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What Being an Expat has Done for me

By: Laura Freeman Posted: December-23-2011 in
Laura Freeman

When my husband informed me he had been offered a job based in Singapore I was taken aback. We had never planned for a move abroad and I did not know what to think. As it sunk in I started to wonder how I would cope, if I would make friends, would I be able to get around, would I get a job and many other, at the time, frightening thoughts about the whole thing. In due course I arrived and, of course, settled and I’ve realised that with, over a year here now under my belt, how I’ve developed and what a blessing for me personally the expat experience has actually been.

The opportunity has provided me with a wealth of knowledge and a set of skills that until recently I’ve not appreciated I now possess. First and foremost it has given me enormous amounts of confidence. Until my move here I was and, well actually I still am, a fairly shy person. So the idea of going out and about in another country on my own scared me if I’m honest. However when you are faced with the need to buy food, having to take public transport to get somewhere you have to be, or indeed sorting out a leak from the ceiling I had to get over any fears or inhibitions I had and simply get out there and do it. Gradually I learnt not to worry if I got things wrong, someone would usually put me on the right track again and well that I definitely was not the only person to have made that error.

Whilst Singapore, compared to other countries in the South East Asia region, is relatively westernised and therefore comparatively easy to adapt to living in there are still some big cultural differences from the UK. For me as somebody who had never been to Asia or lived abroad and adapted to a new way of order moving here was a big accomplishment. All my little achievements made me feel great, particularly in the early days and weeks of my arrival. If I had a wobble about something I just used to remind myself of something else I’d done successfully. The idea being if I could do that then I could surely do whatever I now needed to.

In turn this requirement to be brave and outgoing also helped me to meet people and is still doing so even now. Although I’d used many forms of social media before my arrival in Singapore I’d never used them to consciously aim to meet new people. I quickly got into the idea though that it was alright to strike up an online link with someone and then suggest you meet for a coffee or lunch. Whilst I’d have never dreamt of doing that in the UK, no one bats an eyelid here. This has led to me meeting some amazing people, both locals and other expats, learning from them, forming friendships, taking the chance to do some fun stuff and also being given the opportunity to get involved in some frankly amazingly good times. Using social media and the more old fashioned way of just talking to random people I’ve met has been one of the best ways I’ve learnt how to make the best and most of my time here.

It has made me more adventurous not only in what I’m prepared to do, like strike up conversations with strangers, but also with food. I like to think that being prepared to try foods that perhaps I would not have dreamt of doing before I arrived has in turn brought me closer to the culture and helped too to give me a courage and confidence I never had before. Let’s put it this way I certainly would not have dined on frogs leg porridge or sharks head when I first came to live here. Likewise I’ve developed a level of independence which I’m sure I did not have before. Particularly in the early stages of my expatriation and before I met other people and formed friendships it was just me and my husband. He often travels for work and was not always around to consult so I had to learn to survive on my own, so to speak, whilst he was not around. Of course I still miss him dreadfully when he is away but I also know that I’ll be alright too. I managed to successfully sort out that leaking ceiling after all!

I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity and whilst it has not all been plane sailing and wonderful and has, at times, been a huge learning curve it has more often than not been amazing. I really do not think I could ever have appreciated just how much so when I first contemplated a move here. My advice to anyone considering an expat life would be to go for it, go out there be brave and get talking to people as that is how you will really learn about the place you now call home. I firmly believe that this experience has afforded me with skills I would never have learnt in my previous life in the UK and I hope I can continue to use what I’ve learnt from this time wherever and whatever the future may hold.

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