Off the Beaten Track—Starting a Fresh Career in Myanmar

By SMU School of Accountancy Social Media Team

SMU Accountancy alumna Sheriel Chia decided to uproot herself and start a fresh career in Myanmar. She wanted to expand her horizons and pursue a career on an off-beaten path, and the prospect of working in a startup in Myanmar proved irresistible. Sheriel is currently Chief Risk Officer at Get All Myanmar.Co. Read her story below.

 


 

Q: Congratulations on your appointment to Chief Risk Officer at Get! Can you share with us how you came to the decision to further your career in Myanmar?

A: Singapore is often seen as a regional hub. Personally, I felt that to perform that role, one should not only view the region through the lens of Singapore. One should also pursue opportunities to view Singapore from the outside, sitting in one of these regions. What are the contextual differences in these economies? How does Singapore value-add as a regional hub?

Furthermore, Singapore was beginning to feel stifling. With many clamouring to climb the career ladder while feeling largely disgruntled, I knew that my personal development was becoming too linear. I knew I would earn stereotypical success given enough time, but I was no longer okay with that. I was no longer satisfied with just meeting the standard expectations of what success means in life.

I think the moment you realise that the worst that could happen would not devastate your life, and that the status quo might be worse, the courage to take a leap of faith comes naturally.

 

All for seeking fresh challenges, Sheriel rides solo, scooter style in the region of Hpa An, Myanmar

 

Q: Having spent some time in Myanmar, what are the key differences you’ve observed in terms of its working style, business environment and culture? What do you like most about the country?

A: One strength I first noticed in the people I met in Myanmar, was the eagerness and hunger to learn and strive. Now, you see that in a lot of people in Singapore, but the important difference is in the attitude. In Singapore, I am privileged with having the infrastructure, resources and social network that allows me to navigate my efforts purposefully and directly towards success. In Myanmar, this privilege is not as common. So, to succeed in such an environment, the urge to learn is THE hustle of life in itself.

Myanmar people are refreshingly trusting and sincere in their community spirit. I remember that when I first took the bus, I was carrying a lunch box in one hand while standing. And a seated passenger immediately took my lunch box. My first reaction was utter bewilderment and I briefly considered whether I was getting robbed of my lunch. But as it turns out, the culture is that the people seated help the people standing. You will notice that the seated passengers tend to carry or hang on themselves all sorts of paraphernalia—umbrellas, lunch boxes, shopping bags, etc.—for those standing around them. It’s absolutely wonderful!

Now extrapolate that to a work environment and the broader societal context, here is a culture strongly reliant on its people and their immediate community to thrive. Comparatively in Singapore, the environment is driven by competitiveness and outcomes. I’ve come to admire our differences. And as people, just people, we have more in common than we tend to acknowledge.

 

Sheriel (in yellow and black stripes) pictured with her colleagues from Get All Myanmar.co

Q: As a Singaporean working in a young startup in Myanmar, what are the most challenging and most enjoyable aspects of working there?

A: The hustle and the grey of the business environment. With clear institutional voids, businesses turn to their own creativity and resources to thrive. This is unlike Singapore, where we can turn to the government to take leadership in our economic development. The obvious challenge of this, in Myanmar, is not knowing what the government’s position eventually would be when it comes to new technologies and business types. And yet on the same coin, herein lies tremendous opportunities. Ambiguity and uncertainty used to bring me discomfort, but now I see that it’s because I’ve been coddled safely all this while within my comfort zone.

 

Q: How do you think your education at SMU School of Accountancy (SOA) has helped you overcome these differences and adapt to the new environment quickly?

A: I think that adaptability is a skill that can be honed. It’s about constantly pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone and expanding that circle of comfort to cover more territories. In SMU, the opportunities to do that are infinite. You can explore different co-curricular activities and gain exposure to a breadth of subjects. By immersing yourself in these opportunities, you are confronted with a better understanding of self—your strengths, your weaknesses, and consistently challenged with room for growth. But it is specifically in SMU SOA that I found my university family to grow with—a small and cohesive environment. We were the only School to have peer tutoring sessions, organised by students to help students. It was a safe space to fail and learn with each other. I cannot attach a value to this, except that it was priceless.

 

Encountering innovation at every turn… even when it comes to fitting everyone in the available cars for a company lunch!

 

Q: Do you have any words of advice for SMU graduates keen to strike out overseas in their careers as well?

A: Do it. Just take the jump. How many times in life will you find all the stars aligned? The dream job, the ideal country, that “sexy” expat package, etc.—the list goes on. The answer is… more likely ‘Never than Ever’. Know that every adventure has a lesson and value to life. Have courage and have faith, because things are usually only clear on hindsight. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s always worse to be stagnant and dreaming of “what ifs”.

 

Sheriel celebrating the New Year with the Singapore community in Myanmar. Photo courtesy of the Singapore Embassy.

 

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