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Four Tips from an Overseas Singaporean Mama on How to Survive (and Thrive) as an Expat

expat life tips to move abroad family beach
ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life

Whether you’re new to Singapore and figuring out this expat thing, or preparing to move abroad with your family, this seasoned mama has tips to help you find your tribe

Living away from home often sounds more exciting than it actually is — especially if you are moving to a country without any support system. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can slowly creep in after the excitement of a new location begins to subside. Having lived in different countries throughout my marriage – and now being settled in Pakistan for the past 4 years – I will admit that it is not easy being away from home and my family in Singapore.

syahirah anwar on expat life abroad with her family in pakistan
The author with her husband and daughter in his native Pakistan

However, what I have learnt is that despite the difficulties and challenges, there are ways that you can navigate a life in a new land, to try and make things easier and better for you and your family.

Learn the Language

Now, if you are living in a new country and English is not the main language, it’s a good idea to start trying to pick up the local language as soon as you can. Try to start even before your move, maybe get some lessons before leaving, or invest in a language book or online app like Rosetta Stone or Duolingo.

Alternatively, to save cost, you can even get your partner to coach you on some basic sentences that will be handy to help you get around your new environment. When you are in the country, do try and listen to the conversations going on around you (no, I don’t mean eavesdrop, but if you are at the dinner table, and people are talking, just pay attention), and slowly but surely, you will be able to comprehend bits and pieces of the language.

Making friends is a key way to adapt to expat life

Make Friends

This is kind of a “DUH!” thing, BUT it is not an easy thing to do — especially if there are language differences! If you have relocated to your partner’s home country, chances are s/he would already have his/her own circle of friends, family members and pretty much their comfort zone all set up. Now you, on the other hand, might start feeling like the outsider, and difficult feelings of resentment could bubble up because your partner has his/her social life, and you may not.

Of course you can hang out with his/her friends and family, but it’s also important for you to have your own circle of friends. To do this, start by joining Facebook groups that allow you to connect with those living in your area. There are all sorts of groups that allow you to connect with your fellow Singaporeans, which might be really helpful in helping you adjust. You can also join programs at community centers, places of worship, or take part in social recreational activities. Be open to the idea of forging new friendships, and do not avoid social situations.

expat tips find your tribe three female friends take in a beautiful view among cherry blossoms
Finding your tribe is a key to every expat mama’s sanity (image: Unsplash)

Create Your Village

I can’t stress how important this is. Depending on where you have relocated to, your financial situation, children’s school calendar, work commitments, etc, you may not have the luxury to fly back home as and when your heart feels like it. This is where your ‘village’ comes in. Think of the people you want to fill your ‘village’ with as your family away from home. They are who you will turn to when you are feeling low, or when you need help. These people can be your neighbours, friends from work, mutual friends, fellow Singaporeans living in the same country, etc. Make it a point to meet up and share special events and holidays together. This will allow you to create a bond that can never be broken.

expat tips assimilate local food culture
Being open to your new country, from food to cultural gatherings, will help you feel at home (image: Pexels)

Embrace the Diversity

Different countries often have different cultures, traditions and customs. Do not resist assimilation. Assimilating does not mean giving up your identity; it means that you are open to diversity and that you are also accepting of the cultures and traditions of your new home country. By all means, be who you are and do what you do, but do not be one of those who are quick to judge others because they are doing something differently than you. When you embrace the diversity around you, navigating this new life that you have will be much easier.

expat life abroad kids classroom
Kids are surprisingly adaptable when it comes to adjusting to expat life abroad (image: Unsplash)

Depending on the country you are living in, there are many other various steps you can take to help you navigate your new environment. If you are relocating with children, do also make it a point to help them assimilate and adapt (and trust me, they adapt way faster than we think).

It has been over 8 years now that I have been living abroad in three host countries, and even though I have to admit I often feel homesick, I have come to realise that when you make the effort to assimilate and be part of your host country, that feeling of loneliness goes away. You will find that the locals will begin to embrace you as one of their own, and you will have a home away from home. So do not be afraid to assimilate, because you won’t be losing a part yourself, rather, you will be adding on to your identity as a global citizen!

If you are living abroad, do share with us what you have done to make things easier for you and your family to adjust to the new environment!

Read more:
Overseas Mama Syahirah Anwar on Life Abroad in Pakistan
Dual Identity and Raising Third Culture Kids

Lead image by Melissa Askew on Unsplash; Image #3 by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash; Image #4 by rawpixel.com from Pexels; Image #6 via Getty

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