Sharon Au left her management job here at Mediacorp as purveyor of style(xstyle) in February to go on a one year sabbatical in Paris. Her plan then was to take a break from work, enjoy a slower pace of life and travel Europe.
However, after spending two months "being a delinquent just relaxing and not working" in France, the self-confessed workaholic decided to apply for work at an international private equity firm there.
"It was my first interview in Paris and I honestly didn’t have much expectations," the 42-year-old tells us over the phone. "So when they told me that I was hired, I was surprised and excited."
She adds: "I had mixed feelings, though. My plan was to take a break for a year, but now I’m going back to the workforce prematurely (laughs). However, I appreciated the fact that I got the job as I know it’s not easy to get a job these days."
Sharon, who’s back in Singapore for a month to apply for a long-stay visa for France, declines to reveal more about her new job, saying: "In private equity, we acquire firms and sell them. I can’t reveal too much as most of the details are confidential, but there really isn’t anything sexy about it! (Laughs)"
8 DAYS: Congrats on your new job! How did your friends and family react when you told them about your new career?
SHARON AU: They were shocked! My friends have always known about my plans to do nothing in Paris for a year at least, so when I told them I am going to commit to a job there, they were quite surprised. However, they also see from my decisions — impulsive or courageous — that you have to create your own sense of happiness and accomplishment, whichever you are seeking. If you are unhappy where you are now, you can’t remain there and keep grumbling about your issues. It’s mainly a matter of choice.
What have you gotten up to in the two weeks you’ve been back in Singapore?
I’ve been catching up with my friends over local food. Some of them are thinking of leaving [Singapore] so they badly want to know what it is like living in Paris and abroad. So I tell them what my daily life is like and when they see that I’m still surviving really well, it makes them feel a lot more confident. Of course, I shared with them that not everything is rosy here. When you stop working, you start to watch your budget. I haven’t bought a single luxury item so far even though I’m in Paris. Instead, I’ve bought a lot of groceries though (guffaws).
How do you feel about heading to Paris for good to start a new job?
It’s very daunting, but I’ve always believed that things happen and they lead you somewhere. If you don’t take the first step, you don’t get far. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. I was supposed to take a short break from Singapore, but I ended up getting to work in an international firm. When such a golden opportunity arises, I tell myself that I have to just go for it.
When you first moved to Paris in March, was it difficult assimilating into the culture there?
It wasn’t that difficult ‘cos I’m at such a mature age already. It also helps that I speak French, and my command of the language got better as I stayed there longer. When I was there, I took the time out to visit one art gallery a day. I feel that it really broadened my perspective of things as it helped shape my mind and opinions of issues. I finally understand why Europeans say that art appreciation shapes one’s character. I really relish this whole journey of educating myself and widening my horizons. I also ate a lot of good food in Paris, whereas in Singapore, I simply ate for sustenance. I grew stronger mentally and physically and my friends told me that I look rounder but happier now.
You mentioned that your home was broken into in Paris.
The Airbnb that I rented was broken into when I wasn’t home. My backpack and laptop were stolen but that was it. They left my baguette and brioche alone (laughs). They didn’t even steal my cash. I was very calm when I found out. Instead, my landlord was a lot more upset and she was very apologetic about it. I just told myself: "Okay, this is Paris." I think I’ve learnt to heighten my sense of alertness and urgency in Paris. For example, when I’m on the train, I don’t use my phone ’cos it will be snatched away. When I drive, I don’t leave things in my car. When I’m home, I lock my things up as breaking in is very easy. All these are just part and parcel of having a beautiful experience living in Paris.
What other memorable stuff has happened during your time there so far?
Almost every other day, I encounter interesting things! Well, I orchestrated a wedding proposal for my friend who flew in from Singapore and wanted to propose to his girlfriend in Paris. I booked the private boat, the restaurant, and arranged for the flowers to be placed at the dining table along with the dessert and the engagement ring. I never imagined that one day I’d be a proposal coordinator for someone else, so it was quite romantic. Another time, I was walking along the river when a beautiful lady approached me and asked if I could help shield her while she peed in the river. I took off my coat and helped block her, and even offered her tissue paper! (Laughs)