One Year in Singapore

June 18, 2012

On April 27, 2011, I submitted the final assignment of my undergraduate career completing all credits required for a Joint Honours BA in Political Science and Social Development Studies, and a Diploma of General Studies in Social Work. One month later, I celebrated my best friend’s wedding in Stratford (also known as Justin Bieber’s hometown) serving as a bridesmaid. Two days later, I flew from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to Singapore (via one month in Taiwan) to embark on a new journey. I moved halfway around the world to work at a small research institute with the intention of strengthening my research skills, broadening my global perspective, and, of course, for a new adventure. Since moving from Manchester to Waterloo at the age of eight, I had spent fourteen years living in a town of 120,000 people. My junior high school, high school, and university were mere blocks from one another. That being said, Waterloo – named ‘Intelligent Community of the Year’ by the New York-based Intelligent Community Forum – is not an entirely sleepy place to grow up with two universities, one college, and a burgeoning tech industry led by Research in Motion. Even with this reputation, I was ready for a different adventure and excited to throw myself into the great unknown.

As a twentysomething fresh graduate, I had a lot of questions about life. I knew what I was passionate about (international and comparative education, curriculum development, theory behind teaching global competency), but I was unsure of how to translate these interests into a job. Although I had been accepted to my dream grad school for an MEd, I did not feel ready to begin further studies. How would my work have any depth if I wrote about international education while never having truly lived abroad? Luckily, I was able to defer studying for one year giving me the opportunity to live and work in abroad.

My first few weeks in Singapore threw me completely out of my comfort zone. I had a few acquaintances via other interns from my university, but landed without a place to live or much idea about the landscape or culture. In retrospect, me being the planner that I am, I should have done more research about moving to Singapore but I figured I would learn as I went. After five years of intense studying, I needed a little spontaneity in my life. I went with the flow, having dinner with friends Bishan, wandering around the touristy Orchard area, and of course spending much of my time in the West where I worked. For those unfamiliar with Singapore, this meant that I had not yet unearthed the small neighbourhoods that make Singapore the diverse mosaic that it is. I griped about being bored, before giving myself a figurative slap in the face and decided to figure out for myself where I could find a niche for myself.

I have always been a big researcher by nature, fitting considering my present (and hopefully future) line of work and I read voraciously. I studied local magazines, googled community events, learned about the different neighbourhoods. From community spot Kennel’s events creative entrepreneurs and to JFDI’s start-up weekends, to collaborative GovCamp’s and TEDx events, to Tiong Bahru and Duxton Hill, Singapore was a constantly-evolving pot of interesting niches. Every time I visited a new haunt, it seemed as if new businesses had popped up in the weeks since I’d last been. Singapore is a competitive yet supportive place for the ambitious. Take the creative industry, for instance. Since the late 2000s, there have been multiple plans in place, from DesignSingapore’s DSG-II to MICA’s Renaissance City, aimed at developing the creative industries in Singapore. With strong infrastructure and education systems in place, the forward-thinking public service understands the importance of breaking away from Confucian traditions and moving towards debate, collaboration, and risk-taking. Because of this, there are many grants, incubation centres, and mentorship programs focused on cultivating young talent. Singapore is a very young country, setting goals, and growing into the ideal version of itself, not unlike fresh graduates today when building their careers.

It has almost been one year since I landed at Changi and I have grown to love this country as my own. Professionally, I have amassed a well of knowledge on the technopreneur scene in Singapore and shanzhai innovation from China, and have the opportunity to publish. Personally, I have been enriched by through building friendships with and volunteering with some incredibly open-minded and supportive people. When I was approached to participate in a ‘life series’ done for the Ministry of Information, Communication, and the Arts (MICA) a few weeks ago, I was excited but hesitant. Not one to love the spotlight, I was anxious about having cameras film me in my workplace and follow me around to my favourite places. But then I realized how much I wanted to share my experiences with others, especially those thinking about coming to Singapore, and share how much I have been given this past year. There is a common belief that each Singaporean has his or her unique way of eating local dish ‘chicken rice,’ with or without dark soy sauce, with chili sauce mixed in the rice or used for dipping and so on. I think each Singaporean also loves different pockets of the city that, to them, make a life here.  For me, some of the things I love most are spending countless hours reading and writing in small cafes; dedicating half days to exploring museums; and jaunting out to explore the various gardens, bridges, and parks. Of course, these activities are mixed in with eating my way across the city travelling across town for the best laksa, stingray, or burger. It was not until I came to Singapore that I learned about the wonderful juxtaposition of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures here. Happily words such as ‘prata,’ ‘kaya,’ and the delightful ‘cannot’ have become ingrained in my vocabulary. With some initial effort, I have managed to find my happy niche in this country and have every confidence other new transplants will as well.


This post was written for a Master’s level course on computer mediated communication at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, University of Toronto.

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