Things I Learned During My Time in Singapore
I’ve grown up in Singapore. No, not in the “from zero to 18 years old” sense but in the “coming into my own as an adult” sense. Four years ago, and just one month after I graduated, I got on a plane to Singapore (via one month’s vacation in Taipei) excited to begin my life as not a student for the first time.
Like many expats before me, I thought I’d be in Singapore for a short stint. I was able to defer my grad school acceptance for one year, so my time abroad had an expiration date. But a funny thing happened to my carefully curated plans. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this little red dot and the decision to ditch my plans and take a chance on my life romance with Singapore was one of the easiest I ever made. Though it’s time for me to move on now and experience life in a new city (#careermove), I’ll never forget my years here.
For my fellow Singapore lovers, I hope you enjoy reading this list of things I learned during my time in Singapore. For the Singapore-lovers-to-be considering moving, my hope is that my lessons learned encourage you to take the chance – I don’t think you’ll regret it.
1.The umbrella and flip flops rule
During monsoon season (November to March for the Northeast Monsoon, and June to September for the Southwest Monsoon), do not find yourself without an umbrella and rubber shoes! Sadly, many pairs of leather shoes have met an early death because I forgot this rule. It’ll also save you from the stress and money of trying to hail an emergency cab.
2. Find a community
Settling in to a new city will always take time, but be kind to yourself and get plugged into a community as quick as you can. Whether this is a fitness league, an alumni network, a church, or an interest group of your choosing, planning to meet people based on similar interests is a good way to find friends.
3. Push yourself
Relishing that no one knew my story in Singapore gave me this armour of bravery. It felt natural to take more chances and try more things since no one knew my past and so no one was there to judge. Try doing things you always wanted to do and enjoy unlocking the next step in your personal development.
4. Embrace the local culture
In unfamiliar environments, we all want familiarity and comfort from time to time (there’s a reason for expat bubbles), but I think your Singapore experience will be richer if you embrace the local culture. Make your way to Geylang to try the claypot rice. Organize a group dinner at a neighbourhood zi char restaurant. Have an early breakfast at a hawker centre and enjoy people watching as well as the food. Or yeah, at least try the local foodbecause it’s delicious.
Also, it took me four years, but I eventually grasped a bit of Singlish and now take great pleasure in inserting “then how” and “can or not” in the right spots. It’s efficient, really it is. Try it out!
5. Good food is worth the sweat
See number 4. Pack some tissues. You’ll need them.
6. Learn to cook, probably
Sometimes, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and one too many hawker meals will have you craving a big bowl of health. I didn’t manage to pick up any cooking skills during the past four years, but I did learn to boil a bowl of broccoli or have a fruit mono meal for dinner once in awhile.
7. It’s not too hot to hike/bike/run outdoors
If you’re moving from a non-tropical climate, Singapore may feel like a never-ending sauna at first. But your body will adjust, and then it’s time to get your sweat on! The city may be small but there are numerous parks, trails, gardens and reservoirs to be explored. Getting outdoors definitely enriched my Singapore experience, and maybe it will for you too.
8. Sometimes, just take the taxi
It’s always good to save your pennies (especially for #9 below), and opting for the great public transportation options rather than taxis is an easy way to do this. Sometimes however, taxis are worth the splurge. When Google Map says your destination is 1 hour 15 mins by public transportation, or 20 minutes by taxi – you might just want to eat the cost and take the taxi.
9. Budget for beauty
Some things you just can’t save on, and quality hair and make-up is in this category for me. If you manage to survive one month in Singapore without your hair turning into a frizz ball or your skin breaking out, I salute you. For the rest of us, do some research and find the hair stylist and make-up tips that suit you (see Sassy’s tips here and here). For me, digital perms were a lifesaver.
10. Put some shine on
While living in Singapore is a wonderful experience, it can be normal to feel lonely or overwhelmed from time to time. Allow yourself to cry and work through the feelings, rather than ignoring to avoiding them. And sometimes, give yourself a treat. Going for a hair wash or ordering a solid meal from your favourite restaurant will get you through an unexpected down day. Then smile, take a deep breath, and step back into real life because you got this.