This is how I feel. Some days it gets to me, but thankfully, most of the times it is something I recognise and just feel a little confused about.
I've not been away for that long. It's "only" been 4 years. But by the end of my course, I would have had spent 7 years here. Potentially longer, depending on where I choose to work. The reason why it has not bothered me much so far is because I do not feel very alone in this. It is difficult to feel that alone in this respect when you are in a university as diverse as the one I have been in and am in. People are so different, that I do not feel like an outcast for being different. People are not racist or xenophobic towards me. To side-track a little, I am grateful for that and thankful that I am not a foreigner in Singapore, being personally attacked and blamed for things, and deprived of well wishes in the event I am awarded something even though it is based on merit. I am under a scholarship that is given to people they find are capable, regardless of my nationality. And the people around me do not say things like how I stole their scholarship. And I believe they wouldn't say I am stealing their job even if I continue to stay here. I may be wrong, but this is the impression I get. I am pretty much welcomed, which is why I do not feel horrible about any identity crisis I face. It just can get a little lonely sometimes, just not enough to bother me, thankfully. Hah. I know, I did say in my first few lines that I do not feel alone in this. It is paradoxical in that sense...I do not feel alone in this because many people around me are experiencing this, but I do still feel lonely because my background and experiences from the past and present are different from theirs. I am pretty much a bastard child of two countries and a smorgasbord of experiences, different from other bastard children of different countries and experiences :P
People around me come from all around the world. Even though they are commonly from regions just close by, the culture they were born in or grew up partially in is different and they still have to adapt even if they get to go home often because the countries are geographically closer. The ones who come from further abroad find it a little more challenging because they do not get to go home as often, and have to, in a way, lose part of whatever identity they have formed for themselves previously. The attitude towards change matters, too. I know of a number of friends who do not seem to struggle in keeping their...well, Singaporean identity, and I think this may be because subconsciously they know it is best they do not. They know they have to go back to Singapore eventually to serve their bond and hence see being overseas as being a journey that will come to an end. That is not to say they do not get a reverse culture shock when they do go back. They probably will still be a little shocked, because they still would have adapted somewhat in order to be happy in where they are overseas. But it's just that they probably would have held on to their Singaporean identity a little tighter, even if subconsciously. I have not consciously tried to lose mine, but I think I may have done so much quicker because I was not watching it. I have no deadline to how long I want to be here for. And I only have my mum to return to back in Singapore. My brothers are both not there. My mum is very important to me, and so even though I say I "only" have her to return to, it's not something I see as not worth it. It is something I feel conflicted about because the opportunities that I have aren't that great and I don't have a full family right there which would have otherwise been a very compelling reason for returning. I am afraid of what will happen to me if I go back for my mum....Of course I will feel a lot more at ease that my mum is being taken care of. But I wouldn't know how to be in a country that probably cannot accept me for who I am. I will have to fit in...
In a way, it's nice here. Because no one cares about me. I can be who I want, and do what I want. And I guess because I am not even a citizen nor have family here, I do not feel like what I choose to do is important to anyone but me. Or maybe even the citizens here feel that way...I don't know. I just feel that I have no expectations from anyone but myself. In Singapore, I am aware of how much I must conform or behave or think in a certain way. My personality must be within that range of personalities...The downside, of course, is that because I am not a citizen here, I never feel like I truly belong here. I don't think I ever will anyway. Because I will never forget completely what it is like to be who I am as a Singaporean in Singapore. Another downside is, I can never feel as cared about or that policies here apply to me. They don't seem to apply that much, besides making immigration more difficult. :P They may do so one day...Maybe I just don't feel that now because I'm still a student. But of course in general the attention wouold be on their citizens and not me. For example, the scholarship I obtain does ignore nationality. But most of the scholarships here are actually not available to me due to nationality. The one I got is pretty much the only one I was eligible for because they extended it to be available beyond their own citizens.
4 years here is not sufficient for me to feel secure and like I belong here, because I know I am not and I do not. I do not think it will happen even after 7 years. However, I am also no longer secure and I do not really belong to Singapore either. Moreover, there is a high enough potential that somewhere down the line, I will move again to a different country altogether, and that'll add to the identity crisis even further. Which is why I think this video will help explain a little of how it is like. The video sounds a little more depressing than how I feel about it, though I would empathise that it could have been more difficult for those who had moved around since young. A girl in the video mentions it is hard to know which part of who she is relates to a cultural influence or a family experience. I am generally okay with it on most days. But it can get difficult. Admittedly, I can recall nights when this had bothered me a lot. It gets hard to define myself, or know what has contributed to a certain aspect of who I am. I would still choose this path if given the choice again, but sometimes I wish I did belong somewhere, and that I wasn't constantly saying goodbye to people who matter to me after a few days of being with them. I no longer take planes to go to places for holidays. It's just to see people I care about, who are strangely littered all over the world...
November 10, 2012 06:34 PM PST
Hi DA, belated happy birthday. I have been reading you since Kenny Sia days, though missed you for a while as we all get on with our lives. I just wanna say two things:
1) A very sensible post re: foreigners in Singapore. I'm so sick of the foreigner bashing, especially those done behind the anonymity of internet. Wished more Singaporeans would think like you.
2) An encouragement - never give up finding meaning and happiness in life. Since you study Neuroscience you'd know people are wired up differently and some are just more prone to life stressors. My theory is that their 5-HT/DA neurochemistry is more sensitive to signals from the HPA axis. Accept that this is your challenge and fight. You CAN overcome it.
Sorry for the "lecture". BTW, I'm in the same field (perhaps a bit more advanced) so if you need any advice re your research or career, let me know!
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