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  • Mei Anne Foo

What It’s Like To Start A New Job In A New Country During The New Coronavirus Crisis

I was ready to roll at my new job in New Zealand but Covid-19 hit so I had to adapt, improvise and roll remotely instead.

laptop, home office, new job

I would say I used to live a nomadic life. Born and bred in Malaysia, I left the nest when I was 21, staying with four different Polish families across Poland for two months after completing my bachelor’s degree. Then I moved “down under” to Singapore to build my career in journalism, where I had the privilege of conquering 30 countries before I turned 30 in 2019. It was actually a few days before reaching my third-decade birthday that I landed in “the land of the long white cloud”, better known as New Zealand, to pursue my Master of Business and Management at the University of Waikato.

As a postgraduate of a one-year Master’s programme, the study experience was somewhat intense. There were plenty of group work, which meant plenty of conflicts and candor. There were thankfully down-times too where I could attend to my own personal development goals, attending career workshops and even volunteering as a museum host at the nearby Waikato Museum (One of my favourite topics to cover as a journalist is art!).

My passion has always been writing so I also took the time to contribute some articles to Nexus, the student magazine of the University of Waikato. I interviewed Dove Chen, the 2019 winner of the New Zealand Barista Championship and an alumnus of the University himself, to find out which cafes in Hamilton were his favourites. This experience gave me a first glimpse into the comradery of this city’s close-knit business scene, where café owners, despite being competitors, cheer each other on.

My classmates, mostly international students, and I fully embraced this local culture and tried to cheer each other on during the course of our Master’s programme. We were a cohort of almost 60 students and acted like a big, extended family who were lucky enough to see and interact with each other almost everyday for a year.

Then, Covid-19 hit. And we all went into our own little bubble. By the end of our programme in mid-February, people were choosing to stay at home instead of going out to celebrate what we’ve achieved together in the past 12 months. I did organise a class picnic party at a park next to Waikato River at the end of February but only a handful of my classmates showed up. It was still a fun evening though. I told some of them about my interview sessions with a company called ViAGO International Limited. I applied for the role as a Content Writer in the very beginning of this year. Many of my classmates said it was too early to apply for jobs at that time but I was merely curious about the job market and saw no harm in simply trying. I even chose not to attend the graduation ceremony in person in April, somehow confident enough that I will be employed by then.

In hindsight, it was exactly the right thing to do at the right time. The April graduation ceremony was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus, which was no doubt devastating and confusing for those who had made plans to attend. For me, the timing of an early job hunt thankfully meant a confirmation call from ViAGO in early March, and I was scheduled to start work at the end of that same month. It was truly heaven-sent.

But as we all know now, a few days before I was set to step foot into the office, kicking off my first full-time job in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country was going into a full-on lockdown. Universities and schools became virtual classrooms almost overnight while non-essential businesses were asked to shut their doors, which included restaurants, bars, construction sites (My husband, who is a Project Manager at an air-conditioning company, was told to stay home), magazine publishers (Which saw publishers like Bauer Media NZ calling it quits, giving rise to the fact that print is now officially dead) and barbers (Yes, I snipped my husband’s hair during the month-long lockdown— twice too, if I may add! Thank you for asking).

But at ViAGO, it’s business as usual except now, everyone is working from home. Thankfully, the team is equipped with a system akin to a virtual kanban that I managed to set up by myself — with some guidance of course. I had a go at getting used to the system, which allows for visibility and tracks productivity, while my husband had a go at playing League of Legends the whole day.

It’s been slightly over a month and honestly, a challenge trying to grasp what I’m supposed to accomplish on a daily basis without any face-to-face interaction. It didn’t help that my job description somewhat changed from when I was interviewed to when I was offered the job. My manager felt I was more suited to be a Content Consultant, strategising and carrying out content consumption experiments, rather than just being a Writer, which I took as a compliment and a challenge accepted.

I was ready to roll but I definitely wasn’t ready to roll remotely.

Still, having to onboard remotely doesn’t have to be as complicated as I initially thought. I just had to swallow my pride and ask lots of questions because I realised nobody’s going to see my confused face when they “hand” me tasks to do. If ever there’s anything good that would come out of this situation is that I’ll be a better communicator (And maybe a better barber, at least to my husband).

Seriously though, I feel truly blessed, almost in disbelief, that I’m not stuck at home doing nothing. My heart aches for those who are out of work and unable to earn right now due to this global health crisis. But I believe this season too will pass. And it looks like a post-pandemic future, at least in New Zealand, is very much attainable after all. This coming Monday will be my first day in the company’s physical office as a new employee, yippie!

Besides being so fortunate to have been hired during a pandemic, I’m also glad I had the honour of studying at the same University that produced an outstanding female world leader who is handling these uncertain times with so much more grace, poise and kindness than I’ve seen anywhere else — it’s infectious. I hope everyone can spread this kind of message and most importantly: Cheer each other on, exactly like what has been done in the past, into the future.

Follow me on Instagram (@meiannatee) to view my #Isolation InstaStories.

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