The Importance of Finding New Friends and Hobbies in Singapore

By Andrea McKenna Brankin

Starting out a newbie in Singapore can be daunting. We’re all looking for ways to better manage our time here, including managing the stress that these changes have brought to our lives. Loneliness and isolation, pining for home and loss of a sense of self are issues all expat spouses are dealing with, whether you’re working in Singapore or not. And sometimes, those things still occur even after we’ve been here for years!

Expat experts say the more we can face the facts that we are in a new place with different challenges than home, the better we can adjust to our expat lives and maybe even have some fun along the way. Finding a bond among other expats is key to making things work.

Irena Constantin, a psychologist at Scott Psychological Services and Co-founder of Sea Counsel seacounsel.org, a program specialized in offering lifestyle tools for mental well-being, has been living with her family over the past 12 years in Southeast Asia, including India and Singapore. Working abroad and being a traveling spouse herself, she knows about the challenges that can occur, especially bringing up kids abroad. She currently works and lives in Singapore with her husband, her two girls and a bunch of pets.

As such, she acknowledges that dealing with too many changes at once can be difficult. “We might face different physical and/or emotional symptoms together, such as feeling tired and moody, being less motivated than usual or anxious,” says Constantin. She adds that those feelings can have a direct negative impact on our self-esteem and self-awareness by feeling helpless or, even worse, feeling ‘abnormal’ – “something must not be right with me…” Combine that with guilt – “I am in a privileged situation to travel and explore new countries, cultures, people, etc. so, why am I not happy?” That is where self-blaming starts,” she warns.

One key point to understand about the changes you may be feeling, according to Constantin, is that human beings are ‘social animals’ and have a sense of ‘belonging’. “Relationships are important for our wellbeing; relationships matter!” she says. “Studies have shown that people deal much better with changes like loss of a partner or going through a divorce, for example, if they have a ‘social network’ they can rely on. People who are alone, or do not have a stable social network they can rely on during that difficult time, are more inclined to increase higher levels of stress and anxiety or fall into a depression.”

Those expats who have a few years of moves might have developed some skills over the years in coping with changes, “Often, though, it’s the overall frustration with the next stint, leaving all beloved friends behind us again and starting from scratch. Every time, that takes a lot of energy out of us!” says Constantin. In fact, some expats often lament the effort it takes to make new friends, only to have them leave by the time you really get to know them.

Constantin has three excellent rules to help expats manage change, adjust and eventually thrive in our new posts:

  1. Accept! The fact that living in a new country is combined with an emotional roller coaster that includes mood swings, feeling sometimes low and less motivated or even angry and frustrated. This is totally normal as long as you are able to get out of these ‘moody periods’ to overcome those feelings and not let them (your feelings) overcome you!
  2. Look out for something ‘stable’ in your life which you can take with you to every new place. That can be a hobby you might have developed over the years – or anything you are interested in. Why not look out and start something new in your respected country? Our privilege is that we are exposed to things and people we might not have met being in our respected home country. See it as a ‘souvenir’ to and for yourself!
  3. Bonding: Whatever you decide to do, either by reaching out to existing social networks or starting to explore your interests and hobbies, try to intensify them by making them meaningful for you. That creates a bonding that will bring in some purpose and necessary stability we definitely all need.

“Many expats concur, particularly when it comes to finding hobbies, to pursue bonding with new friends. Often, it is what we have in common that draws us expats together, such as similar experiences, interests or living nearby”, says American expat of nearly 25 years,

Meg Farrell Sine. She says that settling kids in schools and connecting with other company expats helped early on, though at later posts without kids: “I found joining American or international Women’s social groups helpful, but bonding with friends took a bit more effort.” All agree that “effort” is the key takeaway.

If you have school-age children, often the schools will have some sort of parenting community, like the PTA or even just room moms meeting for coffee. Some families also meet up at condo pools and other community health & wellness areas to regularly get the kids together and have a glass of wine to unwind. Clothing designer and mom, Andrea Webb Discepola, suggests checking out Facebook groups closest to where you live. “I love how our Friday ‘kids clubs’ have now turned into parents’ late afternoon drinks!”

Joining a social organization, such as the American Association, the American Women’s Association or other groups that put on community events, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations, can help keep FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at bay. Those groups also have activities from professional networking and development seminars, to Mahjong and quilting.

Bonding over sports is also a big winner for many expats, including dragon boating, rugby, golf, tennis, walking/hiking and field hockey. Jessica Hinton, a former British military officer and current top trainer at Ministry of Fitness, who also plays field hockey with the Singapore Tornados, says it’s what you make of it that matters. She says: “It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you have a hobby there are always others who share that interest. So, join a team and you will feel like you are home.” Some sports even have a family element, such as the Titans Rugby Club titansrfc.com, which is a kids’ offshoot of the Wanderers Rugby Club for adults, singaporewanderers.com.

Once you get to a group, whatever the nature of it is, you may be surprised with how you find your friends. American Martha Scarborough, a former Singapore – and current Japan – expat, says she met one of her closest friends in Singapore at a high school orientation meeting. But it was her shoes that drew her in, not the small talk! “She was wearing Birkenstocks and I said to myself, ‘She’s one of my people!’”

Most agree that, no matter what, you have to keep giving your new home a chance. “As an expat you need to put yourself out there and explore your hobbies and interests even if you know nobody and it might seem daunting,” says Miriam Walter Feiler, an Australian expat and co-founder of the Singapore-based micro-consulting firm, Bizzi Ptd Ltd. “Friendships build over time. Just put yourself out there and be brave and meet new people.”

Read more about Irena’s work and publications at scottpsychologicalservices.com/irena_constantin_ psychologist.php.

You can contact her for further information about her different programs she is offering under: irena.constantin@gmail.com.