Written by Christin Gustafson
Dayna Pratt is a first-time expat who moved to Singapore in July 2018 with her husband and three children. The Chicago native is enjoying the weather and the chance to play tennis and spend time outside year-round. Her daughters, ages 9 and 7, keep the family busy with tennis and dance competitions. Dayna also has a 3 year old son who keeps her on her toes at home. Like many of us, Dayna came to Singapore with assumptions and questions about the culture, food, and daily life. Her optimistic attitude and willingness to learn have helped her jump into life on the little red dot.
When you looked for Singapore on the map did you find it right away?
I knew where Singapore was on the map because my former boss spent 15 years here and talked about it ALL the time! Now that I’m living here, I definitely understand his love for the country.
What about Singapore culture has surprised you the most?
We have noticed that Singaporeans know so much about U.S. politics and foreign policy! We have been so impressed with how much they know and want to talk about it. We also love that so many religions live harmoniously and have respect for one another. It doesn’t seem that people get offended by others celebrating their holidays. It is truly refreshing. Also, we have noticed that Singaporeans are rule followers. They wait patiently to board the MRT and board in orderly fashion, they don’t litter, they smoke in designated areas, etc.
Do you have any Singaporean friends? What advice did they give you that was helpful?
I have many Singaporean friends, most of whom I met through my children’s activities. They have been such a tremendous help. I constantly ask them where to find certain items and for ideas on activities to do with the kids. They taught me about the Moovit app, how to order from the wet market, and how to know which Hawker stalls are the best.. “find the long queue”.
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 have enjoyed the weather more than I thought I would. I am from Chicago and I absolutely love the different seasons, in particular Fall. I also love wearing jeans, boots, and sweaters. Wearing shorts and sundresses year-round is a huge change. But, I love the convenience of knowing what I’ll be wearing every day and I get WAY more pedicures than I did in Chicago. Wearing sandals all the time has its advantages!
I think my biggest struggle has been finding the time to call family/friends at home when I’m not exhausted from the day or just waking up. When you live that far away, there is no good time to call for either person. More often than not, I don’t call even when I have the best intentions.
Have you adopted a habit in Singapore that you hope to take with you to your next home?
My husband and I started walking for 45 minutes every morning since we moved to Singapore. We get our older kids on the bus and then go. We stay healthy and connected. We hope to continue this habit wherever we live.
What aspect of your personality has been a strength you’ve relied on while an expat? Conversely, what personal weakness have you struggled with?
I am a naturally outgoing, accepting person. I think I could get along with a rock. I always had friends from different groups and phases of life. That has really helped in getting to know new people. My weakness is that I’m not naturally very adventurous. I don’t like trying new foods or going places that aren’t familiar. I lived in one city most of my life, some would say a bit sheltered. Since moving here, I have improved but still get very nervous going to new places. I remind myself of the Anais Nin quote – “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” There is some comfort and purpose in knowing we are being courageous by taking on this adventure.
What life lesson have you learned during your time in as an expat in Singapore?
Being forced to make new friends as an adult in a foreign country, I have learned that just because people look like you and are from the same country, does not mean they ARE like you. I have met people in Singapore that I would never imagine I had so much in common with. And I have also met people that I thought I would be friends with, but had absolutely nothing in common with them besides both being from the U.S. (I heed sic.) The age old reminder to never judge a book by its cover.
What challenges you the most as an expat and how do you deal with it?
I am a pretty independent person and I like to figure stuff out for myself. Growing up with a single mom, I was alone a lot. I struggle with asking for help when I don’t know something. When struggling, I try to remember the times that I have asked for help and how much time it saved me.
What did you do to meet people and form friendships in Singapore?
I met most of my friends through the AWA, The American Club and my condo building. My advice for new expats is to try as many new events and activities as possible when you first arrive and don’t be scared to show up alone. There are so many others in the same situation. Also, live in a condo if possible because there is a real sense of community with the people in your building. We have BBQ’s, holiday parties, and swim playdates regularly with people we have met in our condo building.
What hobby have you been able to enjoy in Singapore that you didn’t previously?
I started playing tennis almost immediately after coming to Singapore. It has been an amazing way to meet people and stay active. You’re guaranteed to make friends when you laugh and have fun with them every week. I feel like I’ve found a lifelong hobby that will continue no matter where I live.
What has been your funniest or worst expat mishap while living in Singapore?
My worst mishap since I moved to Singapore was getting lost taking public transportation. I have since found an awesome app that really helps me navigate the MRT, Bus, and walking around Singapore. The Moovit app has been a lifesaver.
Is your quality of life different in Singapore than it was before you were an expat? What aspects of it would you like to preserve?
Our quality of life has definitely changed as expats. We are doing more travel, more date nights, and more extracurricular activities. I hope we will keep doing the activities that we have been involved in when we are no longer expats.
Did you change the way you dress to “fit in” in as an expat in your new home?
I noticed that people dress up a bit more here. Lots of dresses and designer shoes and bags. Many women walk around in high heels for simple errands. In the U.S. most women wear leggings/jeans and sneakers when running errands. I have adapted a little by buying more dresses but I still tend to gravitate toward comfort and wear shorts and a tank top.
What do you miss from home that you can’t find in Singapore?
Oh, how I miss Target! It has everything you could need or want in one location. Here, I have to go to 5 different places to get what I could get by just going to Target. If Target existed in Singapore, I would probably never go back to the U.S. I also miss Chipotle.
What item (food or otherwise) is essential for you and did you struggle to find it or a substitute in Singapore?
I miss my LaCroix flavored sparkling water and my BelVita breakfast bars. The only real option in Singapore is Ice Mountain sparkling water and it’s not nearly as good! I have not found a substitute for my breakfast bars but have had my husband bring large boxes of them back when he travels to the U.S.