By Paige Okun
Ahh…love, the tingly feeling in your toes. The adrenaline rush of discovering daily something new. Fast forward three years and the relationship fits like a comfortable t-shirt… easy to wear, but still full of possibilities. Seven years in and you feel the itch… you want to try something new. You feel a little stuck, but due to circumstances you can’t move on. What do you do when the honeymoon phase is long over and your love affair with Singapore has waned?
Kate Park, a counsellor and psychotherapist at Tucker Health and long-term expat, discusses strategies for combatting the long-term expat blues and keeping the relationship spark alive.
Kate says there are many challenges that happen at around the seven-year mark. Your sense of identity changes from a being a new expat to not really understanding what type of expat you are – permanent, long-term, or something else. You’ve gone through the cycle of friend groups changing. And, you’ve changed your concept of home both geographically and conceptually. Your vision of home may become clouded and blurred, which can be confusing.
So how do you pull yourself out of that confusion and funk? First and foremost, “Work on finding your people wherever they are, over whatever interests you share,” says Kate. She says community is important and shared interests and shared values build the best communities.
How do you find your people? Start by identifying your interests. Ask yourself what sports do I enjoy? Am I spiritual? Would I like to join a church or meditation group? Am I interested in community service? Would I like to learn a new language? Do I want to go back to school for a post graduate degree? Do I want to train to be a yoga instructor? Basically, figure out what you like to do or want to try and find a group that meets that particular need. By joining an existing group, you plug into an already built community. And having a community is key to re-engaging in your expat experience.
Kate also suggests joining clubs and associations. The expat clubs like The American Club, The Tanglin Club and The British Club are an obvious choice, but there is also a myriad of local clubs and associations, such as Friends of the Museum, National Singapore Tennis Association and swimming clubs. If you have kids in school, you might consider participating in a school parent’s association. If you’re working, think about connecting with local colleagues who won’t be leaving for the next expat assignment.
In fact, local friends are important for long-term expats. They are part of the broader fabric of Singapore society and, because they will likely be here for the longer term, can be a stable support mechanism for you. Try joining a class at your local People’s Association or volunteering with a community service organization or joining a local exercise or walking group. Meetup.com lists lots of groups that fit the bill.
“There are even groups online that are dedicated to connecting those who don’t want to do the Night Safari again and who are looking for deeper ways to explore a culture and make deeper connections,” says Kate.
Exercise is also critical to combatting the long-term expat blues, according to Kate. There are numerous studies pointing to exercise being beneficial for not just physical health, but also mental health, including stress management. “Exercise is the number one non-pharmaceutical mood elevator,” she says. “And, if you want a shortcut to finding a healthy community, join a sports organization or a sporting community like a tennis or golfing league. You’ll get a helpful bang for your buck!”
And are there any long-term benefits to being an expat? Kate declares: “The longer you stay and the more open you are to connection, the deeper and richer your experience. And by opening yourself to another culture, you learn more about your own in reflection.”