New to Singapore? Feeling lost, confused and sweaty? Don’t! Do read on for tips to help you start feeling confident, happy and at home.
1. Don’t be afraid to get lost.
You will – even with your phone, GPS, old fashioned paper maps – and it’s ok. It’s a small island (until you are wandering around lost, in which case, it will feel incredibly large). But I repeat, it’s a small island.
The good news is, getting lost allows you to discover. You may not end up where you set out but chances are you’ll discover somewhere new, likely green, and either pretty, interesting, or a mall (which can be very useful). Taxis are abundant, the drivers are friendly and as long as you remember where you live, you’ll make it home eventually.
2. Don’t be afraid to sound dumb.
When you head out of Changi, your driver will likely ask, “take the ECP? KPE? AYE?” This translates (loosely) to: “welcome to SG, where we LUV a good ACRONM.” Even if you do learn the ABCs of Singers quickly, you still have to master Singlish, lah.
Hearing Singlish is kind of like hearing someone on Skype when the connection isn’t so good. You will feel like you mostly understand…but maybe not really. The words are all familiar but you’ll feel like some words are missing (like pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, nouns). This will require you to ask seemingly “dumb” questions. Like when you offer a lengthy explanation to your air con guy about a problem you’re having and offer him several possible solutions and he replies simply, “Cannot, lah.” You will ask, “cannot, lah?” He will repeat, “cannot.”
This is Singlish: the most efficient of all languages where all unnecessary English words are cut out and replaced with other phrases, most notably, “lah.”
3. Don’t be afraid to talk to locals.
One of my first weeks here, I got caught in the rain – not a gentle summer rain – a full on deluge. I was with 2 kids in a bus of a double stroller, no umbrella (because why would I bring an umbrella when the sun was brightly shining 15 mins earlier), and we were soaked.
One lovely woman offered to walk with me to my destination even though it was out of her way. When I insisted we would be fine (I’m sure my screaming kids convinced her), another woman appeared and nearly forced her own umbrella into my hands. “Take this. Go!” And she was off.
The locals are friendly, kind, and love sharing great tips about living in Singapore. Use them to learn as much as you can about your new home.
4. Do find a friend.
You’re not necessarily looking for your next best friend but a familiar face and a friendly chat about the weather will help you to feel more comfortable. Tip 2 is critical here – especially if you’re potential target is not new to Singapore. You might say something like, “what’s the ECP,” while walking along East Coast Park. Not to worry. She was new too once and her reaction to your naivete will help you gauge whether or not you’ve found your new bestie.
Like the locals, expats are a friendly lot. Everyone knows what is like to arrive new, uncertain and lonely. Look for someone to whom you can say, “I hate lugging my groceries home 5 blocks” and then wait for her to say, “you’ve got to try Redmart!” Make her your friend. This, of course, requires that you…
5. Do get out. Everyday.
In order to heed the above friendly advice, this step is required. The air conditioning, your Apple TV (if you’ve managed how to work it), and even Facebook will tempt you to stay where you are — safe and connected to home. Don’t! The more you get out, the more you will become familiar with your new surroundings and the quicker it will start to feel like home.
You don’t have to go too far but start with exploring your neighbourhood and then move outward. Learn to embrace the heat, enjoy the ease of one of the best public transportation systems in the world, and immediately see why Singapore is considered one of the best places to live.
6. Do not think about what you’re missing.
Focus on what you now have. The ease and convenience of Tesco and Target? Forget about it. You’re in Singapore now and you have Fairprice, Giant and (if you’re on a cushy expat package), Cold Storage. But with cheap hawker stall eats and every cuisine imaginable right outside your door, you can make a lot of excuses about not cooking. (Point, Singapore!)
For a tiny city-state, Singapore has tons to offer. Of course you will miss friends and family, but you don’t let a few hundred (or thousands) of kilometers from them make you feel isolated. Find a Meetup group, Facebook group, social club, (and visit The Finder on Facebook!) and start building a support network.
7. Do give yourself time.
There are lots of cliches I could start listing: Rome wasn’t built in a day, patience is a virtue, all good things come to those who wait. Instead, remind yourself that it’s perfectly normal to feel unsettled for a bit. Give yourself time to adjust to living abroad and in a few months, remember to help out a fellow newbie. (Start by sending them here! Winky face)
By Kathleen Siddell