Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Saturday February 16th 2019

30-something returning Singaporean finding it tough to adjust after living abroad for 7 years

Hi Gilbert,

Do you have any support services for returning Singaporeans who are facing reverse culture shock? I am a 30-something single Singaporean lady, whom many describe as funny, interesting and pleasant. Having previously lived and worked in Western country X for 7-8 years, it was with a heavy heart that I returned to Singapore few years ago when the job market in country X took a turn for the worse, especially for non-natives of that country.

While I am grateful that returning to Singapore has revived my career to some extent, I find my social and mental well being has been severely compromised, with reverse culture shock hitting its all time worse this year – of all years.

The lack of work life balance in Singapore is a killer, along with feeling like a fish out of water in my predominantly Chinese-speaking workplace (owing to nature of the industry, I guess). The transition from having had freedom and independence in Country X, to living with parents is another challenge. As long as I am living with them, I personally feel there will be some degree of control and expectations to meet, something which I never had to deal with in Country X.

Yet housing here is expensive for single women should I ever move out, and even if I could afford it, my face-loving parents will object to it, because “what will our friends think of us, if our single daughter still wants to move out in spite of being back in the same country as us?”

Apparently, to the folks here, only marriage will allow us to be independent and truly an adult. So the only way to move out as a single person is to go overseas, but there needs to be a valid job offer there, which unfortunately, I do not have on the cards as yet.

Yes, the peer pressure to be married in Singapore is ever so strong. My friends (or should I say acquaintances) here are all married with children, and even if I disappeared off the face of this earth, they would not notice. It’s always me who has to take initiative in my so called friendships with them the social scene is hard for someone my age….I have many acquaintances, and people often describe me as interesting, I have many network contacts from work…but somehow I still feel lonelier here than when I was in country X away from my family. in spite of having a family here…ironic isn’t it?

Anyway, class reunions, Chinese new year family gathering are often hard for me, too much pressure to marry…

Yet, ironically, in spite of our government wanting us to marry and have babies, my working life isn’t making it any easier for me. Too many married colleagues who get away with doing less work due to management “understanding their situation” and having all the work thrown to singles to complete for them.

My work also does not allow me work-life balance and although I get to meet many people at work and interact on a daily basis (even after working hours), let’s face it…many of them are married older men with mid life crisis who are occasionally flirtatious with me (though in a harmless way) and while it is entertaining to know Singaporeans are still interested, it is obvious I can only have a working relationship with them and nothing more.

Whoever said that living abroad overseas away from family, is lonelier than here in Singapore? I truly beg to differ. In Country X, my dating life was better though fate didn’t allow me to find a husband there, but at least, socially, I had more friends (mainly non-Singaporeans) whom I still keep in touch with. Also, there is less discrimination against Singles there, and it is OK for folks to marry well into their 40s or 50s. Ironically too, it was in Country X that I actually relished and enjoyed my single life greatly, even though I also had more luck in the area of men there. The advantages of being single was truly enjoyed there. Unlike here, where marriage seems like the be all and end all of all things…at least for my family. I have single friends in country x, but I also have married friends there.

Interestingly, my married friends there do not make me feel like a loser and we still can enjoy each others’ friendships without feeling envious or condemning of each other’s lifestyle. I guess over there, people generally married for love, and only when ready. But here in Singapore, marriage seems like a race and competition with other women to avoid finishing last so to speak.

Reverse culture shock seems to have hit its worse this year, compared to when I first returned. Perhaps expectations have gone up, and I might be expecting to fit in better by now or perhaps the past few years were spent building a career here and now that things have stabilised (I mean stagnated, to be exact), I start looking back and realized how much of a life I have wasted here, just for the sake of a career which isn’t really much of one, really, just a means of survival.

It is not that I never tried to reach out to people. After all, I am not exactly a quiet person, and am interesting with many hobbies and interests. I tried joining many interest groups with whatever little free time I have, only to end up making acquaintances but no close friend. relationships here for the most part have been kept superficial with minimal depth, even though I may have a larger network of contacts here than country x. But ironically it’s my friends in Country x with whom I can have a better quality friendship with…

I am starting to miss Country X again this year, but at least I am realistic enough to know the job market is uncertain for me there.

So perhaps I can make baby steps to at least relive the multi-cultural, cosmopolitan environment which I once enjoyed by seeking out a regional job here in Singapore, which resembles that of country X? My best option for now would then be to seek a Regional job, that allows me to mix with people from different countries, even while physically here in Singapore. That could be the best I could do for myself. But if you do have support services which I could use to try get there, please do let me know.

In addition, could you also get me connected with folks who have worked overseas (western countries) like more than 5 years…who are suffering reverse culture shock like myself? Not just those who merely studied overseas, as I find those who left to study aboard and returned immediately after graduation oftentimes do not face the same reverse culture shock as myself who worked as well.

In particular, I read your article about the 64-year-old lady who returned to Singapore after working in Germany for 30 years, Many of the things she mentioned in your article hit really close to home for me. Is there any way I can get connected with her and let her know she is NOT alone?

Even though I am close to half her age, and did not leave for as long as she did, I can already feel her pain…of feeling alienated in one’s own country!


Number of View: 98

Reader Feedback

2 Responses to “30-something returning Singaporean finding it tough to adjust after living abroad for 7 years”

  1. Owen says:

    Hi Theresa,

    Do you like to network with friends (overseas singaporean) from Sydney Australia?

    What you have said over the article has indeed made a lot of sense and personal experience between had to live overseas and in singapore. Basically, sg has changed a lot over the years while you are away.

    Let me know which industry you are working and perhaps could network or asking for job opportunities in here for you.


  2. TT says:

    Honestly speaking, you need not have to come back. I came back from Melbourne after having worked there for 8 years, regretted that for the next 10 years in Singapore and now I’m finally back in Sydney. Singaporeans like us who are mobile will always find it difficult adjusting to SG life because we have tasted freedom of expression where nowhere in SG you can get….even if you’re working for a MNC in SG.


Leave a Reply to TT