As an expat, it’s vital to take conscious and careful steps to address your inherent desire to belong and allow yourself to feel at home in Singapore. In some cases, this requires physical adjustments; many times, it will require a financial investment. But in all instances, the journey toward stability begins with a change in mind-set. It requires the conscious understanding that “home” can only be created once you recognise your emotional needs and make the bold decision to fulfil them.
The stress of expatriate life is undeniable. One study has revealed that expats are three times more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and other mental health issues than their domestic counterparts. As many expats will attest, a large portion of this distress arises from the feeling you’re in limbo – unsettled and homeless.
For most expatriates, defining “home” can become an awkward and vague process, punctuated with many ifs and buts. According to sociologist Melissa Butcher, feeling settled as an expat can depend on factors such as the strength (and accuracy) of nostalgic homeland memories, the intensity of family ties and the number of previous relocations. In addition, your personal values and preferences, and how readily these preferences can be recreated, are important factors in how much you will feel at home in your host country.
As unique as the definition of home may be to each individual, the importance of acknowledging and addressing the need to belong is universal. There are a multitude of daily stresses for an expat – many of which are completely out of your control. Therefore, it’s vitally important that you acknowledge the choices that you can control and that will bring you a greater sense of security, stability and belonging for as long as you call Singapore home.
Here are three tools to help you create a sense of home, wherever you are.
1. Reject the temporary mind-set
Many expats base their life choices on a contract that states two years (or three, or five). But life has a funny way of setting its own rules; it changes the schedule, throws curveballs and can, in an instant, completely dissolve any plans you think you have for the future. As clichéed as it sounds, the only moment you have in which to feel happy is right now.
It’s common to dismiss important decisions (particularly if associated with a financial outlay) because of some distant end-of-term. But it’s not wise. The future you think you see is only imagination, so review those decisions that will make you happy, at ease and “at home”… and act upon them now!
2. Balance “familiarity” with “fitting in”
Research has shown that assimilation with a host culture is a vital component of emotional wellbeing in expats. The “expat bubble” in Singapore is relatively large and inviting, and a sense of familiarity does play an important role in feeling at home. However, it’s helpful to take steps out of your comfort zone and into elements of the Singaporean culture.
Choose a way in which you can enrich yourself: learn one of the languages; adopt the cuisine; cheer for a local sports team; celebrate important festivals with your neighbours. In this way, you’ll become more engaged in, and invested in, the home you’ve created here. Conversely, there may be elements of the Singaporean lifestyle that are diametrically opposed to your personal needs. While public transport is the norm in Singapore, you may need a car to feel truly at ease. Live-in helpers are ubiquitous, yet you may be uncomfortable with someone in your home. The trick is to recognise and acknowledge your needs, and to become aware of those lifestyle elements that have the greatest impact on your wellbeing. In other words …
3. Know your non-negotiables
Just as we expect financial or contractual necessities to be met before accepting any expat assignment, it’s equally important to know what your lifestyle “non-negotiables” are. There may be two or three lifestyle elements that are inherently entwined with your identity – the things that underpin your emotional wellbeing and sense of home. This may include always relocating with pets, having your own furniture, living in a landed property (or in a ground floor apartment), being able to continue a career, close proximity to a gym or ensuring each child has their own bedroom.
Once you recognise your unique set of non-negotiables (and those of your spouse or family) it’s essential to integrate them into your life – and your budget! Building a new life in another country can offer unprecedented opportunities for you to try new things and become a new version of you. But the desire to belong – to feel at home – is an inescapable facet of being human. So, even as you adapt, and grow, and expand your horizons, ask yourself: what choices can you make today to help you feel more settled?