10 April 2015

"I need to leave Singapore. How did you do it?" - a question I have been asked so often by many

Let me start off by saying that I have decided to write a post on this issue because so many people have been asking me why I left my home country and how I did it. I intend to share my personal experience and strongly encourage my readers not to intrepret too much into my story. This is supposed to be a source of support or inspiration to those in need of some explanation. It is not meant as a call to encourage anyone to walk down the road I had taken because by all means it wasn't an easy one to take and just because it had worked for me, doesn't make it reliable for others.
As much as I love to inspire others, I still encourage you to be aware of the decisions you are making, to know what you are doing, as much as possible and to take full responsibility for it.

One thing makes Singapore quite unique if I may say: Many Singaporeans and Foreigners in the country have been stigmatised simply for not following the golden rules. Also those who have left the country to start life anew. They have once been labelled 'Quitters' by a former Prime Minister and until today I still don't really know what that's supposed to mean. I haven't found that many articles on this topic since it's one thing considered quite sensitive to talk let alone discuss about - if you're Singaporean you would know why. But I decided to jump onto the boat anyway and contribute my part of the story (just so there's another nice article out there for you to read).

Pardon my metaphorical method of expression for I am rather creative, but let us (try to) get to the point.



Why did I leave Singapore?


Source: Nypost.com 2012

Freedom and Passion:
There was actually no plan for me to leave Singapore. I didn't want to leave it per se. I didn't plan to, I had to. And it had a lot to do with my personal past, my childhood, society, a few traumatic experiences and eventually a long-distance relationship. There were simply things that I didn't want to be reminded of anymore because they extremely bothered me.
As a child I was raised in a religious Muslim family, was sent to religious school and was brought up in a religious environment. Then came a time when the only passion I had for was art. But art was a form of self-expression, freedom of speech and freedom to one's opinion. A blasphemy towards everything I was taught. I started to notice walls building up around me and closing in until I could no longer move.

Education:
School was a place that seemed to have tortured a big part of my childhood soul. But surprisingly for me that was not the case for everyone else. Only for me. So there must be something wrong with me, or so I thought. Until I found out later that as a person I just loved to question anything and everything, to create, to be inspired by my own ideas and ideas of others, to discover and explore and experiment. But I didn't have the space or freedom to do this thus as a result being unable to find out who I really am. Or knowing what is right or acceptable anymore.

Suffocation:
And as I grew older I realized there was less and less room to breathe and to be. Everything and everywhere was becoming more and more crowded, prices are soaring at breakneck speed, nature was basically plastered onto everything but really she was gone, noise was everywhere, life was only about work and diligence with no satisfaction or recognition for your efforts, and I feared for my future, feared for my sanity, I feared for my retirement after seeing so many elderly people suffer - suffer for everything they have done for the country. It was a system I just... didn't fit into. I just refused to give up because of that.

Singapore. Safe haven. Model city.
Source: Telegraph.co.uk 2013

Unhappy despite having (almost) everything:
During my teenage and young adult years I realized that I had everything: a home, a family, friends, safety, convenience. But was I happy? No. So I knew that something important was missing. I had education from a private and religious school but it wasn't enough to land me a decent job. It wasn't even what I had wanted. The only option I had was to further my studies somewhere, which cost time and money, money I didn't have and money I cannot have if my education can't find me a decent job. A downward spiral I tried to break out of. After many tries I found a job, and I worked eagerly, so hard over long hours. I wasn't paid much for this but over the years I sacrificed my time and saved every cent I could because someday I was going to use my savings to further my studies.

The expectation and the disappointment:
The disappointment came after finding out that the costs for the course I wanted to take were raised and what I had saved up for was once again... not (good) enough. I was disappointed and I knew that I was not going to torture myself through blood and sweat for years again just so I could save up enough for education. So I took the money I already had and decided that I have to start over.
This was the beginning.



How did I leave Singapore?


Source: Ecusymposium.wordpress.com 2014

A destination:
The fact is, I couldn't have moved to a new country if I hadn't made sure that I had a place to go or something to do to financially secure my existence. I had considered doing an Au-Pair exchange programme overseas for one year, I had considered volunteering and teaching in third-world countries, I considered retaking my GCS'O's and doing my A Levels after that so I could apply for university overseas (but financially impossible for me without going into debt), I considered studying Accounting or Nursing so I could apply for a relevant job overseas. I was even ready to learn a new language if that is what it takes.
But I knew that education or qualification was the only way that was realistic enough for me that would help.

Connections:
Another fact is, if it wasn't for a work situation (employment), I couldn't have moved to a new country if I hadn't had connections to anyone in that country. Well it wouldn't have been impossible, just more difficult. So I was lucky to have known someone back then from Germany who became a good friend, who over time also became my other half. Not everyone will cross paths with a similar situation as mine. I had known Micha since 2005 and this was before I had any plans to leave Singapore. In fact he was planning to come to Singapore so we could be together.

Long-distance relationship:
I left Singapore partly also because I wanted to be with him and wanted to take our relationship to the next level. But I had to remain realistic because leaving my country would be the first step but knowing how to survive there would then be the other.

Somewhere to fall back on:
So after I knew that I had a place to go and a place to stay, I just packed up and left. I left behind my family, my friends and everything I knew. It was heart-breaking as I spoke to them about my decision but it was a decision I wanted to make. I was so scared but I took this fear with me and said to myself (and to my parents) that if this was a mistake, then my two-way ticket will take me back home. So as a kind of safety net I knew that I could always come home if it doesn't work out.

Getting acquainted with the new country:
As a tourist I was allowed to stay in Germany for 90 days without a visa. I took this opportunity to enroll myself for an intensive German language course. Coincidentally and luckily I didn't have to have any kind of legal residence to apply for it, as long as I had a place to stay within the period and paid for the course, which I did. So without turning back I learned German, practiced a lot and after three months I could speak and understand it pretty well (This had a lot to do with the magnitude of my motivation and a talent for languages.) I was dead set on mastering the language because this was the only way I could independently cope in a non-English-speaking country. I exposed myself to everyday routines like listening to the German radio, watching German TV, doing the grocery shopping or ordering food just to be able to interact with the local people.

Knowing my rights and fulfilling the requirements:
If Germany wasn't my country of destination, it would've been some other probabaly English-speaking country to eliminate any language barriers. If I hadn't had any personal connections, I would have coordinated my transition over a different situation like finding out what it takes to fulfill a common job application to the point that I land a contract.
I wouldn't take this too lightly either; use the internet (research, research, research! No excuse nowadays not to) or learn the language if you must to find out as much information as possible about your rights, obligations and long-term accommodation in the new country. Find out what you have to do to be able to legally stay long-term in the country.
After Micha and I decided to legalize our marriage first of all for the sake of our relationship, I could stay longer and apply for a course or training in Early Childhood Education and Social Pedagogy, which I will be graduating from in 2016 if all goes well. I am lucky, because Micha is financially supporting me in the meantime.
However depending on the country and its laws, there may be other possibilites to consider like landing an employment contract as mentioned above (possibly the best option if you are on your own), being accepted to a certain school or university if you have the financial means, volunteering long term, taking part in exchange programmes if any etc.



Advice / Note to those who are considering to migrate:

  • Research, research, research. Use the internet. Find connections.
  • Keep open to opportunities but remain vigilant and careful. 
  • Have a place to go and know where you are going.
  • Know your source of income and food.
  • Take courage and ask a lot of questions or ask for help. 
  • And most of all always have a Plan B and abide by the laws in any country.
  • You will miss your friends and family.
  • You will miss everything and anything that you know.
  • You will experience culture shock to the maximal level and cry over it for days and weeks.
  • It is a journey that has no certain method or rule to it, you just have to be ready and do whatever it takes. And then just do it.
  • Migrating is a risk to take.
  • Preparation can be a painful process because it takes a lot of time, effort and a bit of luck. But you can always make your own luck and find your own way.
  • Even then things might still not go to plan.
  • My mum used to say: There is always a way out of 'no way out'. And I live up to that.
  • It helps to have connections in the country you are going so someone can always help you, knows where you are and where or with whom you are staying.
  • If you have to further your studies to improve your qualifications then by all means, find a way to finance it and then dedicate yourself to it. I promise that the hard work will pay off in one way or the other.
  • If you already have a qualification, find out ways on how you can use it or get it recognized in the country of your destination so you don't have to start from zero.
  • Always talk to someone you trust about your plans and stay in contact so that someone knows where you are at all times.
  • Leaving Singapore is by far the scariest things I have done in my life so understand that the fear you have just thinking about it is normal. It is normal to fear the unknown. But having the courage to take that first step sets me apart from others - courage and dedication sets you apart from others and it gets you places.



Will I ever come back to Singapore?

The answer is yes, I will be coming back to visit, but as for coming back for good - that I don't have any plans for just yet. Just for the sake of mentioning, I am still very much a citizen of Singapore because I would like to secure my income and become financially and independently stable in the new country first before I consider whether or not I even want to take another huge step.

Living in a new country is one thing but giving up a citizenship is another. FYI: Neither Singapore nor Germany allows dual citizenship unless (for Germany) the other country is part of the European Union. So I'm not quite ready for this yet. If you like, call it a sense of safety net to fall back on and maybe it is. Because my journey hasn't ended and I am still taking one step at time in starting my life anew.

And who knows, maybe if the situation is right, I would consider coming home for good to start my career in Singapore as an Educator and contribute once again to society, because after all all I wanted and needed was to break free from the walls and the a negative downward spiral I found myself in during my growing years. I don't know what the future brings :)



Conclusion:

I think that there is a difference between wanting to leave a country to start anew and needing to leave a country to start anew. I needed to leave because I was on the brink of suicide. But I have to admit that luck (and perhaps God?) was on my side which had made this possible for me but I would have done it anyway otherwise. Anything. Just to get away.
People I know have encouraged me not to go, they told me that bad things are going to happen and told me that it's against religious rules (women are not supposed to travel alone) and so on and so forth. That had added on to my fear of taking that step. But I let it set, listened to what my heart was saying and I took the step anyway despite the fear. After all I would have regretted it if I hadn't, and now I know why I felt so strongly about my decision - because it had lead me somewhere.

Living overseas has taught me a new language, given me the opportunity to further educate myself despite starting off on the wrong foot, exposed me to the diversity of human nature, human behaviour, culture, belief systems and traditions, allowed me to experience the unknown, try new things, fail and succeed, express myself and learn to become independent.

Living overseas has changed me a lot as a person in a way that I never thought I could be. I learned so much about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, my limits. I was amazed at how huge the world became, amazed at myself, at the challenges I face daily and deal with in my own time and way. I caught up with the things I have always wanted to do and achieve and I am not quite done with that yet. The person in me I used to know back then who always seemed timid, afraid and constrained, is no longer the dominant side of me.

I didn't forget who I am or forget where I come from. Instead I proved to myself that starting over, resetting life, was posssible... that I can live abroad and survived. Something that so many I know would never do. And I did it.
So I know that it's possible because it's working. So I'm going to go back to what I do best, give a pat on my back and keep smiling.



Postscript:

Read more about my journey beginning with this post: HERE
More about how I became fluent in German (Tips for any language, really): HERE
Watch me talking about my experience in Germany in my Vlog: HERE

The song that inspired me through my journey:



Empty Handed by Michelle Branch

Here I am take me
It's easier to give in
Some people mistake me
They only hear what they want to hear
If you're losing sleep
Forgive me
I just can't keep pretending

I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be
The only one who's drowning in their misery
And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe
And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be
How it's supposed to be

There's a prism by the window
It lets the light leak in
I wish you would let me
You feel the water but do you swim?
And it's only me empty-handed
With a childish grin and a camera

I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be
The only one who's drowning in their misery
And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe
And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be
How it's supposed to be

la da da da

I'm packing my bags 'cause I don't wanna be
The only one who's drowning in their misery
And I'll take that chance 'cause I just wanna breathe
And I won't look back and wonder how it's supposed to be
How it's supposed to be

'Cause I'm packing my bags
And I won't be back




Last thoughts :)

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