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Illustration: Eilzah Insyirah

4 Things I Never Expected About Living Overseas

So you’re thinking of moving overseas to work, study or live.

What could be so hard, right? Just reduce your entire life to 23kg (or more, if you pick the right airline), sort out tricky permit issues, find a house to live in, and you’re good to go.

Well, after I left home for the first time and moved to a country in the northern hemisphere in the middle of winter for my studies, I learnt that baggage isn’t just the stuff that you’re checking in.


All. That. Cleaning. And cooking. And cleaning again.

I never appreciated enough how lucky I was to not have to do much cooking or cleaning back home in Singapore. All of a sudden, my day was filled with meal prep, cooking, washing up, doing the laundry and cleaning the house.

All this, before I could even start on my schoolwork.

My dreams of this being one long holiday filled with sightseeing and partying went up in the smoke of my badly cooked fried rice. An amazing night was one where I could take home with me a hot…steaming box of spaghetti, just so I didn’t have to wash another damn plate.

Honestly, mad props to my mum and all homemakers who spend their day keeping the house and family functioning.


Weather forecast app is your <insert religious text>

Frankly, the only time I checked the weather in Singapore was during haze season, and only because it was fun to watch the digits on the corner of my TV screen move up or down every hour.

Here, in a place with actual seasons that go beyond hot, hazy and heavy showers, weather apps governed how I dressed more than my religion ever did.

Temperature expected to go up two degrees? YAS, that’s one less sweater to carry around!

Above 10°C today? Ladies hide yo’ husbands hide yo’ sons, I’m showing off my ankles in capri pants!

Chance of snow? Hmm, do I still want to look cute in a skirt or do I want to wear four layers and not die?

Dressing up to go to class was no longer just about: “Will this lecturer kick me out for wearing shorts and slippers?”; in fact, it was often: “Put on three jackets and two pairs of pants just to go to class? Aiyah I think I’ll just drop out.”


Trying to maintain control

You may be one of the most chill people around, but all of a sudden, you find yourself trying to control every aspect of your life.

Trying to fit all my toiletries in a too-small toilet sent me into a meltdown. My usually laidback roommate was driven into a murderous rage watching me use the same washcloth to wipe everything in the kitchen.

Losing control of the things that were second nature to me made me realise just how much I had lost by leaving home.

You know what? I say do whatever it takes to maintain some normalcy in your life.

If you’re used to having your toiletries arranged a certain way in the shower (facial wash to the right of the shampoo so that I can reach it even with soap in my eyes), then find space to arrange them just so.

If you’re used to 45-minute showers, then take those 45-minure showers (without pissing off your landlord or housemates, of course).

If you need to have separate washcloths for drying cups, pots and pans that always feel oily, plates you eat off of, plates you place raw food on…then buy a value-pack and label them for your roommates.

Starting a new life doesn’t mean having to leave everything about your old one behind. And sometimes that means bringing your quirks with you just to stay sane.


Missing home

Of course it’s gonna hit you when you make the video calls home; when you receive the “I miss you” texts; when you scroll through Facebook and see pictures of holidays and celebrations and special events that you can’t be at. 

But what you won’t be expecting, is it hitting you when you’re grocery-shopping and staring down herbs whose names you can’t pronounce, and suddenly you remember that it’s not the NTUC you’re so familiar with, that you’ll no longer be able to make two left turns and find on the second shelf your beloved Maggi mee – chicken flavour, 5 packets for $2.20.

Next thing you know, you’re standing in the bread aisle, sobbing into a whole wheat loaf and hoping that your fellow shoppers believe you’re just gluten intolerant.

Yes, David, gluten makes me cry. Now please leave me alone.

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