Lessons from My First Day as an Expat
Today marks the 10-year-anniversary of a life-changing day. On 23 August 2005, my husband, our two children and I flew to Singapore from Manila to start a new chapter in our lives. It was our first day as foreigners making a life in another country. When we decided to make the move months before, my husband and I thought that it would be a short-but-sweet two-year adventure. We would enjoy living as expats (some would say immigrants), save money, and after about two years, repatriate to Manila. Our supposed two-year stint ended up being a seven-year life in Singapore.
I remember that day ten years ago vividly. As I look back now, I realize a few things I learned that day.
1. When I have my family with me, I can brave a whole new world, or almost anything, really.
That day ten years ago, I was to set foot in Singapore for the first time and with a one-way ticket. Unlike my husband who has had several business trips before then, our children and I were going to see Singapore for the first time. And we weren’t going as tourists; we were going there to move.
Though we were moving to Singapore which had the same climate and time zone as Manila, it was still a foreign land to me. I had my worries about living abroad for the first time. The fact that I had two very young children in tow, our five-year-old daughter and five-month-old son, compounded my worries. Still, because I had my husband and children with me, I found the guts to go with it, believe that it will all work out and enjoy the adventure.
2. Babies cry. It’s natural. I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. People will understand and move on (unless they think they were never babies).
It was to be our first flight out of the Philippines as a family. It was my first time to fly via Singapore Airlines, and I was excited to experience its world-class service and amenities. However, it was to be my five-month-old son’s first time flying, and it was going to be for three and a half hours. Hence my anxiety.
Unfortunately, my fear came true. My son cried for what seemed like the first and last half-hours of the flight, around take-off and landing, leaving about two and a half hours of peace for myself, my family and the other passengers within hearing range. I was mortified. Despite my repeated attempts to nurse him or cuddle him to sleep, he just kept crying. I felt bad for my son who was obviously in much discomfort, and I felt guilty about disturbing the other passengers.
Some of the passengers were probably annoyed, but I’m pretty sure that our flight experience didn’t leave them traumatized. All of them would get back on a plane again. Travel goes on; life goes on. I have gotten over my misplaced remorse and realized that these things come with the territory of traveling on a plane that isn’t your own private jet.
3. While I am excitedly heading to a new adventure, I am leaving behind supportive but sad friends and family.
It’s a common Filipino tradition for relatives and friends to accompany loved ones to the airport, especially when they will be away for a prolonged period. In our case, my parents and my husband’s sister brought us to the airport to see us off. One can imagine how that went, especially with my parents saying goodbye to their grandchildren. What I didn’t expect was how I would end up in tears as I hugged my mother goodbye. And I learned afterwards that my husband’s sister, who didn’t have immediate family with her anymore in Manila when we moved away, suddenly felt so alone after we left.
While my husband and I were planning for our move, our relatives and friends were right there with us, helping us when they could and being excited with us. While we were busy getting to know our new home, they were missing us in our old home. I realized the importance of showing appreciation for the loved ones we leave behind by staying connected with them.
Remembering that fateful day ten years ago brings back vivid memories and varied emotions. I look back fondly and introspectively on a day that marked the beginning of new adventures, new lessons, new friendships and new dreams. And I am forever grateful for that day.
(Three years ago, my family and I left Singapore and have since been living as repatriates.)