When I first left the Philippines to work in Singapore in 2012, I was only planning to stay until my two-year contract ends. Leaving to work abroad is a pretty major life change I didn’t expect. I was randomly submitting my resume everywhere online while feeling dejected over lack of progress in my career in Manila. Nothing happened though, so that route has long faded in my mind.
A year later, I received a call from Singapore about a job position that matched my profile. I did a phone interview, and two days later I was notified that I got the job. It didn’t feel real at the time. I wasn’t actively seeking new employment. I just thought of giving it my best and see what happens. What do I have to lose?
I got lucky.
Adulting happened, and everything after that went off in a whirl.
- I met and was saved by Jesus.
- I got engaged and married.
- We got to know a lot of wonderful people.
- We traveled the world.
- I had a love and hate relationship with Singapore.
The two-year plan got extended. Priorities changed. I dreamed bigger.
Like everything else, life abroad isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. I pushed through the good and the bad, and I had the time of my life.
But still, it never felt home.
I’ve always felt that my journey in Singapore isn’t permanent. You see, our time in Singapore is completely dependent on our jobs. We can stay as long as we have one. But when the contract ends, or the company decides to let you go, work visa is canceled, and it’s over. It’s difficult to stop or quit even when the job sucks. Hence, people are usually competitive to keep their position.
In the past few years, employment opportunities got lesser for foreigners like us. Locals demand more jobs for themselves which honestly, is their prerogative. But as a result, our CVs get push down the list.
More so, we don’t get much regarding salary and benefits. We pay our own rent, clinic visits, and transport expenses. No bonuses or salary increase. Expat packages were never true for Asians like us because, in reality, expat is a term used for western people working overseas. The rest of us are migrant workers whose skills and experience gets downplayed.
I’m not trying to start a debate here. All I’m saying is it happens. Racism and privilege are true for anywhere in the world, and it manifests even in unnoticeable situations like this.
Singapore is the most expensive city in the world.
You know what I mean. From rent prices, education, healthcare, to everyday needs.
To make ends meet and get the most out of our earnings, we forego our privacy and share a house with other people. We take turns in using the kitchen, toilet, and washer (some household even have a schedule). We put up with other people’s noise, sometimes clean up their mess.
Singapore doesn’t have farms or fields to grow their own produce. Thus, groceries are mostly imported, pricey and generally, not fresh.
When seeing a doctor, it’s almost impossible to go without purchasing their medicines. Dozens of them. It’s almost subtly obligatory, even if I just need to rest for the day or say we still have leftovers at home.
The culture is highly competitive.
There’s always this pressure to perform and be better than the other. Children are enrolled in school and various classes for as young as one-year-old. Employees are expected to work longer or stay in the office even after working hours (with or without extra pay) to be deemed competent. People put up with long queues to not miss a good deal, or turn up hours earlier to be ahead of the line. And eyes are eternally glued to mobile phones to always be in the know.
I remember being deemed inexperienced at work because I don’t speak as loud as the others and refuse arguments. It’s not even a question of my performance, but my character. Being less aggressive doesn’t make one incapable.
The general culture is so afraid of losing out. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it incites unhealthy competition and broken self-confidence. Life isn’t all about winnings and rankings.
As a migrant, it can be a struggle to live together with the family.
If you’re a migrant worker with a family or starting one, you need to meet certain requirements to bring dependents with you in Singapore. The most difficult to achieve is the high minimum fixed monthly salary which is rarely offered to Asian workers. And even if you reach this criterion, there’s still no guarantee that a dependent visa will be granted.
I’ve seen a lot of people and our friends go because of this. I’ve had housemates who decided to live separately with their family to keep their jobs, leaving their spouse or their children under the care of relatives back in their home country.
I get it. For a country as tiny as Singapore, there’s simply not enough space to accommodate all foreigners hoping to migrate there. But it’s disheartening to be confronted with having to choose between family and career (especially if you need the latter to support the former).
That said, things were not the same anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for my time in Singapore and forever will be. I believe we had everything we need to live a comfortable life. And it didn’t always feel this way. But the lack of long-term security has been a major concern for us. With a competitive market and rise in population, it’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As a young couple looking into starting a family and settling down, Singapore has proved less than ideal in many ways. We don’t want to risk it.
There are other amazing places in the world that don’t only promote diversification but actually breathe it. A place where minorities like us can get the same support from the government as the locals. A place where it’s viable to excel, progress and live a well-rounded life without competition.
A place we can call home.