Expat Life in Singapore
Experiences of Roseapple Global's Founder - (2015-2019)
Facts About Singapore
Singapore, known as one of the world’s wealthiest countries, is located in Southeast Asia. Its capital is #Singapore as this is a city-island nation with a population of approximately 5.8 million. Its diverse culture emanates from the Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian and Western civilizations.
The most predominant religion is Buddhism. Other celebrated religions are Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and Islam. Singapore is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic with a unicameral legislature that has been characterized by dominant-party rule since independence in 1965.
Not only is Singapore a city-island nation, but it includes 63 smaller islands. There are actually four official languages in Singapore: Chinese, Tamil, Malay, and English. The red and white on their national flag represent the equality of man, brotherhood, virtue, and purity. The five stars depict democracy, justice, equality, and peace. And the crescent moon symbolizes the rising of a young nation. Its national currency is the Singapore dollar (SGD).
In Singapore, you’ll also find a wide species of trees in its nature reserve, Bukit Timah. It is said that the reserve houses more species of trees than the entire continent of North America! Other interesting facts about Singapore are it has the world’s largest retractable dome and the fastest pedestrians on the planet.
How long did it take you to settle in?
I lived in Upper Bukit Timah Area for 3.5+ years (2015-2019). It took roughly 2 to 3 months to settle in. Starting my new job and finding a new home started immediately. I was able to find a condo in a quiet neighborhood with the help of an agent. Singapore is divided up into neighborhoods, so it was important for me to learn about my new community. Once you get to discover the area, everything gets easier. All your day-to-day essentials like grocery, dry cleaning, and banking are located within the neighborhood. When you need to do extra, you'll have to venture outside of the community.
What was the hardest aspect of your adjustment, and how did you overcome it?
I had some difficulty with the culture and language. But the hardest part was the fast pace of life in the city. Singapore is an island, country, and city all in one. Literally, the place is busy 24/7. For example, courier services deliver until 11:00 pm. I am a suburban girl, so adjusting to the hustle and bustle was a bit difficult.
I was able to adjust by choosing to live in a very residential area. I lived on the 8th floor of a ten-story building. My way of keeping sane was living in a neighborhood that was lush and green. There were two nature reserves and several beautiful parks. You could easily take a walk to one of the parks.
Whenever I needed entertainment, I visited the city. I went to places like Clark Quay, Orchard Road, Robertson Quay, Gardens by the Bay, or Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
Photos (Left to Right): Lions from the Lunar New Year Celebration Ce (2017), Learning to play Mahjong (2018), SG Initials in the Airports (2018) The 36th-floor view from my favorite spa at the shipping and cruise ship ports (2019)
What would you say is a 'must-see/must-do'?
Singapore is a great tourist attraction. You'll find lots to see and do. There is the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) which is comprised of a hotel, rooftop infinity pool, observation desks, bars, restaurants, and a casino in three towers. It is the iconic building that showed up in movies, it's like the representation of Singapore. The merlion, a unique statue, is another must-see.
I recommend that you take the elevator up to the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands. You can go to a restaurant, have a cocktail, and see the amazing views. There is a fantastic view from the top of that building of the city or the coastline by day or night.
Photos (Left to Right): Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay (night) (2018), Merlion (2016, Marina Bay Sand (night) (2018)
If you love food, Singapore is a must-do. You can find an affordable meal for as little as $4 SDG (approx. $2.75 USD). The local hawker centers are great foodie spots for inexpensive delights of both local dishes like laksa, chicken rice, and various regional dishes. Then there are also the five-star fine dining restaurants. You'll find it all and everything else in between on this small island.
You must visit the Singapore Botanical Gardens, I love it there. I took many of my visiting guests to see the National Orchid Garden. You'll see a host of amazing colorful orchids there. Actually, the orchid is Singapore’s national flower.
Photos (Left & Right): Orchids in the Orchids Garden at the Singapore Botanical Gardens, (Middle) Taking a photo break at one of many fountains in the botanical gardens. (2016),
You can go to the National Gallery and Museum, and do some shopping as well. You'll find a lot of high-end shopping. Visit Arab Street and Little India. Little India has many restaurants with excellent Indian cuisine.
Just before the departure, Changi, Singapore's airport is a great tourist attraction by itself. They recently opened a mall with the world's largest indoor waterfall and over two hundred and fifty stores. So, you can actually visit the airport and never leave that area if all you have is a few hours during a layover. It is an attraction by itself.
Photos (Left to Right): Marina Bay Sands (2016), ION Shopping Mall - Orchard Road (2019), Changi Airport (2019)
How did you adjust to the cultural differences having a 'western' point of view?
My work was a blend of both western and Singaporean culture. Trying to blend the two was a unique perspective. I worked at Singapore's first liberal arts college. Having a US-style liberal arts education being brought to Singapore required some adjustments, both on the academic and student affairs sides. The student affairs side was my area. It was a really great experience. I believe you have to figure out how to take the cultural concepts and fit them into what you are bringing to the country for the people.
From a personal level, it was interesting. There are not many people from the African diaspora in Singapore, whether you are from the Caribbean, the Americas, or Africa. You can walk around for days and not see a lot of black people around. There are a lot of brown people, because of a large complement of people from the South Asian region. So that was an adjustment I had to make.
Singapore was the one place that I did not have many close local friends. I eventually made connections with a few people, colleagues. We would often dine together, go to movies, or go shopping.
A good part of my social network were expats. I usually have a blend, but most in Singapore were expats. So I had connections from around the world. I had a good relationship with a friend from Australia, and my colleagues from the US and Thailand. It was always important to connect and share with locals and expats alike. Thus, I was thankful and grateful for Singaporeans who reached out and connected.
How did you balance starting your company and your full-time job?
Working and starting my company was extremely difficult. I would come home from work, have dinner, and spend three to four hours with Roseapple Global (RG) clients, the website, and setting things up. RG actually started in the first quarter of 2019. Working with clients was done mostly in the evenings while weekends were dedicated to the website and business development activities.
Up until I left Singapore, it was an uphill battle to manage the business while working and having a social life. At a point in time, I had to put visiting and hanging out with friends on hold. Eventually, I got organized. I then used weekends to spend time with friends and evenings after work to attend to business needs.
Where were you before arriving in Singapore?
I came to Singapore from Dominica. It is also known as the Commonwealth of Dominica. It is in the Eastern Caribbean and not to be confused with the Dominican Republic.
Singapore is the fourth international job that I had. It's also number four in my journey for living and working abroad.
What was an unexpected challenge or the delight of this country?
The delight in Singapore is that it's a hub for travel. Being there and the vast airport and airline network allows you to travel easily. Several countries are less than 4 hours of travel. Some of the most amazing places like Bali Indonesia, Cambodia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Vietnam, you can visit at the "drop of a dime." It is a jumping point to travel to Asia and the Pacific Islands. I visited Bali quite a lot; it is one of my favorite spots. I would go for holidays, weekends, and even made a day trip as well.
The food in Singapore is excellent. But, I had to be careful because of my food allergies. As such, I couldn't have a lot of local cuisines.
There are actually four recognized groups, languages, and religions, so it's a lot to absorb. But, Sometimes, in public spaces like the bus, train, or mall, you would hear at least six or seven different languages at a time. It is a multinational, multilingual society.
A true delight of my time in Singapore was joining the festivities of the Singapore Formula 1 (F1) race in 2017. Through a social networking group, I attended a private dinner with 30 strangers, sipped champagne all evening and watched a practice race. It allowed me to check an item off my "bucket list" of attending an F1 race, but uniquely so because it is one of only a handful of "road" races in the F1 circuit. Most races are done on intentionally designed race tracks.
Opening Photo: Halal Trip.com (2017), Mobile Video footage from Karla's
Is there any advice you'd like to share with someone who's interested in Singapore?
Singapore is a fast pace, effective, efficient, and organized nation. Its healthcare, education, and rapid transportation systems are excellent. While the standards and quality of life are great, it's an expensive place to live in. Singapore is ranked in the top 5 most expensive countries for expats to live in. Housing will be your most costly commodity then groceries.
There are not many people of color. So if color is a huge value for you, you'll find days and weeks will go by before seeing another person of color or like you. There are a few people who you can connect with. I was part of a Caribbean group. We would get together for activities and share information. I was also part of two groups that met in both virtual and physical spaces: Black Socialites and SIS Outreach. Although I was not able to do much with the women's group, the socialite group did brunches roughly once a month. So I went to a couple of those. It is always nice to be in a space where you can feel comfortable being surrounded by your own people.
Like many other countries, you must be respectful of the laws. Various freedoms and liberties that you have in your country may not apply here such as freedom of speech, ability to protest or criticize the government openly. It is a very structured and orderly society, so if you're going to move there, you must be willing to work with it. Overall, it is a very healthy, clean, safe, and progressive society in many ways. Singapore also prides itself on being a multicultural society.
Photos (Left to Right): Marina Bay Sands (2016), Gardens by the Bay (2020), Orchard Road Area (2018)
All photos were taken from Founder, Karla Fraser's Collections. / Title Updated July 2020
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— Interviewed and written by Caribbean Virtual Assistants, Founder's Experience - Life in Singapore for Roseapple Global, LLC
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