Written by Christin Gustafson
This month we meet AWA member Helga Herrera. She and her husband arrived in Singapore 8 years ago with their two children after spending 6 years in South Korea. Her son, age 16, is a student in Singapore and her daughter, age 21, lives in London after having finished her university studies in The Netherlands. Helga owns her own company, Grafika Photography and Design, and loves capturing Singapore’s life, culture, and diversity with her camera.
What about Singapore culture has surprised you the most?
I love the fact that Singapore is so inclusive and multicultural. There are so many different cultures existing together with different ethnic groups living as good neighbors. Each group has its own beliefs, but they respect each other. It is incredible how the government has been able to accommodate the most important religious and cultural celebrations of each group. Although people mix and mingle freely, I love to see how people of every group proudly wear their traditional costume as well as Western clothes. In addition, the international community is vibrant and diverse and adds to the multiculturalism of this country. For example, when you attend an AWA event, you meet people from so many different backgrounds, from the five continents, that you never cease to learn about the world.
What is your favorite Singaporean holiday to celebrate? How do you think celebrating something from your new culture has helped you feel part of Singapore?
My favorite Singaporean Holiday is Deepavali. I love the energy of Little India around this time; the vibrant colors, the food, the flowers and the traditional outfits. Indian food is one of my favorites, the spices make it so rich and delicious. I walk around and enjoy the smell of the food and the fragrance of the flowers along the streets. The Sari is in my opinion one of the most beautiful and vibrant pieces of clothing, feminine and flowy, and it looks good on every body type. And the henna art that goes with it is unique. It is a treat to walk around and photograph the people and the activity going on, since street photography is one of my favorite types of photography.
How many houses/apartments have you lived in as an adult? Do you still hang all the pictures and decorate all the rooms? Does your apartment/house here feel like home?
Change has been a constant in my adult life and I love it. I think I have lived in 14 different homes in my adult life, 12 since I got married, 10 since my daughter was born. Even in Singapore, in the 8 years that we have lived here, we moved house four times, getting to know different neighborhoods and people. I still hang pictures and decorate the rooms. It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of energy, but having my things and memories around makes me feel at home.
What item in your Singapore home-away-from-home makes you feel most settled?
I am a firm believer that home is wherever you are. I love Bolivia, the place where I was born and raised, but my home is here with my husband, my kid, my dog and all the treasures and memories that I have collected from around the world. My camera has been a great companion as well, making me feel at home and helping me through difficult situations. My job as a photographer, has allowed me to meet lots of very interesting people, and some of them have become very good friends. Photography is more than work, it brings peace and happiness to my spirit, and I have been lucky to share it with friends around the world.
What advice would you give first time expats?
Go out and make friends, join a club, a church group. Go to a networking event, start a new hobby, talk to people (from all backgrounds). Eat local food and learn about the local culture, understand the differences between your native culture and the one you live in. Before you know it, you will feel at home.
What have you enjoyed more about Singapore than you thought you would? Conversely, what have you struggled with that you didn’t expect to be challenging
I lived in Seoul, Korea before coming to Singapore, which is also a big and modern city, but very different from Singapore. Culturally it’s very homogeneous and with few people that spoke English at that time (8 years ago). It was difficult to adapt and integrate, and the first year was quite challenging, but after six years, it was sad to leave. Even today one of our treats is the Korean BBQ and we still watch Korean Dramas on TV. In contrast, Singapore is so easy,(because) people speak English, are very helpful and everything can be done online, the supermarkets carry most items we want and clothes are available in all sizes. Being in Singapore; we miss the four seasons, Spring with the Cherry Blossoms is beautiful in Korea, and the Autumn with its incredible colors is breathtaking. Nevertheless, we got used to the endless summer here and enjoy the sun and the bright days walking along the river or biking along the coast.