Now that I'm in my final days as an American girl in Singapore, I wanted to share with you my honest to Jeebus experiences of expat life here.
And I will be honest. I feel there are too many people who paint the picture of a perfect Singapore and a continuously happy life for everyone that lives here.
I'd like to say that those people are full of it. I'd also like to know if they get kick backs from the Singapore Tourism Board.
Now, I'm not saying that Singapore isn't a great place to set up shop. I'm just saying that there is not one single place on this Earth where everyone is happy. There are cool places to live and neat experiences, but not everyone is happy...all of the time.
That's what I experienced and I felt very alone in my experiences of a less than perfect Singapore.
Gregory Trivonovitch, a Researcher and Associate Director of the Culture Learning Institute at the East-West Center in Hawaii, has determined that most expatriates experience four different emotional stages of acclimating to their new culture: The Honeymoon Stage, The Hostility Stage, The Integration/Acceptance Stage, and The Home Stage.
When I first read about these stages in the first year I was here, they meant squat to me. I just knew that I was (insert random emotion here) and I was fairly sure I was going to feel that way forever. Or until I left this island.
Now that I'm in my last moments of expatriate life, I am able to look back and form a more accurate assessment of my time in Lion City, as a whole.
I'll go through each of the stages as I experienced them.
1) The Honeymoon Stage - characterized by excitement, exhilaration, and anticipation. The newcomer will be fascinated by everything new to them in their new culture.
I experienced this stage from the moment I got to Singapore and for about two months after that. I wanted to see everything, do everything, and learn about everything. I loved the weather. I loved the Chinese New Year celebrations. I loved every green palm tree that lined the side of the street. I just loved loved loved Singapore and the fact that I lived somewhere so exotic and far away.
2) The Hostility Stage - characterized by frustration, anger, judgmentalism, fear, and sometimes depression.
Unfortunately, this stage came on for me at month three and stayed around for many, many months. I even remember the exact day that it came on in full force. It was an unsuccessful trip to the grocery store. Followed by three other unsuccessful trips in the same day. I could not find any ingredients for the things that I knew how to cook. I also did not have a car. So a quick trip to the market to pick up items for a potluck dish I was bringing to a get together, ended up being a six hour ordeal that ended with me in tears, empty handed, at our front door.
Going from a lifestyle in which a grocery store is a five minute drive from your house to a place where it's a two hour trip on public transportation is a big change — to say the least. Add in the fact that Singapore is insanely crowded and public transportation is a claustrophobic nightmare during rush hour. I had a tough time.
I had a tough time for a long time. There were many tears shed in my house, and on the walk home from the bus stop, and at work, and various other random places in Singapore.
I'd never lived outside of the States. So the culture baffled me at times. I didn't get why people shoved me on the train. I didn't get why customer service representatives didn't want to make customers happy. I didn't get why I had to wait in line for everything.
I just didn't get it.
3) The Integration/Acceptance Stage - characterized by the person feeling more comfortable and relaxed in their new surroundings
This stage, for me, came about a little while after I got my second job in Singapore, almost a full year after I'd arrived. It was after that time that I finally felt a sense of familiarity with Singapore and I had finally realized my most important lesson.
I needed to stop trying to make Singapore into my version of America and appreciate it for what it is.
I know for most people this is a "duh" statement, but for me, it took a little while to realize. Instead of me searching for every American restaurant I could find and being depressed when I couldn't get a Taco Bell Gordita or a Wendy's cup of chili anymore, I needed to embrace what Singapore did have to offer. It was then that I learned that I loved Indian food, briyani and mutton curry to be exact. I found that I really enjoyed Asian-style bean sprouts and iced Milo. I also loved the Love Letter cookies during Chinese New Year. If I hadn't finally opened my eyes to what was actually around me rather than looking for what wasn't there, I would have never found out any of this.
4) The Home Stage - this occurs when the person still retains their allegiance to their original culture, but also feels "at home" and functions well with their new culture.
I'm not quite sure when I slipped into this stage, but I know I'm in it. When we returned back from our trip to Thailand, I called my mother to tell her we were "home". It was the first time I'd ever referred to Singapore as "home". Of course, she promptly corrected me and told me that home is Kansas and that I'm merely in Singapore. My mom's pretty protective like that. :)
To me though, it was a pretty big deal that I used that word. It spoke volumes to me about my comfort level with this culture I've submersed myself into. I was proud of myself. As self-absorbed as that sounds. I was.
I still miss my family and the wonderful things back home (like Target, Five Guys burgers, and Cold Stone Ice Cream), but I'd come a long way from the person I was two years ago.
And now it's time to go back. It's bittersweet. But I think I'm ready.
But you better believe I'm not leavin' until I hoard boxes of Milo powder, some tablecloths from Arab street, a few pieces of Blue and White pottery, and various other things I may never find again.
In conclusion, I want to note that Trivonovitch says, "these four stages are cyclic in nature, not linear, and a person will encounter periods of adjustment continuously as he or she moves from one situation to another." I completely agree. There were many times when I felt like I was fully in the Integration/Acceptance Stage and I would completely lapse back into the Hostility Stage after a lousy day.
As an expat, you may experience your stages in a completely different order or in a completely different way. Your expectations are the most dynamic tool that shapes your experience in this new culture.
Expect to be happy. Honestly believe that you will be. And most likely, it'll happen.
In the meantime, feel free to comment or email me any questions, concerns, or frustrations you may have in your experience.
I've been there too. And if I haven't, I'll listen. (or read.)
2016 WY/MT Trip
8 months ago