James was offered a position in London in 2007 and we decided to go together. In London I landed a job with the very famous advertising billboard company 'JCDecaux'. London was a different ballgame all together- first of all budgets were different, companies in London do not mess around with their campaigns! Every Friday we would have a download of deals made that week and we would easily have 5-10 million in bookings for advertising placements in 1 week. It was insane! People worked hard and partied hard- we were all young and gave it our all, which I thought was amazing. The 'JCDecaux' culture is all about teamwork and helping each other rail the deal and advertisers had great trust and relationships with the 'JCDecaux' team, which I learned to value. After a year of fast paced advertising with 'JCDecaux' I decided to turn down the gear and work on my marketing skills. I got a chance to work at the Tate Gallery assisting the marketing department on the Rothco and Francis Bacon exhibitions which i loved so much!
2009 James and I got married and I became pregnant with my first child Maya Rose in London. We decided to move to Sydney in 2010 and move by the beach in Avalon- in the northern beaches of Sydney. However, we were only there for about one year when we had to move back to Singapore for James’ work.
Wow, what a long career story!
2: Congratulations on being the events manager at Expat Living Magazine! How did you land this role? What does it entail? What kind of events do you host?
2011 we moved back to Singapore and I was busy with family life and Maya Rose, then one of my old friends working at Expat Living suggested that I might be interested in working for the magazine. I joined the sales team in 2012 but fell pregnant again with my second child, Joey Marie in 2013 and I took a break- I rejoined in 2016 doing what I do now, Partnerships and Events.
Being the events manager I am responsible for curating ideas that I think would suit our clients and readers. I am responsible for everything from marketing of the event to setting up for the event to hosting the event on the actual day. I am basically a one man show. I always follow a few criteria. One it has to be fun, two it has to be engaging and three our readers need to walk out of the event feeling they have learned something. The kind of events I have been doing are talks- we talk about issues that are important to talk about especially after COVID such as parenting, mental health and we also talk about women’s health such as menopause. I organise fun things like cocktail masterclass, styling events, makeup and etiquette workshops. I also organise walks around Singapore.
3: What are some of the challenges you face living the expat life in Singapore?
My friends from Denmark would probably think living the expat lifestyle has no challenges to go with it, but for me not having family around is hard. I would like my girls to have more family around. However, I am quite lucky that I have my cousin living around the corner from us here in Singapore. And I also have wonderful friends I have made along the years of being here. The cost of living in Singapore is driving everyone out of Singapore as it is very expensive to live here. One big challenge most trailing spouses are facing now is the hardship of getting a job in Singapore. I am a permanent resident which means that I can work in Singapore, however if you are here on a dependent pass, it is extremely difficult to land a job and nearly impossible to get a part time one.
4: You have an impressive resume, established business relationships and have a real mix of languages and cultural diversity! What advice do you have for women who are looking to advance their career in foreign countries?
I already had a head start on cultural diversity, being a mixed race person. I always say, if you do not ask you do not get! Do not be afraid to ask for something that you want, however in Asia, most importantly, you have to give the person you are asking face. There is an art to doing this and it takes time to learn. What is giving face? Well the abstract concept of face obviously has nothing to do with physical features. Instead, face can be described as a combination of social standing, reputation, influence, dignity, and honor. Causing someone to lose face lowers them in the eyes of their peers. Saving face or "building face" raises their self worth—obviously a better outcome for everyone. This is very important when doing business in Asia. Even though Singapore is westernised in most things, the practice of giving face is still extremely important. Understanding the culture is vital and asking questions and learning about different cultural etiquette is important as well.
5: What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? What is that? Hahaha
I organise my time around my children’s schedule, so while they are at school I try to squeeze in time to be with my exercise group every Tuesday and Thursday where we exercise together outside- yes in 32 degrees heat! I love meeting friends over lunch and I also meet with my bookclub friends whom I treasure very much. Our book club is called 'Boozing with Books'. I love going for walks, I wish Singapore had a climate like Hong Kong- perfect walking weather!
6: What place(s) have you visited, lived, or worked in that have had a lasting impact on you?
Singapore has made a profound impact on me. Ever since I visited here when I was 14 years old I loved it. I love the vibrancy and the mix of culture- how everyone can live harmoniously coming from different cultures and backgrounds. When I was 14 years old, I told my mom that I will be moving to Singapore one day. Singapore and I grew up together, I was here during SARS, financial crisis, Lee Kwan Yew's death and Covid-19. During all of these events, the people of Singapore worked hard together, no matter their nationality and background and got through it and passed the test with flying colours. It is very rare to see a nation like that.
7: What advice would you give to a female that has just moved somewhere for the first time? She doesn’t know anyone…?
I think it is very important to belong, but finding that group to belong to can be really difficult, so it is trial and error. In Singapore it is very easy to meet people as we have a lot of associations welcoming new expats and new members. It is very easy to join groups here and we have every group under the sun! Networking is also very important, in Singapore it is who you know who can open doors for you and believe it or not, everyone here is connected to each other one way or the other.
8: How did you get into the corporate events world? What advice do you have for other women looking to get into the events business?
To be honest, doing events was never on my radar. I was always in sales but when the outgoing events manager of Expat Living was leaving Rebecca, who is the head of Expat Living, called me up and asked if I wanted to step into the role. I said my only event experience was birthday parties! She said that is good enough, lets give it a go! Seven years later we are still making 4-5 events a month for the magazine. It is important to be creative, organised and committed. Events is really hard work especially when you are a one man show like me, it is physically hard! I am the driver, the set up person, the waiter, the host- basically everything. It is very stressful when you do not see the sign ups come in so it requires a cool persona as well. You also have to be quick in solving problems and pretend everything is all jolly while the event is running.
9: What hurdles have you overcome professionally as a female expat?
Hmmm… hurdles…i think in my first few years in Singapore cultural differences was a little hurdle. When I was doing negotiations with department stores, when I was doing retail for example, no one took me seriously because I was too young, meaning not experienced enough. I always had to go with my boss Sarina, because she was the boss and the buyers of the department stores already had a good relationship with her. Also looking Asian on the outside but Western on the inside, I had to figure out how to use that to my advantage in the early days of my career. I was always same same but different!
10: Lastly, in your opinion what do you think are the biggest problems female expats face? What are the solutions?
I think a lot of people think being an expat, one lives this glamorous life with lots of fancy lunches and champagne. However most of the time, that is not the case. A lot of women, who are the trailing spouses, get lost and end up losing their identity, while they focus on making sure their husband has a good set up and making sure the kids are taken care of. A two year contract all of a sudden becomes eight years and being away for that long when you do not work makes your qualifications outdated and then all of a sudden you are a dinosaur who can not build an excel spreadsheet.
It is very hard not to have family around to help and if your husband travels and you do not know anyone. It becomes very lonely.
On the flip side though… if one wanted to reinvent themselves then using the expat time/journey is wonderful to test out other career opportunities or perhaps setting up a business that one always wanted to do. That is easy to do in Singapore.
I do not have solutions as everyone is different, but i think if one is going on the expat journey, one must prepare for the rollercoaster emotions it brings along the way.
There will be fun times with new and exciting experiences such as learning new cultures and traveling. However, there will also be lonely times missing family and friends back home.
Connect with Susan:
Linkedin: Susan Knudsen-Pickles
FB: Expat Living
FB: Susan Knudsen-Pickles