What lies at the centre of your experience living abroad?


The first time I experienced loss was the loss of the feeling of autonomy. The dormitory unit I am currently staying in is a place of residence – and I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am living on borrowed land and my existence is merely a temporal state of being. I have to write forms to inform the dormitory manager when and why I am staying overnight elsewhere, or am on leave. I have to account for my actions on a daily basis to strangers who only care whether I can clock in the hours at work on time. But back at home, I can always come back from wherever I am to my family, and that’s my home; I have roots here. And I don’t have to account for my actions (not to strangers) as much as long as I reach home safe and sound.

The second time I experienced loss was when I started realizing conversations I have with my family and friends are dwindling down as common experiences start to diverge. There are many things I want to share with my friends and family – but the realization that the other party is no longer able to relate to my experiences anymore keeps me from sharing them at all. Doing so merely served to drive me further into a state of loneliness and isolation, and many times I have cried and grieved so hard over the loss of this commonality, the loss of cherished friendships and the loss of shared time.

Such changes – moving on – is an inevitable process regardless of whether you are living abroad; but somehow living abroad tears you violently and abruptly away from the life you have back home – like tearing off a strip of sticky tape from a wall that it’s been stuck to for years only for it to be pasted onto another. The original wall will have been left with strains and marks from where that sticky tape has been torn from, and that piece of sticky tape can no longer stick as well as it was before on anywhere else.

This brings me to the next biggest loss I have experienced when I am here – the loss of self. I mean this in a good way, really.
I am stepping into another version of me. Living abroad has taught me a lot of things about life in general. As seasons changed, I felt like I was also shedding a part of myself – the one who kept holding onto her past and refuses to let go. Old perspectives, values and beliefs were altered and renewed. Perhaps I am offending many by saying this, but in a way, when I was back home, I could not think or see clearly the direction I wanted to go and was always moving in the direction of what people want and expect of me. In the pursuit of not letting others down, I let myself down the most.

However, when I came to Japan, I was able to rethink my priorities. I had space to understand and develop myself a lot better.

For example, I realized my drive to succeed in the past was largely because everyone around me (especially my family) wanted me to. So I worked hard. And for a while, I got jaded because I didn’t know what I was working so hard for and why I needed to work so hard for. When the people here asked me in an interview what I wanted to be in five years, without hesitation I replied, almost in a mechanical way, that I wanted to work up the career ladder and become a general manager some day. Now, reflecting back on that day, I regretted saying that. Because, no, I don’t want to be some big shot manager, or some high flying executive chasing after the high life, flying on business class from one country to another, affording no time at all for my loved ones. I don’t need a lot of money – I don’t buy a lot of things. Neither do I crave for prestige or fame – the constant feeling of being watched and judged was what drove me to depression when I was young. I don’t crave the fine life – I feel uncomfortable in such settings. I don’t need power – what is so great about having people fear and follow you anyway?

What if I am okay with making just enough money to get by?
What if I am okay with not pushing myself to the limit to gain that 1% more in my performance appraisal?
What if I am fine with mediocrity?
What if I am perfectly happy with being at home working on the illustration book(s) that I have always wanted to publish?

The one thing I treasure – the only thing I need – is time.
Time for myself. Time for loved ones. Time for personal rejuvenation. Time for reflection. Time for learning. Time for creating new experiences.

Why should I be ashamed of having such thoughts?
… Why was I ashamed of such thoughts?

There were many things I have loved and lost in Singapore.
There are things I will continue to fight not to lose in Singapore while I am in Japan.
There will be things I will lose while I am in Japan.
That is what I have come to realize about life after working abroad.
We deal with it on a daily basis without us knowing it.



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