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Lapped

Defining oneself as an expat (at least to me) implies some level of transience.   Sometimes it’s a month (as my time in France as a student was), and sometimes it’s years.  But you always have the intention of going home…eventually.  If you stay put long enough, you start to see your friends move on-going to a new posting or going home.

This past weekend, we visited with a friend who is heading back to the US at the end of the month.  She will be the third expat friend who has left since we arrived in April of 2010, but she is the first who arrived and left during my sojourn here.

While I don’t give much thought on a day to day basis to the idea of repatriation, having a friend repatriate gives you pause.  It makes you mentally try the idea on for size.  I tried it on, and it doesn’t fit right now.

(I meant to type “it doesn’t fit.”  I typed “it doesn’t fit right now.”  I find that interesting-which is why I mention it.)

When you become an expat, there are phases you go through in your adjustment to living in a new country.  I borrowed the following quote from the always excellent Maria‘s post on Culture Shock.

Many models of culture shock have been proposed since Canadian anthropologist Kalervo Oberg outlined his theory during a presentation to the Women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro in 1954. Oberg’s version encompassed four phases:

  1. Honeymoon: In this stage, the expatriate views the new surroundings with a tourist’s perspective. There is a sense of euphoria because everything is new and exciting.
  2. Rejection: Oberg referred to this as the “crisis” stage. The expat begins to notice things in the new culture that don’t make sense. This disorientation leads to animosity toward the culture and its people, because nothing is the way it “should” be, and the expat feels confused and helpless.
  3. Regression: Once the host culture is rejected, the expat reverts to the familiar comfort of the home culture, which is now seen through rose-coloured glasses. The expatriate complains constantly, and chooses to remain isolated from the host culture.
  4. Recovery: Finally, the feelings of isolation begin to decrease. The expat feels more comfortable and in control of life in the new environment. With equilibrium restored, acceptance of the situation is now possible.

It is in the recovery stage that expats start to adjust and grow attached to their new culture. “When you go on home leave you may even take things back with you,” Oberg said, “and if you leave for good, you generally miss the country and the people to whom you have become accustomed.”

When we first moved here, I constantly was adding posts to my culture shock category of this blog.  But over time, that has slowed.  Things about Singapore still frustrate me.  Things about Singapore still baffle me.  But overall, I feel as though I’ve got my footing.  And in the day to day minutiae of raising two kids, grocery shopping, and a slew of other mundane things I’d do regardless of the country, I don’t spend a lot of time missing the US (well, I miss Target, but who wouldn’t?).

IMG_4207And my friends.  I do miss you guys.

Today, when I think about repatriation, I shake my head and say “later, not now.”  Ellie is in a wonderful K program, and I wouldn’t want to move home this year when it would be a huge fight for me to get her into a K program this coming September (most US schools require that you’re 5 on the first September 1, and E won’t turn 5 until November–an extremely “late” birthday by modern US standards). I don’t want to tackle the issue that in K1 she’s doing US 1st grade work–that 2 year gap is going to be an issue when we move back, and I just don’t want to think about dealing with it (nor do I want to open up a discussion about dealing with it in comments–I’m bringing it up to illustrate a point–that repatriation is going to involve a lot of hard choices and I just don’t really want to think about them at the moment.  For the record, I’m compiling a portfolio of her work to demonstrate what she’s been doing, so I’m not totally head in the sand on this particular issue).  I don’t want to think about how we’ll ensure that she keeps up with Mandarin.  I really don’t want to think about how upset Ellie will be to leave Singapore, which she considers her home–the US is where her grandparents live and we visit.  I know we’ll miss having so much Indian culture easily available for the girls.  I will really miss the ease with which adults interact with the girls–I have no patience for the stranger danger/everyone is going to abduct my kid/everything will hurt my baby so I’m going to put them in a bubble culture.  I’ll miss my friends here.

When we visit home, I enjoy that I can crack a joke and that I can fit in easily (although, less so the longer time passes).  But I also can recognize how out of step I am in the US when it comes to many things–and the seriousness with which we take academics and what we consider appropriate curriculum at what age fits in FAR better here in Singapore than it does in the US.  I love seeing my friends.  I hate seeing how different it all is (and knowing that gap will keep growing between what was and what is).  I love experiencing seasons other than really fucking hot all the time, but don’t feel the need to visit when it’s freezing because I don’t particularly miss shoveling snow or scraping ice off my car.

So it is with sadness that we say good-bye to another friend.  But is it with content that I wave good-bye.  Because I want to stay put for the moment.

IMG_3986Leaving means leaving our new friends.  Darn it, why can’t you all fit in my pocket?

6 Responses

  1. I can’t speak for everyone but I’d LOVE to come and visit you in Boston when you go back. And you would ALWAYS be welcome to visit us in the UK when we move back there too (you not-so-secret Anglophile!) :)

    We are just about to have the first of our friends move back to Australia this week. They arrived about the same time as us. It feels funny to have seen people come full-circle on their ‘expat journey’ already, as I feel like we still have some distance to go on ours still.

    As always, so many of your words ring true for me. I know when we go back there will be many things I miss about our life in Singapore and things that I just don’t ‘get’ about the UK anymore. There will also be things I am reunited with in the UK which I love and things about Singapore that I will be glad to leave behind (snot-snorting on the MRT anyone?!). Being an expat is such a double-edged sword at times!

    • Trust me-I can’t wait to visit you in England when the day comes! And of course, vice versa-wherever we land when the wind does blow us out of Singapore, you’ll always be welcome, whether Boston or beyond. It’s the side effect of everyone moving on–you suddenly have awesome reasons to travel, and friends to see when you visit. But it is a bittersweet side effect.

  2. Hullo, I just found your blog and read so many of your posts. I identified with so many of your posts, I don’t know whether to be sad or happy. But I replied because I really want to know how you plan to go around registering Ellie to P1 (my girl is also at K1 this year) with MOE’s new ruling in regards to PRs and foreigners. This past year at Nursery, my girl Sophie did so well in Chinese, seriously from not saying and understanding a word in January to chattering away like an old Chinese lady by December 2012. My husband speaks Chinese but like yours, he works in Singapore but he’s just a weekend father mostly. We’d always planned to send our girls to the international school but now that I see how well my eldest is doing at Pat’s, I feel it’s such a waste not to emphasize on Chinese and rigorous-studying like that at the local schools.
    Thanks for all your postings. It made me ask myself a lot of questions, too. Carol Tan

    • Hi and welcome!

      The two shortest answers are that we are still fumbling our way through, and we are considering taking PR status. I’m also actively NOT pursuing any of the “prestigious” primary programs like Nanyang. We live within 1km of what I’m told is a solid primary school (River Valley Primary) and within 2km of 2 others (which I don’t know much about yet) so if we were to elect PR, we would most likely get a seat during Phase 2 (assuming that distance is still part of the balloting process next year-that was one of the revamps this year that distance doesn’t you get a seat over a SG citizen, even if you’re a PR) at one of them.

      But in the end, it’s my opinion (at the moment anyway) that an “okay” school in Singapore (if we weren’t to get into RVP for example) is still probably better than most average/above average US schools. The curriculum is certainly far more rigorous. And I’m willing to take the gamble in order to save 17+k on tuition alone at a private school. And assuming we’re happy with Ellie at the school, we automatically get a seat for Rhi during Phase 1 when it’s her turn. And if we’re not, we have the option of a private school (none of the private schools I’d consider are waiting list schools, so I’m not overly worried if that were a necessary solution short term) and/or moving back to the US as the situation dictates.

      As the mom of a K1 parent, I’m still learning my way through this maze. I strongly object to volunteering before my kid is a student there, although I know plenty of parents do it. I know that next year (K2) that GUG helps parents navigate the P1 registration process. But this year I’ll be watching the numbers and checking how in-demand the schools are and so forth. And in the end, the chips will fall as they will.

      • Hi Crystal,

        I myself had a somewhat similar upbringing of what your girls are currently going through (Canadian Mom and I were on DP, and we both became PRs when I was 3). My mom is also in the repatriation business, so I can empathize with the costs and many cultural challenges that you’ve written so succinctly about. She has candidly shared with me many stories of expat mothers fighting tooth and nail to get their child into the top schools in Singapore (whether it be international or local). But I understand that no matter the school, the process can be a very long and complicated one for a DP family.

        The intensive local curriculum aside, I certainly encourage you to send your daughters to a public school in Singapore.

        I had studied in the government schools all the way through kindergarten and Secondary 4, and felt that the great access to the diversity of people and backgrounds is one of the best features of a Singaporean education. While I am sure the private schools do plenty to ensure their students are well exposed to the multitude of traditions in Singapore, I do strongly feel that the experience will be more than likely be a watered-down effort through a very Western-centric lens. The ability to immerse a child in many unique everyday situations that a international school may lack will help build their cultural sensitivity and respect for others that are different, both on the inside and the out.

        Your girls will meet friends from different backgrounds and beliefs, see in their own eyes the life of someone who was brought up differently and learn to answer questions that even some textbooks can’t faithfully explain. I went beyond knowing that the plain scarfs Muslim girls wear on their heads for religious modesty is called a “hijab”, and had the ability to casually learn from a schoolmate how to don one in their home, away from the examining eyes of the public.

        They may also be pressed in some times to address deeper issues like demonstrations of authoritarian measures (a more economical, regular store bought binder isn’t acceptable for submitted work, only one that is plastic, 3-ringed, color-coded and has the school’s name stamped on it is used, and how questioning the teacher may reap no logical answer to such an imperious rule) or things on the lighter side of multicultural Singapore that isn’t taught in classrooms (the phrase to clean the floor “Ma-di” in Mandarin sounds dreadfully similar to the Bahasa Melayu term “mati”, meaning to die!). These things are in little ways typical reflections of the social and cultural crasis in Singapore, and I hope both your girls will succeed in being equally baffled and inspired by them!

      • Thank you for your wonderful comment.

        I think they’ve gained so much from their experiences thus far (E is in K1 now, and Rhi is in a bilingual daycare) and I look forward to the experiences they’ll gain.

        Barring a really bad fit, we’ll definitely be sending them to local schools. I watched this year’s P1 registration with trepidation, but with luck, we’ll find something that will be a good fit. I’m honestly not worried about a “top” school–a good fit for our family that’s not on the other side of Singapore is good enough for me!

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