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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Singapore, Singapore

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Singapore

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, I received some off-the-cuff informal emails from on-site colleagues. I adapted well but I did appear to the locals as baing somewhat naive.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

British English is the primary business language. In the smaller markets, local Chinese dialects prevail (illegal if spoken in Singapore). Mandarin is the official Chinese dialect.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really. Having lived in NYC, I felt I could live anywhere. I was unprepared, tho, for the smells and the open hole toilettes.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

Initally, I was really challenged to absorb without prejudice. After a few weeks, I became normalized to the sights, smells, and sounds.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

I settled in quite quickly. Some colleagues refused to accept the contrasts - food safety, cleanliness, and body smells were very obviously different from American norms. My friends ate only at Western-style eateries. I mostly ate from the street food stalls. My friends became ill whereas I was never ill once. Must have been all the curry in the food that i was eating.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I became more broadminded, and I felt that life in America was too protective, too "nice" and too picturesque. The shock of living and seeing the 3rd world was a true eye opener.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Pushed me outside myself. I feel more comfortable in other countries than in America.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

When I lived in Singapore, the most challenging aspects were leaving behind the lessons learned while in Singapore. Applying lessons learned in my daily life tended to isolate me from my core friends. They did not like the changes seen in me.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

None really.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Take it all in humor. Remember, we're in THEIR home country...and WE are the ones who are different.

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Comments about this Report

guest
Jan 27, 2011 21:21

Local chinese dialects are NEVER illegal when spoken. Singapore is a first world country - unless writer has visited country 50 years ago.

guest
Mar 29, 2011 10:00

I'm baffled by the description of Singapore as "third world". It's one of the most first-world countries on the planet! It's also considerably more clean, protective, and all-round "nice" than pretty much any other country in the world, including the US. The usual complaint about Singapore is that it's too sterile and clean, not that it's smelly and unhygienic. I wonder where in Singapore the reviewer was living - and whether he or she ever dared to cross the causeway. If you think Singapore's smelly and third world, don't go near Malaysia - let alone Indonesia! I spent a couple of years in Singapore and loved the cleanliness, beauty, inspiring cityscape, and efficiency. When it comes to culture shock, what I had considerable difficulty with was the very inherent racism - not of a derogatory nature, but of a "race=culture" and "cultures can't mix" variety. As someone in a mixed-race relationship, I found that very hard. Overall, though, I'd far rather be there than in London, which is where I live now, and which is truly third-world compared to Singapore.

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An American woman who lived in Singapore for about 7 months loved the people, the lifestyle, the safety and the fresh, wholesome food. Her biggest challenges were the heat, the humidity and the lack of air conditioning.

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