“I have finally been able to let go of the feeling that I had failed as a student.” Singaporean mama of one, reflects on life in Singapore and talks about her new life in Tasmania
Singaporean overseas mama Victoria Bhojwani-Cunningham tells us about life in Tasmania which she says has ironically made her realise that she is not fond of the cold preferring Singapore’s humid heat! Victoria lives with her husband and son Jacob who has autism. The pros of life in Australia include less pressure from parents for kids to excel academically – she says of her own school years “I was in Singapore’s public school system for most of my life and now when I look back, I wonder how society can expect such young children to handle such a sheer amount of pressure.” Victoria found it hard to concentrate and sit still at school and later in adult life realised she likely has Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) though has now managed to develop coping mechanisms. Read on for her interview!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Victoria. I am a Chindian Singaporean mama to nine-year-old Jacob who has autism. I’m married to my lovely Australian husband, Chris. We recently adopted Jax, a beautiful Pitbull Staffy cross to complete our family. As a family, we’ve lived in Singapore as well as the Philippines before finally coming back to Tasmania, Australia where my husband is from to settle down.
Born and brought up in Singapore, I am lucky to have parents who strived to give my brother Alexander and I every possible opportunity and as much support as they could offer so that we could pave our own paths, and I cannot thank them enough for that. Fun fact: You might have seen me as a child many years ago in a National Day campaign!
What brought you to Launceston, Tasmania, Australia? How long have you been living overseas?
I initially came to Launceston on a holiday to visit a friend attending the University of Tasmania. Long story short, I ended up applying to study there, was offered a partial scholarship and the opportunity to use credits I had gained from a course I recently completed to shorten the time I needed to complete my bachelor’s degree. It was too good of an offer to turn down. While in university, I met my now-husband. We fell in love, got married, then came a baby, and that was that.
I started living overseas in 2008. I must say that I am so grateful to my parents for giving me opportunities to further my studies and go on adventures in the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, and Australia which led to me meeting the love of my life and having our gorgeous son.
Favourite aspect about living in Launceston?
The air is so fresh and crisp, and the view from almost anywhere here is always incredible. From our home, we can see fields of green, rolling hills, mountains, the West Tamar River… Growing up in Singapore, I’ve only ever gotten to see such incredible sceneries on holiday overseas. It’s been quite a few years now but I’m still pleasantly surprised by the view.
And the worst part?
It’s difficult being so far away from my family and friends. I really miss being able to walk down to a hawker centre and buy cheap delicious Asian food for under $10. Also, the cold weather! Living in Tasmania has made me realise that I am not fond of the cold. Perhaps an unpopular opinion but I’d take the humid Singapore heat any day.
How do you think parenting in Launceston differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
The pressure from parents for kids to excel academically is significantly less here. The general pace is much slower, and with Jacob being autistic, a fast-paced crowded environment wouldn’t be the most suitable for him. He attends a mainstream school two days a week and a special education school for the remaining three days. He gets good support from both schools, and we are extremely appreciative of his teachers for all the hard work they put in.
I was in Singapore’s public school system for most of my life and now when I look back, I wonder how society can expect such young children to handle such a sheer amount of pressure. Being told at such a young age that your Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results will set the tone for your next four years of secondary school education, which in turn will affect your decision to go to a junior college or a polytechnic, and eventually university options. On top of that, we have co-curricular activities (CCA), tuition, and enrichment classes to learn instruments and sports.
Instead of going to a public junior college, I was fortunate enough to attend private school Anglo-Chinese School (International) where the pressure was nowhere near as high but I never really enjoyed the studying aspect of school and found it extremely hard to concentrate. I struggled to sit still in class and constantly zoned out. I did form amazing friendships there that I still hold on dearly to and miss all the time.
I realise now that I likely have Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When a close family member was diagnosed, I realised we share all the same “symptoms”. I now understand why I struggled in school and have finally been able to let go of the feeling that I had failed as a student. As an adult, I have managed to develop coping mechanisms I need to stay on top of things at work, as a parent, and in life in general. I remind myself not to be so hard on myself and take one day at a time.
Did you give birth to your child in Launceston? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
Yes I did. Honestly, it being my first time giving birth, I could’t recall much more than the moment when my son was placed in my arms. Best moment ever and it was certainly love at first sight!
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I was gunning full speed ahead for a career in film and TV production. Film and television were my passion but I had to shut the door on that chapter once our baby came along. I once spent three days and two nights in the office and on set with nothing more than a couple hours of sleep to reshoot a commercial for a client. It’s not the kind of work life I want to have as a new mum so I never went back. I had great mentors in this industry and I’m so thankful to all of them for the opportunities I received.
Post-baby, I’ve been in public relations and marketing for almost 10 years now, working for global obstacle race company Spartan for seven of those years and counting. My entry into the marketing world was completely accidental.
I was very lucky to have a mentor and friend in Singapore who saw my potential and gave me the foundation I needed to start my journey as a marketeer (THANK YOU MARXK!). Roughly 1.5 years later, I met Spartan CEO Joe De Sena when he was living in Singapore to launch Spartan Race in more Asia-Pacific countries. He gave me my next opportunity after I was recommended by someone I had done a nice thing for—good karma perhaps?—and I’ve been at Spartan ever since.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Launceston?
That would be Hog’s Breath Cafe. My son loves the nuggets and curly fries there! It’s a fun, casual setting that’s noisy with chatter and laughter most of the time so Jacob is free to be himself (he can be loud when he gets excited).
Top five places in or around Launceston you would recommend to parents travelling with kids.
Museum at Inveresk – One of my son’s favourite places to go on a weekend, it almost reminds me of a mini Science Centre – great for all ages, best of all free entry, and a fun, educational thing to do especially when the weather doesn’t permit much else.
Cataract Gorge – A great scenic walk to go on with the family with amazing views of the gorge. If you aren’t afraid of heights, there’s even a chairlift you can ride from one side to the other. End the fantastic family day out with a splash in the pool or at the beautiful Gorge Restaurant. Can’t be bothered to walk? You can go on a river cruise or a kayak tour too!
Tasmania Zoo – The zoo isn’t huge like Singapore Zoo but it’s fully open-air, with wide walkways, and home to over 100 rare, exotic and native species. The animal encounters and feedings are a great chance for kids to get up close with the animals, plus they’ll get to see the Tasmanian devil! Can’t visit Tassie and not see the Tassie devil!
Seahorse World – Another one of my son’s favourite places, we even have a season pass because we go there so often. He always feels very calm and relaxed there as the place is normally quite dim and quiet. I’ve always found seahorses to be quite ethereal creatures, it’s so calming to watch them float and glide around their tanks. Huge shout out to the team at Seahorse World for being so accommodating to my son’s needs. If your child has special needs, feel free to call them in advance or speak to them at the counter to see what they can do to ensure your child has a wonderful experience.
Tasmazia – Think giant hedge maze with fun activities, mini mazes, a quirky model village, and funny joke signs to keep you laughing and occupied while you find your way from start to finish. It might be a little far from Launceston but it is definitely a unique experience that’s worth the one-hour drive.
Is there something that you do to keep your child in touch with his Singaporean roots?
We try to go home and video call family often. We love looking back at all the photos and memories of our time there. My mum sends us care packages with snacks from home every now and then that he enjoys and asks for without fail every time we are back in Singapore.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Launceston
– for a child:
A Tasmanian devil soft toy for young kids, my son loves his!
– for a mama friend:
So many delicious options! I normally bring a variety of Australian biscuits, cookies, and chocolates to gift.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
The hardest part for me would be to live away from my family, not having them around to watch my son grow up or rally around me during hard times. It’s not quite the same to share a story or milestone over the phone. However, we have found friends who are now like family, so our lives here wouldn’t be the same without them. Also culture-wise, my Singaporean roots are quite deeply ingrained, and I don’t always see eye to eye with the way certain things are done in Australia.
On raising multilingual children …
I hope to be able to teach my son more Mandarin in the future. He had the opportunity to be exposed to the language when he attended Maple Bear Preschool for about a year and a half when we lived in Singapore.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your child?
AS MUCH AS I CAN, bak kwa, pandan cake, curry and sauce mixes, chicken rice paste, Pocky, Yan Yan, Famous Amos, the list goes on… Interestingly enough, we can’t find Honey Stars Cereal here and my son adores them so we always carry a few boxes back.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Normally a pasta dish would be the easy option but if we have family or guests around, our go-tos would definitely be hot pot or barbecue. My husband also makes the best vegetable lasagne.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Launceston if you moved away?
In 2020, we bought our first family home here and have since made so many memories, watching our son go through many milestones. We also adopted our first family pet among many, many other firsts. My heart aches a bit at the thought of leaving our lovely home behind.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
After first seeing my family, WE EAT.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
The price of cars and housing. We are fortunate to be able to own a nice-sized house and yard here for a fraction of what it would cost for a small apartment back in Singapore. Same for cars, even luxury cars here are a fraction of the cost.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
I’ve come to appreciate Singapore much more after moving away, the biggest is that Singapore’s efficiency is second to none. The other big one is that I’ve always felt extremely safe in Singapore, even late into the night. I’ve not felt that same sense of safety anywhere else in the world.
Living overseas away from home also means that I have to depend heavily on my husband for support across many aspects of our lives together. Overcoming obstacles and working through the uncertainty that comes along with having an autistic child has most definitely strengthened our bond and relationship. My husband is my rock and biggest supporter in everything, and I thank my lucky stars for him and the beautiful family we have together every day.