Eleven thousand one hundred and ninety-two kilometres. The distance from Dublin to Singapore; at least in physical terms. In truth, it has been much further.
When Emily and I discussed this post, we thought it might be interesting to look at expat life from the working partner’s perspective. After all, the partner’s career is usually the primary reason we have all jumped on a plane to far flung fields. I won’t presume to speak for others but can hopefully shed some light on how it feels to be on this side of the expat adventure.
I grew up in a small town in Ireland where my idea of adventure was a cycle ride with the ‘gang’ to the nearest swimmable river bank. In my head it was akin to anything Shackleton had ever achieved. I use the term gang very loosely as the closest any of us got to guns, drugs or members of the opposite sex was a dose of Calpol from your mother for the cold you caught shooting water pistols in two degrees below. My sense of adventure grew from not really having a clue what I wanted to do in life when the long-held ambition of becoming the first Irish space ranger began to fade into impossibility. My plan, quite simply, was to go everywhere and try everything. It took me on journeys, mental and physical, that have helped to shape who I am now. I still believe I took a few too many wrong turns along the way.
Ireland in the Noughties was a tough place to be for a twenty something with variable life-goals so the opportunity to “See the World” was as appealing as it was ever going to get. Off I headed for England, an emigrant like many before me. Fast forward almost seven years with the same company and we end up with a slightly damaged version of my former self. Who knew that Bangladeshi curries, 15 hour flights and ill-advised trips to Australia Zoo would all combine to nearly kill me? DVTs are not fun. Wear the socks people!
I have been fortunate to work in an industry and with an organisation that allowed me to live in several places in England, to make some amazing friends and teammates, to travel extensively and to make meeting new people an integral part of my career. One of those people was my beautiful wife, Emily. Six years and two children after we first met, we found ourselves packing up our home in England for an entirely new adventure in Singapore.
I think it is important to make the distinction between this move and the relocations we had been through before. Moving in the UK was tough, especially for Emily, with infant children on all occasions. In a way, I got to retain some semblance of my independence through work travel and the regular jaunts overseas provided a detachment from the ‘normal’. Normal can sometimes be really hard. We all try so desperately to keep the world turning, our inability to adequately care for ourselves can be destructive beyond belief. When you add in the separation, isolation and anxiety associated with a move to the other side of the planet, you have to be either deluded or completely committed. Ultimately, if it all goes pear-shaped, being committed is a likely outcome.
We moved to Singapore as a family, jumping on an opportunity for me to further my career and to give our children an experience that they would never have if we stayed in good old England. In effect we staged our own mini-Brexit. In my more senile moments, I picture myself as part of a two-fingered exodus of EU nationals from the ravages of a nation fueled on cauliflower and hate.
The thing about a big move is that it usually requires some sacrifice. In our case, most of that was made by Emily. Up to now we have been equal partners in our family fortunes, both earning and contributing but managing to retain just enough of our own personal sovereignty to at least feel like we still had a safety net. In moving to Singapore, Emily was unavoidably signing over her independence for the good of the family. That is a big adjustment that weighs heavily for such a strong and fiercely independent woman. The requirement to detach from career, close friends and family and to take a leap into the unknown is an incredible burden. To say she bears it well is an understatement. The unseen effort of stay at home parenting in a wholly new culture and lifestyle is admirable and should be applauded rather than seen as some sort of failure. I’m looking at you Student Loans Company!
I am, quite openly, an emotional person. The day of my son’s birth I exchanged my life membership to the Steak and Sarcasm Society for a subscription to Disney Movies and a lifetime supply of pocket tissues. As my children grow, the weight of my own personal goals has been multiplied to include the responsibilities I feel as a husband and a father. I, like many fathers before me, have already pondered whether a shotgun inside the front door will be sufficient deterrent for my daughter’s would-be future suitors. I have also wondered whether my son’s first cap for Ireland will be on the rugby pitch or as the next Roy Keane… either will suffice!
I am, inescapably, a thinker. I get so badly lost in my own head on occasions that I need a metaphorical slap to reset. The pressures and desire to succeed in this new world, in a new job and in a completely new frame of reference can sometimes cause such havoc with my perspective that the only recourse is retreat, but not in the physical sense. In desperately seeking to make a better life for my family, I sometimes end up alienating them until that metaphorical slap arrives, usually accompanied by the words “you’re being a dick!”. Vital and timely interventions. Much of my frustration is borne, ironically, from a massive sense of guilt at being more detached from my parenting duties than ever and a resentment of Emily for the time she gets to spend with the kids while I am bouncing around airports and an endless succession of hotel rooms for one. It is ironic because the fragility of my moods when I am at home, due to trying so hard to keep things moving, doesn’t always allow me to fully embrace that time.
Looking back on the last eight months, we have negotiated a lot as a family. Emily has been parent, teacher, mother, wife and reality-checker in equal measure. I have a great job and we get to live in a country from where we, once we are fully settled, can explore and give our children the best possible start to their own life adventures. If you ask me if I miss home, absolutely! I miss my family, the local variety of walnut-infused brown bread, Superquinn sausages, the ability to mock my closest friends to their faces rather than via text (just doesn’t feel right!). I miss the familiarity. But I guess that is the thing. We are here for a reason, to create a new familiar. Since arriving we have started to carve out our own little niche and met some great new friends over a mutual search for inexpensive alcohol and shared anxieties. I read a book many years ago called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (all the kids were doing it!) and am reminded of a quote from that; “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” In building our new world and new lives here in Singapore, I am eminently conscious of ensuring the foundations in me are solid. The rest will come…
Happy V-days, loves, and thank you Karl for filling in part of the blanks of this expat family’s story so far- I promise I neither wrote this for him, nor edited it!!!