When you relocate to another country, you expect to find differences in how people socialise and do business. During your research on your new culture, you try to imagine how these differences will affect your work and your home life. Though you might not think of it, your new culture will also affect other aspects of your life, including your hobbies.
I was thinking about this recently, while attending a Middle Eastern dance festival in Perth, Australia. The festival attendees came from all over Australia, plus a small group of us from Singapore. The Australians were amazing. The bellydance community in Australia is inclusive, supportive and empowering. The workshops promoted uniqueness, creativity and self-awareness. Being a part of that community, even for one week, was like a big warm hug. The Singaporean girls I was traveling with were bowled over by the experience. A week later, our little travel group was still chatting about it every night on Facebook, and we even had a post-trip dinner — just to talk about the experience some more.
It’s all about achievement and external validation
Unless you have lived in Asia, you might not understand why this experience was so incredible for my Singaporean friends. Asians tend to approach any form of study, even something they are doing for fun, with the same fortitude and intensity that they used for their school studies. They are stars at memorisation. Dance students here expect their teachers to provide them with choreographies to learn, and then provide the opportunity to perform in public ASAP. Bellydance in Asia is all about achievement and external validation. Every day my Facebook newsfeed is full of Asian women posing in sparkly costumes. Etiquette dictates that we all must ‘like’ these glamour shots, even though they look almost standardised.
This hard-core attitude towards study also affects the quality of life for children. A friend’s daughter comes to my house once a week to learn sewing and drawing. She is 9 years old and wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. She is creative, talented and motivated. She got her own sewing machine for Christmas, but has no time to sew by herself. Her study schedule is so grueling — with extra study courses, exams and sports — that she has no time for regular kid stuff. Last month, she described her exam schedule to me and it sounded like something for university students. I’ve never seen a child look that haggard. She is getting good grades in school, but I wonder if ultimately her creativity will suffer.
Culture will affect ALL parts of your life
So when researching your potential new home, consider how the culture will affect ALL parts of your life. Even embracing your new culture and trying out local hobbies can be a surprise. Shortly after I arrived in Singapore, I decided to try a Chinese calligraphy class. I was studying Mandarin and I like to paint, so I thought it would be fun. Haha, right. I spent the first 2-hour lesson painting the same dot over and over — and still didn’t do it right. The teacher didn’t allow me to paint a whole character until week 8, and I think that was because he felt sorry for me.
Lynelle Barrett has both US and Dutch citizenship. Before moving to Singapore in 2013, she lived in Leiden for eight years, teaching Business English and working as an editor for Expatica. Originally from the US, she has also lived in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Nepal, and Hong Kong. She is currently teaching Business English at the British Council Singapore, and travelling around Asia as much as possible.