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Meet Overseas Singaporean Mama Debra de Silva-Sun in Basel, Switzerland

overseas singaporean debra de silva sun on living and working in switzerland
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily LifeTravelPost Category - TravelTravel

Singapore mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today Eurasian mama Debra de Silva-Sun talks about changing careers and working overseas as a Singaporean

Overseas Singaporean mama Debra de Silva-Sun first moved to Basel, Switzerland with her husband 11 years ago for his previous job. She never would have thought that having a baby in Basel would be the catalyst to give her the moment of clarity and strength she needed to embark on a career change. Today she is in the process of embarking on a new career – finding new life in consulting and studying for a PhD while still working overseas as a physiotherapist and raising a multilingual child in Switzerland…

Click here to read about more Overseas Mamas!

overseas singaporean debra de silva sun who works in Switzerland with her husband and daughter

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a 37-year-old health economist and physiotherapist here in Basel. I am also doing a distance-learning and part-time PhD programme in health economics and policy. I have been married to my kind and supportive husband, Kervin, since 2008. He is also from Singapore and we are both Eurasians. He is Portuguese-Eurasian and I am Chinese-Eurasian. We have a nine-year-old daughter, Isabelle, who was born in Basel in December 2010. I enjoy traveling around Switzerland and Europe. I love the winter season and train rides in Switzerland. 

What brought you to Basel? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband’s previous job brought us to Basel in 2008 and we have been here for about 11 years.

Favourite aspect about living in Basel?
The proximity to France (Alsace region) and Germany (Black Forest region) within 10 minutes, as well as many Swiss cities like Lucerne, Zurich, Bern, Solothurn and Zug.

And the worst part?
The food. I miss local Singaporean and Asian food.

Your most recent purchase

… for your child?
A pair of hiking boots.

…for yourself?
Books for university.

overseas singaporean debra de silva sun who works in Switzerland with her daughter who speaks multiple languages

How do you think parenting in Basel differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
The freedom in terms of space, time and the lack of academic pressure (for pre-primary and primary school kids) here in Basel is something we would not have in Singapore. The fact that our daughter is able to choose what she wants to do and whether she wants to continue with an activity like ballet or swimming without external pressures from family members or friends is the freedom that I appreciate the most.

Did you give birth to your child in Basel? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Yes, she was born in Basel. It was an extremely cold and snowy day. It was beautiful. I was seen every week by a private gynaecologist from the time I found out I was pregnant. Everything was covered by the mandatory health insurance in Switzerland which every citizen and resident has to purchase.

I had ultrasound scans at every appointment. The private gynaecologist does not have the right to practise at the University Hospital so he saw me right until I was 38 to 40 weeks pregnant. Thereafter, I went to the university hospital for checks once every two days (I was 11 days overdue). At the hospital, the midwives were in charge of the labour but I had major issues with the birth so doctors were called in and they also used acupuncture to ease my pains.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I was a physiotherapist before I had my daughter. Pre-baby, I felt very lost career-wise and was very disillusioned. When she was about 2.5 years old, I started to get very bored. I wanted a new challenge and found it quite impossible to only hang out with a child, other babies and having friendships with only mummy friends. I also felt I would be a better mom if I were not a stay at home mom (SAHM). I felt I knew better in terms of what I needed to do for my family.

bridge in lucerne switzerland where overseas singaporean debra de silva sun studies

Having a baby gave me a sense of purpose and I grew more confident. I went back to university and did a full-time master’s degree at the University of Lucerne in a different field (Health Sciences specialising in Health Economics and Policy) and developed a new love for research. I am in the process of changing careers at the moment. I consult in health economics, patient advocacy and digital health now while also practising as a physiotherapist. My husband works part-time and is in charge of the household.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Basel?
We enjoy going to Markthalle, a foodcourt-like restaurant with many different cuisines. We also enjoy eating at the family restaurants of local shopping chains such as Manor, Coop City and Pfauen.

Top five places in and around Basel you would recommend to parents traveling with kids and why?

  • Basel Paper Mill: The Swiss Museum for paper, writing and printing is located in a medieval mill and has super fun things for kids to do.
  • Ferry rides across the Rhine: It’s a nice way to enjoy the Rhine and kids get take a break from walking at the same time.
  • Basel Zoo: The zoo is situated right in the middle of town and it makes a lovely little day out for little kids.europa park germany rollercoaster
  • Europa-Park: This theme park and resort is in Rust in Germany, only an hour away from Basel by car. Wonderful for both big and small kids!
  • Swiss Museum of Transport: Switzerland’s most popular museum is just a 1.5-hour car ride away in the nearby city of Lucerne. The museum has every kind of transport imaginable, a planetarium, a cinema and even houses the museum of Swiss artist Hans Erni.

Also, parents visiting Basel with kids should definitely not miss two of my favourite festivals in Basel, Basler Herbstmesse from 26 Oct to 12 Nov 2019 and Basler Fasnacht which will take place next from 2 to 4 March 2020.

Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?

It takes 12 hours to fly from Zurich to Singapore. For long flights, try to book a night flight so that kids can sleep through the “night”. Bring extra clothes just in case, emergency medication such as Panadol and Nurofen, an extra pacifier, and some favourite snacks or drinks. 

Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with her Singaporean roots?

She goes to Mandarin class once a week and attends Mandarin camp during her school holidays whenever possible. I buy books from Singapore for her to read e.g. The Amazing Sarong by Quek Hong Shin and the Timmy & Tammy series by Ruth Wan-Lau.

nanikana dolls souvenir basel switzerland

Best souvenir one could bring back from Basel:

– For a child:
A handmade Nanikana doll.

– For a mama friend:
There are lots of handmade bags and earrings from specialty shops around the city.

What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
The hardest part is that my child and I do not have close family and cousins around to support us, especially when we are sick.

On raising multilingual children…

I am so proud of my daughter. She speaks fluent Swiss German, High German and English. She goes to a local Swiss school where she learned High German (classroom language) and Swiss German (playground language). Swiss German is to High German what Cantonese is to Mandarin. She has had some extra German classes provided for by the school for kids whose parents are not native speakers.

She’s gone to Mandarin class once a week since she was four years old. She can read and write simple Mandarin and can understand simple instructions in Mandarin. Unfortunately my Mandarin is not the best and my husband doesn’t speak Mandarin. She also attends English class. We speak English at home and her preferred language at the moment is English. She will soon learn French in third grade (Primary 3) and start English in fifth grade (Primary 5) as part of the official curriculum. In Switzerland, this varies from canton to canton. Basel is a German-speaking canton.

overseas singaporean mama debra de silva sun catching up with friends in basel switzerland

What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
English books with Singaporean stories or characters and bak kwa (shhhhhhhh!!!).

Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Always use concealer, mascara and some blush. 🙂

Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family?
Tau yu bak (braised pork belly in soy sauce) with white rice.

What’s the one thing you would miss about Basel if you moved away?
My friends who have been the best family away from family.

More Overseas Singaporean Mamas:
Sara Yun Tzy Koh-Press in Istanbul, Turkey
Demelza Thoegersen in Mombasa, Kenya
Zarina Thomas in Penang

Image #3 (Lucerne) by Bhuwan Dhingra from Pexels; Europa-Park image via Facebook; Nanikana (left and right) dolls via Facebook

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