Successful expat living in Singapore: Ten lessons I learnt from my expat mum

Expat mum Singapore

This Mother’s Day whilst contemplating expat living in Singapore, I’m missing my mum back home. She was an expat wife. That’s her in the photo shouting us to a farewell dinner for yet another homeward-bound friend. Now, 20 years on, with an expat child of my own, I find myself in a similar situation and wonder how best to succeed at expat living in Singapore. Whilst my mum struggled with the challenges of leaving a career and family network behind, one that she couldn’t easily replace, my awesome expat teenagehood was littered with goodbye parties and airport farewells – in the days before social media, goodbyes felt devastatingly final. Reflecting back, this is what I learnt…

1. Happy mummy, happy family
With a helper at home, your partner immersed in work and kids in care or at school, it’s easy for the thumb-twiddling blues to kick in. If you work and love your job, that’s great, but otherwise find something you love to do outside of the home, whether it’s learning a new vocation, polishing up on existing skills, volunteering or fighting for a cause. Firing up your passions will help you stay connected to both your kids and life beyond the expat dome.

2. Make friends outside of your comfort zone
We can’t help being drawn to the comfort of like-minded people, but like-minded doesn’t need to mean too same-ish. Singapore boasts such diversity, in expats and locals alike, mingling with people of different cultural backgrounds is a great way to broaden both your own and your kids’ horizons whilst fostering their tolerance for diversity. 

3. Help your kids cope with change
Expat living often means lots of change. For younger kids this might mean a change in helper, daycares, schools or teachers. For older kids, we need to be mindful of the relocation blues each time a friend leaves (or your family leaves). Ask your child’s school for advice during times of change. They have resources on hand to help you through these situations, but as a start ask your child lots of open-ended, “how does that make you feel?” questions.

4. Travel with a posse
A quiet escape to tropical paradise sounds ideal to ma and pa, but for kids this could spell boredom central. Travel with another family to make the most of your holiday. Whether you cosy up in a shared villa or stay near-but-far at the same resort everything’s more fun with friends!

5. There’s no place like home
It can be daunting for a child to relocate to somewhere they either don’t remember nor feel ties to. We can make it easier by helping them maintain a home connection. You could try facilitating an ongoing online friendship (depending on our children’s age), skype and facetime back home, send old fashioned letters, or arrange playdates with neighbourhood kids on your home visits.

6. Paint a picture of your future
Have a post-Singapore plan, and chat to your kids about it regularly, visit a college or a town where you hope you’ll end up, it’ll help your kids feel less apprehensive about their future away from Singapore, or away from you. Plans might change, but at least they’ll feel secure about their future for now.

7. Locals do it better
Children model their behaviour on us, whether we realise it or not! Learn the language, shop at the wet markets or eat hawkers fare from time-to-time. Chat to the taxi uncles and shop aunties and encourage your kids to do the same. It’s this local immersion that will truly make them stand out from the crowd long after the glossy expat veneer is gone.

8. No photos? No proof!
It may seem embarrassingly clichė to take a photo of the family sharing a chilli crab meal, but one day the memory will be priceless. Ditto for holiday photos! Get everyone in the pic – Bali braids and all, one day you’ll be grateful.

9. Be a tourist in your own town
Write a list of all the things you’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to, and give yourselves at least a week to do it all! Stay in a hotel on Sentosa, or somewhere outside of where you live and be tourists in your own town! Selfie-sticks were made for times like these.

10. Know when to say goodbye
As the saying goes, ‘leave on a high note’! If you have the choice, make your way back home before home starts to feel too foreign, this will make it easier for you to establish networks and feel grounded. Obviously this is not always possible, but you may be able to spend more time at home in the lead up to your relocation and concentrate on establishing or re-establishing a network for yourself and your kids.

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