Q&A with a Colleague: Singapore Director Valerie Lim
Global Career Center has been offering internship programs in Singapore for 13 years. I recently spoke with GCC Singapore Director, Valerie Lim, to find out what makes interning in Singapore so special.
First, a little background
Valerie was born in Singapore and currently resides in Singapore. In fact, she was married in March of 2023 and intends to spend her life there. When I asked her if she was from a certain area of Singapore, she let me know that Singapore is Singapore; the city, the state, the country (officially Singapore is an Island Country, The Republic of Singapore, and a city-state in maritime SE Asia). There are not boroughs like NYC or city/suburb regions. It’s just Singapore. I found that to be refreshing.
Valerie was first an assistant on our team in Singapore for many years and has spent the last 3 years leading GCC efforts with the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower to ensure GCC is a recognized organization as well as working with host organizations and students. Below are some lightly edited highlights from our conversation.
What are some of the top industries that have great internship placement opportunities?
One of the most unique industries compared to other GCC cities is that we can host architecture students because there a lot of architecture firms and construction firms that could use their training, skill, and perspective. There are so many different and cool architectural styles throughout Singapore that it makes an ideal place to intern.
In addition to architecture; banking, finance, IT, Hospitality & Tourism, Engineering, and Healthcare (including some cosmetics) are big fields. Design firms for hardware and product design are abundant. And, in the law sector, mediation is a big area for placements.
One of the biggest placement challenges we face in Singapore is that companies and host organizations would like students to intern longer than 8-10 weeks. If students could do a full three to six months it would open up even more amazing opportunities for them. But even with that said, we have great placements in many industries.
Gardens by the Bay
What are some recent Universities and companies you’ve worked with on internship/co-op program?
Our primary partners are UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Cincinnati, and Drexel University. Drexel’s co-op students are here for 6 months. Berkeley and Michigan for 3 months. Cincinnati is a bit unique and has both a 6 month and 3-month program for students.
We have a lot of great host organizations and can accommodate a wide range of interests. A few newer partners that stand out are;
NCS PVT Limited; a leading IT and Engineering organization
MeetArts; an event planning organization that support local artists
BioFuel; a sustainability, energy, and recycling organization
Endophotoinics; a developer of endoscopic imaging technologies.
What are some of the challenges you face with placing interns and co-op students?
As mentioned, short duration programs are a challenge but still doable. Bigger companies often like local students because they will use the internship as a pipeline to full time employment and local students will accept positions up to six months in advance.
However, companies still like to have interns with US, UK, and Australian perspective and would actually like to host these students more regularly than a 1x summer internship. They would host different students for Fall, Spring, and Summer semester if they could!
Can you describe the work culture?
In general, Singapore has a bit of a ‘work-a-holic’ culture. Students can expect 40-44 hour work weeks depending on the industry, highly efficient processes and systems, and a lightly competitive environment focused on achieving the results. Many international and multinational firms are in Singapore and they are more similar to the US work culture but laser focused on results, results, results.
English is the language of work but because of our conservative nature co-workers are not as open to talk or brainstorm and generate ideas like in the US and other countries.
I think within the next 5 years hybrid work will be the norm but now most internships are in person with 1 to 2 days remote.
Students are usually uncomfortable at first with longer hours and co-workers that on the surface seem less welcoming but they adjust pretty easily. Co-workers warm up and friendships are made and day to day work life is fun and challenging.
What do students do when they are not working?
Day to day life after work is maybe a little different than other big cities. Most student might have dinner and then go to the mall but other than that activities happen on the weekend.
Within Singapore top destinations are; hanging out on Sentosa Island beaches, visiting the Singapore Zoo (a true rainforest zoo), eating and socializing at a Hawker Market, touring Gardens by the Bay, Hiking the 4 Nature Reserves and 300+ parks, and having a blast at Universal Studios.
Singapore’s subway system, MRT (mass rapid transit), is superb and inexpensive so students can get to work and explore the whole island easily.
Bukit Batok Nature Park
Speaking of Hawker’s Markets; Is that a tourist thing or a real Singaporean thing?
Hawker Markets are the real deal and a true part of Singapore’s history! They are day to day life for all Singaporeans and food is a very big part of the culture. The big ones near the Central Business District may attract tourists but they are very real and there are many other small, medium and large Hawker Markets throughout Singapore.
So, there is a ton to do and see in Singapore but with its amazing location do students explore other areas of SE Asia?
Many students will travel on the weekend within Singapore but many will also explore Malaysia, Thailand, and other SE Asia destinations.
What does the future hold for GCC Singapore?
We will always offer great internship and co-op placements for students and have the capacity to more than double current annual placements.
A couple things I am excited about but can’t elaborate too much because they are not totally finalized will be our ability to work with the Singapore Licensing Agency to act as an employment agent and to work with the Ministry of Manpower to offer short course programs, 1-4 weeks, that would be allowed under the WHP visa which is not usually the case.
Editor’s Note and Further Reading
I’ve spent less than a week in Singapore and didn’t get to explore much because I was attending a conference. I find the city to be alive 24/7 in many areas. It is by far the cleanest and easiest to get around in big city I’ve ever been in. If, or should I say, when I return to Singapore, I would like to do a deep dive on the fascinating mix of architectural styles and per my normal M.O. I will definitely hit up the hawker markets (I only went to one when I was there ☹). Below are links to additional articles you may find interesting.
A brief history of Singapore:
Hawker Center Guide: