Here’s how these ICA officers went from Home Team Diploma Scholars to finding their soulmates at work

Love on the frontline.

| Andrew Koay | Sponsored | October 17, 2023, 06:12 PM

Crystal Chee was 21, in the midst of an internship with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) when a seemingly routine task set her on a path she never would’ve imagined.

Working with the recruitment team, Chee was tasked with producing a video to aid the agency’s hiring efforts.

The filming required her to get in contact with Lee Geng De, a 27-year-old junior staff officer working on ground operations at Tuas Checkpoint.

“Subsequently as we talked and we worked — even after the project we continued to keep in touch — that’s when we felt that we had a lot of common topics to speak about,” Chee recalled.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Chee and Lee Geng De

It helped that both of them were recipients of the Home Team Diploma Scholarship and Lee, being several years ahead of Chee, could provide advice on what to expect and how to navigate the transition from school to work.

Fast forward to 2023 and the couple, now aged 25 and 31, have just registered their marriage and are looking forward to receiving the keys to their Built-To-Order flat.

It’s just one of the things — albeit, perhaps the most important thing — that the pair says they’ve gained from a career with ICA.

Anxious first day on the job

Remembering her start at ICA, Chee said her first day on the job as a full-timer was filled with anxiety.

She had been posted to Woodlands Checkpoint, which oversees one of the world’s busiest border crossings.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Chee

Yet, it was 2020 and the world being in the midst of a pandemic, meant the usual bustle had been replaced with an eerie stillness.

“I had a lot of worries — everyone did, including my batch mates,” she said.

Afterall, Chee had joined ICA on something of a whim.

While searching for a job related to her studies in business intelligence and analytics, she had chanced upon an email from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on their diploma scholarship.

“I thought, why not, take a chance and apply for it. If I get it then I can embark on this new career path.”

During the application process, she selected ICA as her first choice agency, partly due to her memories of visiting Changi Airport with her family as a child.

“It was good that I had nice mentors and great colleagues who guided me and shared their experiences,” said Chee, reflecting on her early days.

“I decided to have an open mind and to think, ‘I’m here to learn and absorb’.”

“Wanted to try something different”

Lee, having already been in ICA for four years, was on hand to provide emotional support and encouragement.

Like Chee, he had arrived at ICA having gone through ITE and polytechnic.

Towards the end of his polytechnic days, Lee had found himself without a clear direction.

He was sitting for a Diploma in Business Informatics, but did not see a future for himself in that line of work.

“It wasn’t my interest,” Lee said, “and I wanted to try something different.”

“I consulted my cousin, who was actually in the police force, and he shared with me some aspects of the Home Team organisation (including ICA and other agencies like CNB and SCDF) which I found quite interesting.”

A pamphlet from MHA on different career opportunities further deepened his intrigue and eventually, Lee decided to apply for ICA.

“It’s a frontline job, and I found it rather meaningful,” he explained.

Learning on the job

Lee took to his unexpected career fairly quickly, finding that he particularly enjoyed collaborating across departments to find holistic approaches to various circumstances — something he was required to do when he served as a staff officer at the Tuas Checkpoint.

“This allowed me to develop my critical thinking skills because I had to think a step ahead,” said Lee.

“Because whatever we did, or whatever solution we came up with, we had to think firstly, how can it benefit the officers. Secondly, we had to consider how we could tighten security. And thirdly, how we could streamline the processes to provide greater convenience to travellers.”

“It was quite fulfilling when I managed to see the end product,” he added.

The experience broadened Lee’s perspective of ICA’s unique role in Singapore’s security landscape.

It also convinced him that ICA was somewhere that he wanted to be for the foreseeable future.

“After seeing that there were different deployment roles and different opportunities, I felt that I had to improve myself. If I wanted to challenge myself as an ICA officer, I would need to upgrade myself,” Lee mused.

In 2020, Lee applied for and was awarded the MHA Degree Scholarship to pursue a full-time Bachelor’s degree in Public Safety and Security at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

The couple that works together…

Today, Lee has graduated from the degree programme and is now deployed at Changi Airport as an Assessment and Investigation Officer.

Photo courtesy of Lee Geng De

On the surface, his latest role presents a challenge to life as a married couple — Lee works shifts, while Chee, now a staff officer at Woodlands, keeps office hours.

“I’m available to go out on the weekends, but it’s not always that he’s available too,” Chee explained.

Nonetheless, the pair has adapted to their new schedules, supplementing daily video calls with spontaneous meals whenever they can.

Photo courtesy of Crystal Chee and Lee Geng De

“Whenever he’s on morning shift, after I finish work he’ll come and fetch me and we’ll go for dinner; something simple,” Chee elaborated.

It’s all part of the ride for the couple as they continue to develop both their relationship and their careers at the ICA.

Find out more about the Home Team Diploma Sponsorship here.

Applications are open from Oct. 1 to Nov. 15, 2023.

To find out more about a career with ICA, click here.

The writer of this ICA-sponsored article wishes Crystal and Geng De a happy and fulfilling marriage and career with ICA.

Top images courtesy of Crystal Chee and Lee Geng De