For all that I’m often angsty and emo about life as an expat, I’ve been having a lot of moments lately where I really appreciate how expat life can be an incredibly awesome experience.
One of the driving forces behind that has been this blog. Some posts have led to the most interesting discussions on cultural norms about washing dishes, how names are organized, standards of beauty and countless other discussions I just don’t see happening with my friends back home. Not because they’re not awesome, and in some cases might even have this information, but rather because it would never occur to me to ask our friend who grew up in Poland about how washing dishes might be done differently there. These “pedestrian” posts that turn into huge learning moments are some of my favorites here at the blog. I’ve learned to question things that seem obvious, that seem pedestrian, because when I do, I learn so many fascinating differences. Granted, you’ll never convince me that dishes shouldn’t be washed in the hottest possible water….but I’ll never look at a person’s name the same way ever again.
Another big factor has been watching Elanor grow here. When we moved, she was approximately 18 months old. She walked, she had a few words, but her universe was largely under my command. But in the past year as she’s moved from toddler hood to a young child who is fully engaging with the world around her, I’ve been exposed to so many positive aspects of living abroad.
Elanor is often my key to talking to people I might not talk to otherwise. If I were alone, I’m far more likely to be reading a book on my kindle app of my phone or texting or on social media. Truth time-while I may not seem it on the blog, or to someone who has met me, I’m actually very uncomfortable in unfamiliar public settings. I am not someone who easily walks up to people and makes friends (although sheer necessity is helping me gain more confidence in this area). While the maids in my building are hesitant to engage with a strange “ma’am,” they have no such hesitation in befriending my daughter…and over time, we’ve reached a point where they’re not scared to say hi to me on the street. When I’m with Ellie, I talk to far more people over the course of my day, from the auntie who is in charge of keeping the lobby area clean at our condo, to countless taxi uncles (although there are those uncles who will talk to you NO MATTER WHAT), shop assistants, and of course, other parents. With Elanor at my side, I’ve met many more Singaporeans than I would likely would have on my own.
Additionally, Elanor has no real cultural baggage at this age. For her, trying chicken rice is no big deal. There’s no call to loyalty to watch American TV because she’ll get the references. She’s 2 1/2…she doesn’t have deep cultural references/slang at this point. That lack of cultural baggage makes her far more skilled at slipping betwixt worlds where I stumble. Watching her accept things that still seem strange to me as just normal helps normalize them.
Some of the things I respect about Ravi are things that are born of his childhood as a cross-cultural /semi-third culture kid (while India is his parent’s culture, he doesn’t view it as his), and adult expat. His childhood as a first generation American, his time abroad in India in Jr/High School and his time abroad in Europe and now Asia as an adult have given him a very different set of perspectives from which to view politics, highly emotional issues, and current events. He has always been far more aware of the world beyond the United State’s borders than I, and in part his upbringing can be credited for that. He is far better at rolling with the cultural clashes and culture shock than I am. These are things I want for Elanor, and that expatriate life is giving her.
A really good example is yesterday. Elanor went to her first visit ever with a dentist. I had thought about having her see our dentist back home, since we *do* have someone. But unlike her post-stroke care or her kidney care, a dentist doesn’t give the kind of care that makes it difficult to transfer providers or to have confidence in a “new” person. So after striking out at the pediatric dentist, I decided to try the regular dentist across the street.
Ellie watched me get my cleaning, and then had her first checkup. She let the dentist (who gently corrected me to call her doctor instead of doctor auntie or auntie…but appreciated that we’re flying a little blind and are doing our best to teach Ellie local manners and polite forms of address) look at her teeth, and even polish her front teeth. I realize it’s a small step for most, but for me, walking away from a US caregiver of ANY KIND and embracing a local alternative is a really big step.
After our dentist appointment, Ellie had a very American lunch (hot dog with ketchup and some applesauce) while watching an Australian kids show (“The Fairies”).
Three cultures in less than two hours. That is was normal for E struck me as wonderful and exciting…and exactly the reason Ravi and I had wanted to spend some time abroad while our kids where young (even if Singapore was NEVER on the list of places I had thought we’d end up).
I’m also not over palm trees or orchids yet…I still get super excited at seeing them.
Being an expat is often one step forward, two steps back. Maybe it’s the freedom of knowing I have an almost month-long trip home to the US that’s helping me be more open to things I love about Singapore/expat life, but for now, I’ll just take the happy moment and enjoy it.