Overseas Singaporean mama of three Michele Rajic has lived all over the world, and says ‘Home is where the empty suitcases are!’ Here she shares tips on Washington, D.C. in the USA
For most of us, home is where the heart is and for others, where the hearth is. This week, we speak to mom-on-the-move Michele Rajic, who makes moving her family of eight (five humans and three furballs) every three years seem like a breeze. Along with her three kids Brendan (12), Jules (4) and Ashleigh (2.5), she takes us on a whirlwind tour of Washington, DC in the United States just prior to a scheduled move to China. As she sums it up perfectly, to her family, home is where all the empty suitcases are and where the children are safe and happy together.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m Michele, a trailing spouse who follows her American diplomat husband around to all the different countries that he is posted to. I’m a stay at home mom (SAHM) to our three children – 12-year-old Brendan, 4-year-old Jules and 2.5-year-old Ashleigh. Each country we have lived in presented multiple challenges, be it cultural ones or language barriers. It is no small feat meeting these challenges of living in new places and keeping our family happy and healthy.
What brought you to Washington, DC? How long have you been living overseas?
This is the fourth country we’ve lived in as a family. In the summer of 2017, when we came to DC for a month, I told my husband that I missed living in the United States. I missed the shopping and the various Asian foods we can get here and that maybe we should come back here for a year so that our kids can get in touch with their American roots. So here we are!
My husband is in DC for Chinese language training before we depart for his next posting in Shanghai, China this summer. It is refreshing to be back in the US where everyone speaks English and where the television programmes are in English. It is nice to have some normalcy back in our lives again. There is something to be said about American efficiency and the ease of doing things here. Life is just much easier, from shopping to going out and eating out.
Favourite aspect about living in DC?
DC is surrounded by the states of Maryland and Virginia, they are literally just a 10-minute drive or a metro ride away so you can easily tick off three states when you visit DC! As the center of American politics and culture, DC offers many choices for those who want to jump into the multilayered aspects of American life. There are museums, playhouses, restaurants and world-class shows to fit everyone’s budget and preferences. This is one of the best things about living in DC.
And the worst part?
The worst part is the poverty, seen in the run-down parts of the city. In Singapore, we don’t see such a disparity of wealth and our government makes sure the city is kept clean and green. Not a big fan either of the erratic weather we’ve been having this year! One day it’s 19 degrees celsius and the next day, -2!!
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
Clothes, as I can’t resist a good bargain and good quality clothes from Jacadi, Janie and Jack, and Hanna Andersson.
I’m a bag and shoes kind of girl so I guess that says a lot.
How do you think parenting in DC differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
Parenting in the US for the most part differs greatly from parenting in Singapore. For one, the emphasis on education that we see in Singapore is not that apparent here. While Americans do wish for their children to excel academically, there is higher emphasis on building a more well-rounded and happy individual. It’s really hard to put this down in words because neither system is wrong, as they are both functional and fit their respective societies.
Did you give birth to your children in DC? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
As a proud Singaporean, I have always tried to give birth in Singapore. I gave birth to two of my children in Singapore, assisted by my wonderful gynaecologist Dr Ann Tan. I prefer the Singaporean healthcare system even though the US is more advanced, as I feel that Singapore offers better options for mothers and babies.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Before I got married and had kids, I ran my own public relations company in Taiwan and I was also an English teacher and editor there for about 10 years. After getting married, I became a SAHM. To me, it is very important to maintain stability and create a safe environment at home where children can thrive, especially as we have to move countries every three years.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in DC?
Almost every seafood restaurant! We make them kid-friendly by bringing our own entertainment for the children and most restaurants here are equipped with high chairs.
Top five places in DC you would recommend to parents traveling with kids, and why?
- The Lincoln Memorial: Great place for a stroll, especially as it is so rich in history. It is not only a temple for the great Emancipator but also the location where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: This is my son’s favourite museum because of the dinosaurs! Not only is it free, it also has some of the most interesting exhibits of all the Smithsonian museums. There are so many interactive exhibits and things to do with your entire family. If you only have time for one museum, this has to be THE ONE! Be prepared to spend hours here.
- Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: This has to be my son’s second favourite museum because of all the airplane exhibits. From the first planes and spaceships to what we have now, the museum will take you on an extensive tour of the history of air and space and show you how far we have come in such a short amount of time. Admission is also free.
- Tidal Basin – The area is full of cherry blossoms in spring and it offers some of the most breathtaking views in the city. This is also where the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located.
- Washington Monument & The National Mall, where the monument is located, is actually a huge open park perfect for kids to play in and burn off some energy as well as feed the wild but friendly squirrels. The area is great for picnics when the weather warms up.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
Lots of toys and snacks. Make sure devices are fully-charged on long-haul flights but in all honesty, after so many hours, even an adult gets bored, let alone a kid. I once had to fly 18 hours alone with three kids. Two hours before we landed, I let my kids do whatever they want on the plane as they had been good for 16 hours. I was exhausted, the other passengers just had to be tolerant.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
Most definitely. We go home frequently and if we are back over the summer, I’ll make sure to sign my son up for [email protected], a four-day camp organised by The Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU). If we are not able to come back to Singapore for Chinese New Year, we celebrate the new year wherever we are with lo hei, pineapple tarts, nian gao, ang pows and mandarin oranges. We work very hard in keeping our customs and traditions alive at home. We might be far away but Singapore is always in our hearts.
Best souvenir one could bring back from DC
…for a child:
Souvenir t-shirts from the various attractions and government agencies in DC.
…for a mama friend:
Miniatures of the White House or the Lincoln Memorial. There are so many souvenirs you can bring home from DC!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
I’ve lived overseas for more than half my life and I must say that it is so much easier to make friends when you are a mother. In the US, we are lucky to have many options, from sporting activities to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) classes, to keep little ones engaged and active. Finding balance is also an important aspect of a grounded development and we try to balance fun with education. Sometimes this is not easy to do when we are living in a foreign country.
On raising multilingual children …
We are currently raising our kids to speak English, Mandarin and Bosnian. The biggest problem so far is that the kids are mixing languages so sometimes what would sound like a cacophony to others is actually their world view seen through the prism of four cultures, namely Singaporean, Chinese, American and Bosnian.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
Cooking spices and food items!!
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
BB cream is a must for me and with a bit of bronzer and chapstick, I can be out of the door in three minutes!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Chicken rice or any of the Prima Taste Meal Kits.
What’s the one thing you would miss about DC if you moved away?
We are already getting ready for our move to Shanghai and preparing what we will need to take with us. I will miss the clean air and the general safety that my kids have enjoyed while living here. We are also going to miss the wonderful historical sights that we have been privileged to enjoy while in DC. But knowing us, we are always ready to embrace a new culture and we can’t wait to start our new adventure in Shanghai. Hopefully I will be able to report back soon on life in Shanghai.