Moving abroad is a big decision. Becoming an expat is generally a path you choose to take. As adults we give it as much thought as time allows – be it one year, five years or one month. At some point we have all had to ask ourselves the question – can I do this? Should I do this? Will I do this?
For those of us with children this question doesn’t end with an I. As the god-who-is-Billy-Bragg says:
You take the M for me and Y for you out of family and it all falls through.
So, most parents who are considering this move struggle with the bigger question. Will they (our offspring) hate us for doing this? Or, Is this the right thing to do as a family?
(I realise some also have to decide IF their children should come at all, or stay at home in boarding school, but that’s another bridge right?)
Of course, we will never be sure if we are doing, or did, the right thing. Who knows how many hours of therapy have been spent discussing what it’s like being ripped from the friends you’ve grown up with and dumped in to a new school in a new country. How can you make up for removing your children from the bosom (be it GG or A cup) of your extended family? Can we really say the positives will outweigh the negatives in the long run?
Every parent – and grandparent, aunt, sister, uncle, god parent and ‘like an aunty to them’ – will have a different opinion. Most of us will have gone through all the what if’s in our heads so many times we don’t know what we think anymore.
Of course there are negatives for our kids – losing friendships that have taken years to build, missing family and friends, combatting sometimes crippling fears such as shyness. All of the stuff we, as adults, have to deal with, but with half the tools us grown ups should have (I say should because some of us haven’t quite worked it all out yet either).
But there are positives – come on, I’m a (double D) cup half full type of girl!
Great life experience, learning to be part of a new culture, learning how to adapt to new situations, to make new friends. Hopefully better education options if you’ve moved to somewhere like Singapore (be it in local or private school). The opportunity to travel the bigger world, as opposed to the one we all get used to at ‘home’ (see, I can’t just write home anymore). These are just some of the positives we came up with.
With a 16, 14 and nine year old we had a lot to think about when we moved over. Our eldest was just leaving secondary school and was all set to start a great college. Our middle Son was happily pottering along at his school (no mean feat when you’re not your average lad) and was happy with his family and friends close by, and our youngest had the best, bestest friends in the whole wide world and was very happy in her little world.
I remember the day we told her in particular.
(We decided against the ‘let’s make her part of the decision’ option. She’s nine for chrissake)
She cried. In fact, she howled. For hours. She begged us not to make her go. She said she would only go if she could come back in a month if she didn’t like it (and I may have quietly pretended to agree just to stop the gut wrenching sobs). At nine, she had no choice but watching your daughter say goodbye to her gorgeous friends was possibly the hardest thing I had to do (I could cry now thinking about it) Add to that the reality of our younger Son’s friends not understanding what we were doing or why and myself and his friends mum both fighting back the tears when they hugged and said ‘see ya’.
But do it we did.
That was over six months ago and it feels like another life.
Don’t ask me how they’re doing please.
That’s a daily thing – for the first few months especially – particularly for my youngest who has definitely found it harder. Our middle Son seems ok with it all, taking it in his stride and seems pretty settled. Luckily their grandparents have been over already and that has helped them I’m sure. Our eldest – well, as a teenager that’s a tough nut to crack. He says he’s doing ok, he’s enjoying himself, he’s made friends. But really? We all wonder what goes on in those teenage heads don’t we?
So, I asked if he’d write about it for me. Amazingly he said yes.
So ladies and gentleman, from the horse’s mouth as they say. Be warned, some of it isn’t easy reading (Drinking? At 16?!) But he is honest which is what I asked for. A little insight in to how it really felt from a teenagers point of view.
Walking The Walk
When do jokes stop becoming jokes? When does “ah let’s just move here eh? It’s so lovely!” become reality…
The beginning of 2014 for us; for me.
Mum and Dad asked if I could spare five minutes to have a chat – a million and one things rushed through my mind as to what I’d done wrong in the past few days or, how I’d finished my homework and that I’d have to tell them once more how eight hours of Xbox is just what teenagers do – but, not once did I think we would be discussing the genuine odds of moving to Singapore. I mean, who would have?
I had always waved away the previous times mum would ask (on our trips to Singapore when Dad had to go there for work) about why we didn’t just move ‘here’ with the reply; ’Why? Why would leave friends and family? It wouldn’t be the same living here anyway, we’d be at school and work, not chilling by the pool?’
But the seriousness bubbled and the teasing vanished in early 2014 when I tried to digest what they were saying. What moving to Singapore really meant and how the foreseeable future would unfold.
The conversation was not brief, certainly lasting more than five minutes. I think we discussed everything from why, to what would we do with the dog. It was tough for me to fight the overwhelming word ‘no’ but I could see that it meant a lot to my parents, not just me, and yeah, actually, it really could offer great things.
I didn’t think about it much over the next couple days funnily enough. I didn’t really want to. I didn’t know how to view the broader picture in a filter that had just the right clarification for me to tell people positively. I had/have a fantastical group of friends in our infamous Essex, who I’d really got close to over the previous few years. To try to imagine how it would be to not to see them every day was hard. The security of knowing that I had one friend who only lived a minute away, another who would say yes to any proposal of what to do and one would already be lacing his boots when I wanted to play football was to be no more. And It was overwhelming. It was scary.
I clearly remember telling them.
No one would believe me the first five times I said it, but once they did, they had more questions than I had answers for. When? How long for? How often will you come back? Where will you go to school? Will you come back speaking Mandarin? (which was the only one I could answer with certainty) and, Will you be sure to stay in touch?
The thing was, I was also scared about new friends. How on earth could any of them compare!? See, it had taken me five years to gain such a tight circle of friends and now I was moving far, far away to a place where, at most, I would be staying for three years. The numbers didn’t add up.
However, the people here don’t bite. They don’t lurk under my bed and they don’t sit in their room studying for 15 hours a day, like me and my stereotyping friends were imagining. The guys and girls at school were very warm and welcoming. After the first week of starting school I had been invited to go clubbing. To go to a C L U B!
I’m 16? It’s weird!
But to go back to friends, I’ve managed to settle very well and have a very ‘ladsy’ group I hang around with every day. I still talk to my friends back home (yeah, I still find it hard to call this place home but not out of spite, more habit) near enough every day and dearly miss them.
Time has flown by though and we’re nearly six months in, meaning it’s also only six months till I can visit home and see them. So it really isn’t so bad at all. Just got to crack down and get through school. School was the one things I knew would be better in Singapore. It’s a lot tougher, don’t get me wrong, but the facilities and quality of teaching is so much better. Plus, the environment of ‘achievers’ pushes me, (maybe too hard at times?) and encourages me to do better in the hope of being on par. The international private school education is certainly not comparable to the state school education in Thurrock!
But what has it actually meant for me? Well, the move has certainly not hindered my contact with old friends, which was my biggest concern. ‘Fitting in’ was actually pretty easy looking back at it, plus the schooling has opened up many more opportunities than I had back home. (I played basketball in Thailand last week FGS!) It’s actually been ok. Of course not every day is a dream and everybody in the family has moments of homesickness, but collectively I think we’ve done very well and hit the road like Forest Gump (running!)
Bear Grylls so neatly ties the knot and manages to convey exactly how I feel and felt upon leaving:
“Adventure should be 80 percent ‘I think this is manageable,’ but it’s good to have that last 20 percent where you’re right outside your comfort zone. Still safe, but outside your comfort zone.”
And it’s an adventure not yet finished.
And, as the great Dr Seuss so poetically puts it:
“ You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose”
So currently, we are sculpting our home in Singapore in to the place we want it to be. Somewhere comfortable. Somewhere we fit 🙂
I read this with some nerves I have to say. I’m grateful beyond words for his honesty – and the fact he can string a sentence together. That Thurrock education didn’t do him too bad after all eh?
I’d love your feedback about how it is/was for you and your kids.