On 30th May 2014 I arrived in Singapore with two suitcases full of clothes, books, hopes, and fears. After being in a long-distance relationship with Simone, my current partner, for a year, I had finally decided to leave everything behind and move abroad, to Asia.
Some people said I was mad: a short time before, I had finally managed to get a permanent contract with the salary I had always dreamed of. In other words, I was achieving the objectives I had set myself from a young age – the goal of having a secure job – and now I was throwing it all away!
What’s more, I didn’t have any guarantee that things would go well with Simone. Up until then, our relationship had been long-distance, and what if it turned out just to be a flash in the pan?
Two years on, here I am in Singapore, in my ‘home office’, looking back at everything that has happened and at how much my life has changed…
FEARS BEFORE LEAVING FOR SINGAPORE
It’s a little hard to rationalise the fears I had before leaving. There were a lot of them and they were all interlinked. Of course, I was afraid of leaving everything that was secure in my life, of leaving all certainty behind. Putting myself back out there after working so hard for everything I had was a terrifying prospect.
The fear of loneliness definitely came into play: what if, once I arrived in Singapore, I found myself all alone? No friends, no family, nobody to talk to. Of course, there was Simone, but he was at work during the day. What would I do to fill those empty hours?
There was also the fear of the language: English is spoken in Singapore, luckily, but I couldn’t get by very well in English at all. What if I couldn’t manage to communicate with people? The idea of going to do the shopping, taking public transport and speaking to the concierge scared me.
Then there was the fear of not finding a job: I had already done some research before leaving and I knew that as I hadn’t previously lived with Simone and we weren’t married, it would be difficult to find one due to the formalities involved. In fact, I would have to struggle with bureaucracy just to get a visa to remain in Singapore, never mind one that would allow me to work!
And there was the fear of abandoning my mum: what if something serious happened to her while I was gone? And what if I couldn’t get back in time? I felt guilty, too, because she was alone and I was going away…
Lastly, to a certain extent, there was also the fear of things not going well with Simone: people say that when you move in with someone you find out how things really stand. In my heart, I felt that everything would be OK, but my rational mind put me on the lookout for potential difficulties.
PROBLEMS ENCOUNTERED IN REALITY
Do you want to hear about the problems I actually encountered? Well, almost all my fears turned out to be… correct!
So, on the matter of loneliness, I had a hard time meeting other people and I often felt alone. I’m a natural introvert and I have a lot of trouble throwing myself into group situations. I need to take my time getting to know other people slowly, talking about something we both care about, telling each other about our lives, and so on.
I’m still affected by this now. Of course, I’ve met a lot of people and I consider some of them good friends. But I’ve stopped going shopping on a Saturday afternoon, for example, because… I don’t really know who to go with!
Thankfully, there are many groups and networks here in Singapore, so there’s no lack of company. However, I believe that true friendship begins when you’re young and nurturing it takes time.
THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE
As for my linguistic fears, they too turned out to be well founded. Not so much because English is spoken, but because, actually, it isn’t spoken the way I expected. The language used is Singlish – Singaporean English! (Look at this YouTube video to see what I mean!)
At the start, I didn’t even dare make a doctor’s appointment, because when I called I didn’t understand a word the other person was saying. ‘Excuse me, could you repeat that please? … Errr… could you repeat that again?’
The matter of work was undoubtedly what weighed on me most heavily. I had to move mountains to obtain not an actual job but simply a piece of paper that certified that I had the right to work in Singapore.
At first, I felt like an unwanted refugee or a burden on society. I had to leave the country to renew my residence permit at least every three months – without knowing, worst of all, whether they would let me back in.
I heard rumours that after a few times the immigration officers got suspicious and started to make a fuss. I don’t know if it’s true, but this urban legend certainly helped to scare me out of my wits every time I arrived at the border.
I couldn’t open a bank account and I couldn’t get my own phone contract. I wasn’t even eligible to use the free massage coupons being handed out in the street!
I felt that I had been deprived of some of the rights that at home I took for granted. This all made me feel even more lost, as though I had no identity and, above all, no independence.
In the end, I took the bull by the horns and started my own business
FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIP
Luckily, my mum quickly learned how to use Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook, which helped us stay in contact.
There were, however, no lack of phone calls when, in a panic, she would ask me how to change the ink cartridge in the printer or didn’t understand how to send a photo (at least these were the only problems!) :)
Then there’s my relationship with Simone. Fortunately, this was the aspect that went best of all, even if there were times when I was dealing with a lot of pent-up anger.
Every so often I would get mad at Simone because I subconsciously blamed him for all the problems I was having. And, of course, from time to time I would regret the loss of my former life.
Referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, before leaving I was at the highest level – the level of self-actualisation. In becoming nothing more than Simone’s partner I found myself back at the bottom of the pyramid, grappling with the basic needs of security, belonging and esteem.
What did I have to learn?
To face up to all these problems, out of necessity I had to undergo a profound change in mentality.
At the beginning, I was using the life I had had before leaving as a reference point: home comforts, friends, family and everything that made me feel secure. Inevitably, my reality in Singapore always came out worse in comparisons. I, therefore, found myself mourning the loss of what I had and torturing myself trying to get it back.
I then realised I couldn’t go on like this. If I continued to focus on what I no longer had, I would never be happy.
With the help of the teachings of Nick Vujicic (are you thinking of the guy born with no arms or legs? That’s him!) and of Anthony Robbins, who I had been to see in Singapore, I realised that I myself was creating my unhappiness.
To avoid my life becoming hell, I had to start focusing on my small daily successes.
BECOMING A COACH
In Singapore, I had already decided to challenge myself and train to become an accredited coach with the ICF (International Coach Federation). Because of the language, I was worried I wouldn’t understand a single word of what they taught me, but this profession had attracted me for so long. I wanted to know more about it and felt it was the right direction for me.
I can say without a doubt that this was one of the best choices of all. Becoming a coach meant calling myself into question, recognising my limits, developing my listening skills and coming to better understand the mechanisms behind how human beings function.
You know, some people think that life coaching is a made-up profession. They think that anyone could give it a go or that ‘coach’ is just a fashionable title. The training and the hands-on experience showed me that good coaches are not the ones who tell you what to do (everyone is good at doing that, right?).
On the contrary, good coaches are the ones that have the ability to listen even to the things that aren’t said and to understand what is really going on inside your head, in order to support you through a process of discovery in which you yourself find the solution that’s most appropriate for you, gaining clarity among the tangle of emotions, thoughts, fears and limiting beliefs that prevent you being the best you can be.
And to achieve this you have to start with yourself (the journey of personal growth is never-ending!).
BEFRIENDING MY FEARS
I remember that at first, I panicked every time I met a new client: would I be capable of helping them? Would I understand what they said to me (if they spoke English or Singlish)? Would I find the right questions to ask them?
I had to befriend these fears and leave my comfort zone, calling myself into question every time. And I had to face up to my fear of not being good enough, by accepting myself for who I am and for my abilities (or lack of abilities).
On top of this, to feel better about my life in Singapore I had to take a leap, even at a time when I didn’t feel ready at all. I still remember the first course I gave in English: I was assisting another trainer and the night before I went over the contents of my presentation ad nauseam. And it was no more than fifteen minutes long!
Then there was the first time I took part in a Toastmaster event, in which I had to improvise a speech in front of an audience of strangers and I was unable to say a word. And then, that time I made a video for LadyBoss, with my wobbly English
OPPORTUNITIES THAT LIVING ABROAD OFFERS
I still get scared even now when I’m faced with something new. However, I don’t run away because I know that fear is simply an emotion and that feeling it is entirely human. I also know that in life there are no real certainties and that at any moment things could take an unexpected turn.
Even today, as I write this article, I’m aware that perhaps we won’t be here in Singapore much longer. It could be another two or three months, or another year or more – who knows?
But while, before, I was bogged down in the thousands of ‘what ifs’, imagining a multitude of catastrophic scenarios, now I know that only by living one day at a time can I discover what will really happen.
The most important lesson I learned during these two years as an expat has been the art of being grateful. It’s no accident that every Friday I publish a quote on this theme on the ThreeSixtySkills Facebook page.
This is because the more I focus on the positive things happening to me every single day, the more I appreciate my life and feel thankful for how great it is. And the more I am able to attract other positive things.
I’m certain that problems will always exist, but that it’s always within our power to decide how to react to them. And I’m not at all playing them down – I know that it can be difficult.
However, we’re the only ones who have a responsibility to do something to change: we can complain about things endlessly (and suffer forever), or we can decide to do something, even something small, to change.
One last thing I learned that matters a great deal is an importance of being kind to yourself.
Having just arrived in Singapore I wanted to rebuild my life in a hurry and regain my independence. I set myself ambitious objectives and continuously tortured myself.
It was mainly the idea of the person I wanted to be, or what others expected of me, that was making me feel bad. It was me who was inflicting this self-torture because I was being hard on myself. I was never satisfied with the results I achieved and I wanted more and more, always using my previous life as a reference.
Now I know that while it’s certainly useful to set objectives and plan out tasks, it’s more important to feel good about yourself, to love yourself and to be aware that you’re doing the best you can.
There you go. There are a thousand other things to tell you but I’d risk this becoming a novel (I’ve already written one book – that’s quite enough!). Now I’d like to know from you how your first few years abroad went. Tell me about your own experience in the comments box below.
See you next time,
P.S. Take a look at my book and download the first chapter for free here.