Switching continents: What life is like on the other side of the world

by Jobbatical September 20, 2016

One Italian business developer in Singapore. One Hong Kong B2B marketer in Estonia. Varying degrees of culture shock.

As I’m writing this, team Jobbatical happens to include at least one European-born person living in Asia, as well as one Asian-born person living in Europe. I can’t guarantee the accuracy of this statement by the time you read this—everyone’s traveling so much that the team’s Google Calendar looks like a game of Tetris unfolding in real time.

To get a better understanding of how living in Europe compares to living in Asia, I asked Kwun-Lok (our B2B marketing master) and Giulia (our BizDev powerhouse) about their experiences with life and work on the two continents.

We’ve seen Kwun (sitting on the swing, middle) and Giulia (front row, third from the right) in the same room together, so at least we’re pretty sure they’re not secretly the same person.

(Disclaimer: I fully acknowledge that both “Europe” and “Asia” are very broad terms and comparing entire continents to each other is a little bit like trying to nail fog to a wall. But hey, it’s fun! Unlike, presumably, nailing fog to a wall.)

From Asia to Europe: Kwun-Lok and the mysterious case of the tiny strawberries

Kwun decided to look for adventures outside of Hong Kong when he realized he was struggling to find a local company with a vision he shared. Eager to immerse himself in a new environment and experience more of the world, he joined us in Tallinn, Estonia in March 2016.

One of Kwun’s first encounters with snow. Look at that excited smile! In a few months’ time, he’ll be properly sick to death of the stuff.

What is the work culture like in your new home and how does it compare to Hong Kong?

The team is more autonomous, compared to the order-taking working culture in Hong Kong. Working hours are so much shorter than in HK, but everyone’s into their work instead of Facebooking around and pretending to be working.

Any interesting observations about the way people in Estonia treat you?

Small kids in Estonia stare at me outside the touristy areas. Some people have said “konnichiwa” (“good morning” in Japanese) or “arigato” (“thanks” in Japanese) to me. Rarely “nihao” (a greeting in Mandarin). Not sure if it’s because of my man bun.

(Editor’s note: Way to make assumptions, my fellow Estonians! Not cool.)

Kwun and his man bun out and about in Tallinn.

What’s your support network like? How did you build up your social life?

Jobbatical coworkers are definitely my biggest support in helping me explore local culture and places. Also, as a minority here, I’ve basically met every single Hong Kong person in Estonia because everyone who knows a Hong Kong person would introduce us.

Sightseeing in Estonia with a part of the team.

What do you miss most about Hong Kong specifically and Asia in general?

Milk teas (HK-style, Thai-style, Japanese-style) and Japanese food (sushi, ramen, everything).

What do you not miss at all?

The weather. The people, except my family.

What was the biggest culture shock when you moved to Europe?

  1. People left work so early on Friday.
  2. There are tiny strawberries that are ready to eat…

He means these: wild strawberries (almost unbearably delicious). Legend has it that Kwun went to the forest in Estonia and saw these berries. Because they were so tiny, Kwun thought they were not ripe, and went home empty-handed. Estonians promptly collapsed with laughter. Photo by Valdis Osins via Shutterstock.

What do you think will be the biggest culture shock when you go back to Asia?

“OMG, it’s so crowded! People! People everywhere!”

What do you love most about Europe and Estonia specifically?

About Estonia: The fresh air! (I have some respiratory system issues.) The country is also small enough that it’s easy to access everything, and there aren’t that many people.

About Europe: The nature. How different countries are in Europe—and you don’t need an expensive ticket to visit them all!

What do you like least about Europe and Estonia specifically?

Nothing yet. Maybe… the upcoming winter? I have been warned by many people about the scary winter of Estonia.

What’s your very favourite place you’ve visited in Europe?

Tallinn, no doubt.

Favourite Asian country?

Japan: polite, nice food, tidy. My next Jobbatical, if there is one, would be in Japan.

Do you have long-term plans? Staying in Europe? Going back to Asia? Secret option number three?

No plans at all.

Life’s more beautiful when it is full of unknown adventures ahead.

From Europe to Asia: Giulia and the quest for a life without seasons (but a lot of spice)

Giulia’s reason for relocating to Asia: why not? Having first moved abroad for work at the age of 16, our Italian-Hungarian business development dynamo can’t get enough of travel in all its forms. Giulia joins us in Tallinn occasionally, but spends most of her time in Singapore, acting as the face of Jobbatical in Southeast Asia.


What is the work culture like in your new home and how does it compare to Europe?

Everyone takes work and education very seriously in Singapore — it’s not uncommon to see teenagers spending Friday night at Starbucks doing homework. You certainly don’t see this in Europe! The work culture in tech companies is very similar to Europe — casual outfits, really driven people at work, the occasional table tennis/foosball match happening.

There are some cultural differences, mainly derived from different religions peacefully living in the same country. Perhaps the most interesting for me to notice was alcohol. I grew up in Veneto, Italy (mostly). Drinking a glass of wine or spritz is a weekly ritual to enjoy friends’ and colleagues’ company.

Among the friends I have made here are some muslims who don’t drink, and it is a nice change to go out for live music, karaoke or even just ice coffee and naan (Indian flatbread). Had I not spent time here in Asia, I would still automatically think everyone drinks.

Any interesting observations about the way people in Singapore treat you?

I have a pretty casual style when it comes to clothing (think startup T-shirt and jeans), so cab drivers are always surprised when they hear I’m here for work and not a student. People tend to dress more formally compared to Europe. Singapore is extremely diverse, so no skin tone or hair color is “different enough” to be treated differently.

Startup T-shirts and hoodies, you say? Giulia (left) and teammate Laura bringing it at Slush Singapore.

What’s your support network like? How did you build up your social life?

My five best friends are on four different continents. We do our best to meet at least twice a year and spend a weekend together somewhere fun, and in the meantime IM keeps us connected. I have a standing appointment every week on Wednesday night with Margherita Pagani — we’re 11 hours apart but really close. Distance can mean everything or nothing at all. In my case, my friends know they can count on me no matter how far away I am, and vice versa.

What do you miss most about Europe?

I do miss having a lot of choice when buying fresh meat and vegetables. Singapore doesn’t have a lot of agriculture going on (though there is some) and I don’t like buying carrots that traveled more miles last week than I did. I really miss farmers’ markets and going to the cheesemonger for cheese and prosciutto.

What do you not miss at all?

Housing! Houses in Europe tend to be older. Here in Singapore apartments are more modern and community-focused. It’s common for apartment blocks to have shared facilities: most have a playground, gym, BBQ pit, swimming pool(s). It’s an environment that nudges you to be more social and friendly with your neighbor! In Italy, you usually share a car park and garbage collection point — that’s it.

What was the biggest culture shock when you moved to Asia?

It was definitely a positive culture shock: food everywhere, 24/7. A lot of hawker centers, grocery stores, and some malls are open around the clock.


I discovered that real Chinese food has little to do with cashew chicken and Cantonese fried rice. Just like spaghetti bolognese doesn’t exist in Italy and saying “pasta with chicken” would make my grandma send you to wash your mouth out with soap, Asian food in Italy is far from the truth.

The variety of cuisines available in Southeast Asia amazes me. Who knew Japanese food included fried cutlet (tonkatsu)? Or beef curry? I still can’t believe I ate my first laksa at the ripe age of 24. Laksa is one of the most popular dishes in Malaysian cuisine and my favorite since I came here, together with char kway teow — fried flat rice noodles.


What do you think will be the biggest culture shock when you next visit Europe?

I’ve gotten used to the amount of spices used here, and I think I’m going to find most European dishes too bland. I’m also going to be really happy when I can buy mozzarella for 2€ and a nice bottle of wine for 10€.

Oh, and driving. I think I forgot how to drive a car. Please don’t ask me to drive or park your car if you see me.

What do you love most about Southeast Asia and Singapore specifically?

About Southeast Asia:

  • Incredible weather and the lack of seasons
  • Food quality, diversity, traditions
  • How different everything is compared to what I’ve experienced before

About Singapore:

  • The beautiful Changi airport (Three cinemas! A butterfly garden! Food! Planes!)
  • The public transportation system is my best friend
  • Modern technologies in everyday life: Android Pay, personal transportation devices, self driving taxis


What do you like least about Southeast Asia and Singapore specifically?

About Southeast Asia:

  • Timezones — slightly more challenging to keep personal and business relationships alive
  • Hot weather brings a few health hazards: dengue, malaria, sunburn
  • Immigration — let’s please find a smarter way to travel

About Singapore:

  • I’m not sure why people here love queueing so much
  • High living cost — especially rent, groceries and smartphones

What’s your favorite place you’ve visited in Asia?

The next one! Seriously, it’s hard to say. Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are awesome cities to live and work. The coastline in Cambodia is spectacular and I hope mass tourism doesn’t ruin it. Bali is where I would spend all my weekends. I’m really looking forward to exploring more of Australia and New Zealand.

I wouldn’t mind going back to Sri Lanka. I love tea, and seeing plantations in real life was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Asia. It definitely put India with its Assam and Darjeeling regions on my bucket list.

Tea plantation in Sri Lanka. Photo by Volodymyr Goinyk via Shutterstock

Favourite European country?

I can’t choose one. I feel more European than Italian, and my memories, friends, and family members are scattered across the continent. Plus, our national identities are merging and overlapping continuously. I routinely have cravings for Italian pizza, Serbian ajvar, Greek cheese, Estonian craft beer and, most importantly, crossing a border without a queue and a visa stamp.

Do you have long-term plans? Staying in Asia? Coming back to Europe? Secret option number three?

There is going to be more of Asia in my future. I’ve never been to Africa or the Americas and I can’t wait to visit a few new countries on each continent.

The only long-term plan is to keep exploring the world and spending as much time as possible in places I like with the people I love.

What’s your favorite place in the world? What’s the biggest culture shock you’ve ever experienced? Leave a comment! Looking to move continents? Check out these opportunities around the globe!

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