Over the years, this blog has received countless emails asking for advice on the disparate topics concerning life as an expat. And even though I am not an advice columnist, I have always enjoyed hearing from readers, recognizing many of their concerns as the ones I faced before starting my own expat journey, and trying to answer them to the best of my ability. I wanted to share some of the most poignant, right here on the blog, in the hope that other readers might find the words useful as well.
I am very worried about moving to Singapore with my husband and toddler. My husband says this is the chance of a lifetime. (We would be coming for his career.) But I'm not so sure. I will be leaving behind my family, friends, and my job. Basically everything I know and I will be alone with my two year old son. I've been reading your blog and it sounds like you have a wonderful life there. What do you think I should do?
When I was ten, my parents took me out of the international school I had been attending and put me in a local Italian one. I went from being a straight A student to feeling like the dumbest student in the class because I didn't know how to read or write in Italian. All the things I loved about my old school, the amazing library where I would lose myself in books during lunchtime, the spelling bees, the poetry classes I loved, didn't exist in the new school. I felt like a misfit. I was miserable and started having headaches. The feeling of being thrown in the deep end and sense of insecurity stayed with me a long time. The only thing that made it bearable were my new classmates, intrigued by the new student, they rallied around me and helped me. That, and the feeling that I absolutely didn't want to fail at this new endeavor.
Jitters, I'm not going to lie, moving halfway across the world is not going to be easy.You are leaving behind a lot, almost everything that defines you. Some people would jump at the chance to re-invent themselves, but you are not one of them. You didn't say much about your job but I'm going to assume it's one that doesn't pay anywhere near your husband's but is something you love doing. Possibly something you got after a long, expensive liberal arts education. You are probably feeling something akin to bitterness at being 'asked' to give it all up but are having a hard time putting it into words without sounding petty or like a major downer.
Jitters, there is nothing more destabilizing to a marriage than having one spouse completely gung-ho about a decision that concerns the family, while the other spouse has grave misgivings. Except for maybe not saying anything at all until the resentment builds up to a boiling point. You need to talk to your husband before that point and share your doubts. Get him to promise he will be supportive and helpful and all that mumbo jumbo. Appreciate his best intentions but then realize that in reality there's not a lot he is actually going to do. And that's not because he doesn't love you but it's because he is going to be knee deep in a new job with new colleagues which most likely involves a lot of travel and long hours. The bottom line is you are going to be on your own...a lot, with a toddler. Oh, he might bring his single, male colleague home for dinner on a Saturday night because that's what he thought you meant when you told him you wanted to see more people. (Try not to hold that one against him too much) but really your happiness and serenity is going to be up to you.
My best piece of advice is for you to travel light, come with an open mind, and a sense of humor. Surround yourself with people who are in a similar position as you: newly arrived expats with small children. Do not splurge on a babysitter to go out for late night drinks with that young, childless couple you just met by the pool. These are not your people. At least, not for the time being. Spend time getting to know that other frazzled looking mom at the playground. She may not be the one you envisioned being your bff but right now one hour with her will be more comforting and relaxing than ten with someone without children. And if her kid is slightly older than yours, that's a bonus. You'll get concrete tips on how to get your kid potty trained or how to eat veggies. Form a playgroup. Possibly over strong coffee. Next, get somebody to help you clean the house. Just because you left your low-paying job back at home editing articles, does not mean you want to suddenly start cleaning toilets. Find a nice preschool where you can drop your child off for a few hours a day, explore the city, look into volunteering, sign up to become a museum docent, maybe learn Mandarin. Slowly but surely, those jitters will disappear and one day, you will realize that your biggest accomplishment has nothing to do with geography...it's the discovery of your own self-reliance. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Man is his own star."
Best of luck, Diary of An Expat in Singapore