Thanks to his wife, Bjarne Foldager today is the Managing Director for Maersk Line in Malaysia and Singapore and their three children are growing up studying in English and getting a qualitative international education. And they seem to be very much in harmony and at ease in their newly adopted hometown Kuala Lumpur.
Back in the spring of 2008 Bjarne was in Switzerland, taking a course as part of his MBA programme, when he got a job offer in Southeast-Asia.
While Bjarne was initially hesitant Henriette was immediately hooked: “Singapore, are you crazy, how can you even have any doubts whatsoever, we’re moving tomorrow!” he recalls here saying.
“Yes, we’re going for a ride!” she had thought.
In June the same year Bjarne finished his course and a school year ended so the timing was perfect. On 10 June they went to Singapore and then back to Denmark and closed down everything for the move.
Only their oldest daughter, Mette, who had already done three years in school, was unhappy to leave.
High School Musical
Before anything else Bjarne and Henriette signed up their children to the Overseas Family School in Singapore, per recommendation from other Maersk families there.
“When we moved the kids did not speak any English at all. But the school has a special class taking care of students who don’t speak English,” remembers Henriette.
Bringing their kids to the first day in school was a bit nervy.
‘But he doesn’t speak any English!’ Henriette told her son, Morten’s, teacher
“Then she looked at me and said: ‘can you see the fifteen kids in this room? They don’t know any English word at all’!”
Bjarne: “And then she told us: ‘So now you parents just leave’.”
“Marie was just four years old and in December that year we had some visitors from Denmark and they asked her something in English and she answered, so after three months she could speak and answer to simple questions!”
The movie High School Musical also made the move to Asia easier for the Foldager family. The school in Singapore was just like in the movies. And to get a perfect start, this movie was touring as a musical and coincidentally visiting Singapore and the Foldagers managed to get tickets to see it their very first weekend in Singapore.
Move to Malaysia: plug out and plug in
Fast forward and in January 2011 it was time to move on to a new position. Bjarne’s assignment in Singapore had ended but he managed to get another position as MD for the commercial activities of Maersk Line, headquartered in Kuala Lumpur. His area of responsibility covers Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore but usually the distance is short so Bjarne can on most days just travel over the day.
Changing between these two places was anyhow effortless, including moving to a new school.
“Plug out and plug in,” says Henriette. “The curriculum is roughly the same as Singapore. It was very easy.”
“I have only seen the Danish system before but I think the international school system in Singapore is fantastic with very good schools. Now we have moved to Kuala Lumpur and the system in the school here is actually the same system, the North American.”
Bjarne agrees: “Schools in Singapore were so much better than in Denmark – a new dimension – and when we moved to KL we thought the standard was going to drop, but realised it could improve even a bit more.”
“I think the difference, compared to Singapore, is that they place a higher emphasis on the social aspects for the kids here. I think it is part of their philosophy; you have to grow up to become a whole human. So you have to stay as a human being in order to become a whole human being, and I think playing and performing arts is an important part of that. It’s not enough to focus solely on the academic skills.”
“They have counsellors whose only job is to ensure that the kids function well personally and socially and have friends to play with. And a lot of emphasis is put on music,” explains Henriette.
“All the kids in grade 5 have to play an instrument so Mette came home with a flute, and then I thought: ‘O.K’. And then after two weeks you brought home a trumpet. And I thought: ‘This is not good’, with the sound like of an elephant. But actually I think after two, three months you could play. And there was a concert at the end of the year where you played so beautifully,” say Henriette as the whole family has gathered at the dining table.
“In this school system it’s important to learn reading and writing but likewise to do your best in music and arts. Everything is equally important.”
When Mette brought home the scorecard she had very high music skills. Actually all our three kids have very high music skills, which we didn’t know, so now they all play piano after school.”
“And today it’s quite easy to practice – just finding the song on YouTube and then using the notes.”
Morten plays recorder and Marie, the youngest, explains in clear English that she does everything – songs, music games etc. In grade 5 they get to choose their instrument.
One more thing has to be said about their school is that they try to teach the children to learn how to think.
“In Singapore it was very important that you could repeat what the teacher told you. Then you’d have a higher score. And like: the more homework the better the school is. But here it’s something in-between, with the best from the Danish and American systems. They actually try to teach the children to try to think. And I think that’s very good,” says Henriette who is a teacher herself.
“I hope we stay here until all kids finished school!”
As for learning Danish they are back to mom’s school after having had that in the Danish Supplementary School in Singapore.
They always speak Danish at home and also stays in touch with friends and relatives in Denmark via Skype and social media. Henriette also try to get the kids to write a letter to them now and then.
“In the weekends we use 1-2 hours with the Danish language. My job actually starts at three o’clock with the kids every day when they come home from school, helping out with the homework every day. And it’s a full time job actually.”
“Knowing I am a teacher many people ask me for help with their kids but they want it when I am busy taking care of my own.”
Henriette also points out a significant difference: while other expat families from Nordic countries get assistance by their respective governments to learn their mother tongue, Danes are left on their own to sort it out.
Barbeque not negotiable
They live in utmost convenience a stone’s throw from Mont Kiara school, on the highest floor in a penthouse condominium unit. There they can barbeque on their rooftop outdoor terrace.
“We have to be able to barbeque, that is the one thing we would not compromise on,” laughs Bjarne who grew up in the countryside in Denmark.
Burgers are all the children’s favourite BBQ food. McDonalds Burgers, adds Marie.
“When we moved to Singapore I was convinced we would live in a house, I could not see myself in an apartment. Then we started looking at the houses there but there was no garden anywhere and no facilities. Then we started looking at apartments and I realised that condo living is actually quite nice. We’ve got a hair shop and a convenience store where we can buy all the daily necessities, and very nice restaurants, a fitness centre, and a swimming pool. And there are a lot of other kids also within the complex.”
Another pastime favourite is to play Balut (a dice game). They also try to take a weekend trip once a month, which are nature-oriented.
The next one in the pipeline, a trip to Selingan Turtle Island outside Borneo, gets all the children talking excitedly about the forthcoming trip, hoping they will get to see turtles coming on shore to lay eggs.
Workwise Bjarne has just accomplished a very big project for Maersk Line by launching a ground breaking new service on 24 October: Daily Maersk.
So it’s actually about making it easier for our customers the way they conduct business and taking the cost out of their system by reducing their inventory and taking buffer out. This can lead to huge savings for them.”
This shipping service means that any cargo gated by 8 pm every night at four key ports in Asia will be available on a certain day at any of three selected ports in Northern Europe.
“Effectively it means we are building a conveyor belt, so every night the customer can deliver whatever they have ready from the factory and production in Malaysia and Singapore. We promise what time the cargo will be available in Europe, so we’re talking about introducing absolute reliability. Then the customers can plan their supply chain much better.”
Maersk Line has already seen some good response from customers and already quite some new business as a direct result of the promotion activities, says the country manager.