Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today we speak with toddler mama and entrepreneur Carolina Yeo
After more than 10 years living abroad and climbing the corporate ladder across five countries, Singaporean mama Carolina Yeo made a conscious decision to relocate to Berlin, Germany with her Indian husband to pursue a better work-life balance and to start a family. While many women often dream about starting their own business, not many take the leap to make a career change and then embark on their motherhood journey not long after! This week we speak to Carolina to find out more about what it takes to juggle the challenges of parenting a young child and growing a fledgling business at the same time.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Singapore and after completing university, I took up my first overseas assignment in Belgium matched by a student organization called AIESEC. I worked with several multinational companies in human resources and talent management for more than 10 years. Several years ago, I decided to start my own business. We recently launched a community where we support ambitious and passionate mums in navigating their careers during the early parenthood phase.
What brought you to Berlin? How long have you been living overseas?
This is my 13th year living away from home. My career has taken me to five different countries. This has been great for my career development but it was also difficult to start a family with such frequent moves. When I decided to venture out to start my business a few years ago, we decided to relocate to Berlin, Germany to take advantage of the vibrant tech start-up eco-system. This was also where my daughter, who will turn two years old soon, was born.
Favourite aspect about living in Berlin?
I love the international community and the vibrant life here. Many people come to Berlin to explore new ideas, start their businesses and enjoy both the city life and proximity to nature Berlin has to offer. Here, I feel less pressure if I fail as compared to living in other cities, knowing that it is a normal phase of growing my business. It also helps that there are many people here in Berlin to seek advice and learn from who are part of a similar entrepreneurial journey. Everyone here also places a lot of importance in maintaining a work-life balance and the need to enjoy the arts, nature and music.
And the worst part?
Living away from our family and friends is probably the biggest challenge, especially with a young child. I am a big fan of the sun and the sea so the winter months in Berlin can be quite depressing for me. As a result, we try to plan our trips home then.
Your most recent purchase
… for your child?
A Chinese New Year toddler cheongsam for the celebrations!
… for yourself?
I don’t shop a lot these days but I enjoy treating myself to a massage now and then. ☺
How do you think parenting in Berlin differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I find that parents and teachers in Berlin tend to focus more on exploration and unstructured play instead of lessons. My daughter is only almost two so I can only speak for what I have observed so far in her nursery, including the outdoor play sessions. More time is also spent on the adaptation process, which can take from two weeks to two months or more depending on the child. Teachers will make sure the child is comfortable in the new environment before starting the step-by-step process of separating them from their parents.
Did you give birth to your child in Berlin? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Yes, I was lucky to have access to water birthing facilities, which are not always available, when my daughter was born. My husband was also encouraged to experience the process with me and he even streamed soothing music from Spotify on his phone to the delivery room sound system. There were no nurses but a midwife and a doctor would come in once in a while to check if everything was going well. Natural birthing aids were also available when needed.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I had left my corporate career when we were planning to have a child. My last job sometimes required me to travel 70% of the time, moving from country to country, which I felt wasn’t the kind of lifestyle I would like to have when I had kids. My husband was also pursuing his own career ambitions, which meant we had already spent many years living apart in different countries and cities. At one point, we were more than 6,000 km apart because I was working in the United Arab Emirates while he was living in Germany.
I decided to explore building my own business, which was also the reason why we moved to Berlin. Moving away from the comforts of a nine-to-five job where I had already built my professional reputation and network, I started learning from experts in the business world by joining a Silicon Valley-based incubator program and am currently working with a business coach to build my business focused on lifelong learning.
Through my own career change, I realized that there are many women who are fearful of losing their career growth and personal identity when they become mothers. I’ve recently launched a program and a community called My Career and Child to help career-focused mothers address their fears, frustrations and concerns while at the same time, give them support to design their careers during their early motherhood phase so that they get to live their lifestyle of choice and focus on meaningful work.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Berlin?
Many places in Prenzlauer Berg, the neighbourhood we live in, are pretty kid-friendly because it is a neighbourhood with what’s probably the highest concentration of children in Berlin. Restaurants are usually equipped with high chairs, children’s tableware and even changing stations. I often go to Mamecha, which does delicious Japanese chiffon cakes with less sugar for older kids.
Top five places in Berlin you would recommend to parents traveling with kids?
Most of my friends with older kids go to AquaDom & SEA LIFE Berlin, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Berlin, and Tropical Islands. The many playgrounds in Berlin, some with an attached café so parents can chat over drinks while their kids play, are a good idea too. I like meeting my friends with kids of a similar age at Milchbart, a café with an indoor playground. In the summer, lakes such as Weisser See and Schlachtensee are great for parents to spend time with their kids at.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
To date, I’ve flown with my daughter twice on intercontinental flights. Night flights work the best so far and once when I flew alone with her, she slept for 10 hours out of 15 and I was able to have all my meals and even watch movies in peace. We also prepare plenty of snacks, books and have cartoons downloaded on our electronic devices.
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with her Singaporean roots?
As she is still young, we are still trying different activities. We plan to have yearly visits home as well as frequent Skype calls with family and friends. We also make an effort to be active within the Singaporean community here.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Berlin
– For a child:
Long-sleeved bibs or environmentally-friendly wooden toys from Hape.
– For a mama friend:
Creams and lotions from French brands Avène or La Roche-Posay at half the price that you get in Singapore.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child. Being away from both our families is probably the hardest. I am lucky that I have made many good friends and neighbours who are always ready to help when I need them. I also leverage on the resources that are provided here to help new families such as working out of a co-working infant care centre. In addition, I have a part-time babysitter, which really helps me a lot, especially as my husband travels for work on weekdays and only returns during the weekends.
On raising a multilingual child …
We are still experimenting with different ways – my husband, who is from India, speaks Marathi to her, I try to speak Mandarin but would subconsciously switch to English. With my husband, we speak English at home together. At her infant care centre, her caregivers speak German to her so many of her first words are actually German. I try to read to her and play her Chinese and English cartoons on YouTube.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
Some items that are hard to find here such as Chinese books for kids. Also a large part of our suitcase is filled with food from home such as pandan cake and bak kwa.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
I only usually have five minutes for makeup so I use my MAC eyebrow pencil, eyeliner and Charlotte Tilbury Pillowtalk natural lipstick.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
We freeze vegetable and chicken stock for the week to make porridge and noodle soups.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Berlin if you moved away?
Its vibrancy and culture, which emphasise heavily on work-life balance, where people have this mindset that failure is not the end of the world, where people get credit for trying and where you can be who you want to be, no matter the way you dress or the language you speak.