Why I moved to Singapore, twice: my life as a serial expat

expat in Singapore repatriate parent of kids

I’m that rare breed of expat: the REPAT. Yes, I relocated to Singapore, twice. Why? Well, there’s so much to do in Singapore and such incredible travel opportunities that I was lured back for a second bite at the cherry. I first lived here from 2005 as a single (well, un-married) twenty-something lawyer, and had the time of my life travelling around Asia. My, my, they were hedonistic days. But I was more than ready for what I thought was a permanent relocation to Australia after eight years abroad.

When my husband came home one day and asked how I felt about moving back to Singapore I had mixed emotions. Reservations aside, in 2014 we uprooted the kids, took a leap of faith, and three years later, we haven’t looked back. Here’s my repat story with all the highs, the lows and how I now find myself about to be a Singapore expat mum to two kids under two for the second time.

I arrived shell-shocked, having never set foot in Singapore before. Not knowing a soul, I stepped out of the sliding doors at Changi Airport and felt the tropical heat hit me with a sultry blast. What was this exotic city with its foreign and beguiling smell? The pores in my skin sprung open and I instantly wanted to cast aside my travelling clothes and go tropical chic like everyone around me. In the coming months, with each quick weekend away, I came to associate this distinct aroma with my new equatorial home.

And then began my love affair with Singapore. I adored my first true expat experience – moving to London doesn’t count, as half of the Australian population aged under 28 lived with us in share-housing within five square kilometres of Earl’s Court. I took full advantage of all the lifestyle perks here from live-in help, to fabulous local food and the year-round endless summer.

With a work hard, play hard mantra, life was all about the coolest bars, boozy Champagne brunches, spa days and fun jaunts to events like the Hong Kong Sevens. We travelled around Asia – sticking to a firm once a month holiday policy. Everywhere from Cambodia, to Brunei, Krabi, China, Japan and Bali were ticked off our exhaustive travel list.

Then came marriage and the baby carriage. Life shifted in to a different gear as I experienced a different side to Singapore – days filled with babycinos at Tanglin Mall and pram walks in the Singapore Botanic Gardens with a mum squad. But, as a new mum, heart-strings pulled me home…

I won’t lie, the long-awaited homecoming was spectacular. I ran off the plane into the open arms of family and life-long friends and into a flurry of welcome home parties and dinners. I relished long languid lunches with kids in backyards with actual GRASS. It was like being wrapped in a warm, familiar blanket and was exactly what I dreamed about on the longest, darkest homesick days of my expat posting.

I couldn’t get enough of the familiar comforts of home, from the fresh Aussie food, exceptional coffee and quality wine – all at a price I didn’t have to re-mortgage my house for (bye bye, apartment living!). I exhaled the breath that I didn’t realise I was holding, and went for a long walk sans sweat in my new ‘hood.

Inevitably, the dust settled. Much to my shock, REAL LIFE is not an extension of the annual summer trip home. There’s work, school and family chewing up everyone’s time. Gone were trailing spouses free at the drop of a hat for coffee or mid-week vino.

I’m not ashamed to admit I suffered from reverse culture shock. I mourned the loss of my carefree lifestyle involving regular weeknights out with a burgeoning group of expat mates in the same boat. Adjusting to life without live in help was hard. On one bad day I left iron marks on my dining table, set fire to my kitchen, and locked myself out. Tears turned to laughter when I called my pragmatic sister and I went to her house for takeaway.

Suddenly no one wanted to hear about my travels and international work experience fell into the same category. If you haven’t done time in the local firm you’re clearly waaay behind the eight ball.

Slowly but surely I found my groove and my crew of like-minded mums to survive crazy mid-week kids dinnertimes. I added new friends to old – it just took a little longer than I thought it would. The upside? Hard won friends are there for good, and won’t flit out of your life like expat acquaintances.

Having four seasons after years of groundhog 32-degree weather was quite simply glorious. Nothing compares to wearing jeans and boots to the hills for a fireside lunch at the local pub. I enjoyed re-building my wardrobe beyond summer dresses in shops carrying my size.

Intense house pride pressure meant weekend DIY trips to Bunnings (thank god for the sausage sizzle). Keeping up with the Joneses culminated four years later in a stressful home renovation. Sadly we only lived in our new home for few months before moving back overseas…

Thinking I was home for good, it was heart-wrenching to say goodbye all over again. But at the end of the day, it was the right decision for our little family. As long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter where we live. Here’s what it was like second time around….

  • As a seasoned Singapore expat I knew the lie of the land. We already knew the best family-friendly neighbourhoods and that we’d employ a helper from day one. Having a ready-made support network of friends only eased the transition.
  • Facebook Support Groups in Singapore were a new phenomenon – and I lost my first weeks as a voyeur on the Singapore Expat Wives feed. I did pick up some great second-hand furniture however…
  • In four short years already sleek and sexy Singapore became even more cosmopolitan with Marina Bay Sands and an entirely new city on reclaimed land springing up like a phoenix. A new café culture had taken hold and this great lion city took the title as the world’s best place for kids! All with a rather hefty price tag mind you.
  • The expat population in Singapore is transient, and many friends had moved on to pastures anew. But my life had changed too, I was now a pregnant thirty-something mum of two with my footloose and fancy-free days behind me. I let go of ill-fitting old friendships and in their place came to rely on mums from school like a family. The international school community in Singapore is remarkably welcoming.
  • My international kids are fortunate little travellers meeting people of all different cultures and sampling some of the best local cuisine in the world. In this safe, clean Singapore bubble I’m making a concerted effort to teach my kids street smarts for later down the track.
  • I’ve been exposed to exciting opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed at home. Singapore has allowed me to re-invent myself as a lifestyle writer and to contemplate becoming a mother of four.
  • A stint back at home strengthened family ties – my kids know and love their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. And FaceTime makes home feel closer than ever before.

I’m addicted to the expat life. After spending seven years of adult life in Singapore I’m wondering if this is home now? Being part of a community also living the dream only normalises the experience. But my heart remains in Australia, and one day I will end up there. But honestly, I don’t know when. Sorry mum.

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