Allison Burden arrived in Singapore from Tampa, FL in August 2016 with her husband and three children. While the kids settled into school at SAS, Allison got busy volunteering through AWA and took up mahjong and tennis. Her family has taken advantage of the travel opportunities in Asia, with Vietnam being their favorite destination. We shared a laugh over her kids asking if trips are going to be “cultural” or “fun”—these two things are also mutually exclusive in the minds of my children.
When you looked for Singapore on the map did you find it right away?
When I looked at a map I did find it, but until I did so I thought we were moving to the place where the Petronas Towers are located, Kuala Lumpur! My geographic knowledge of Asia has since improved greatly.
What about Singapore culture has surprised you the most?
Integration, harmony, respect among the many races and religions of Singapore is one of the most important goals of the government. It pours many resources into achieving this. In my role as AWA External Affairs Director, I have participated in many sessions with the People’s Association of Singapore (run by the Singapore government). If other countries could strive for just a fraction of what Singapore has achieved in terms of racial harmony, our world would be far closer to peace.
What has been your funniest or worst expat mishap while living in Singapore?
Having hardly any groceries during Chinese New Year and not being able to find much to order for dinner. It only takes one hungry CNY before you learn to stock up!
What hobby have you been able to enjoy in Singapore that you didn’t previously? How do think this has influenced your time as an expat in Singapore?
By far the best new hobby is mahjong. I love the game and the ladies I have met playing. I have a monthly game with some close friends and I go weekly to the AWA mahjong gatherings.
Have you tried something new (a class, a sport, etc) in Singapore? How did it turn out?
A year ago I started taking AWA tennis clinics. I have since been taking private lessons and started a WITS (Women’s International Tennis in Singapore team with a bunch of other ladies new to the sport. We are having the most fun, learning the game and making new friends in the process.
Have you or do you volunteer with a Singaporean group or in a group that serves Singaporeans and how has that enhanced your expat experience?
Yes, as past Community Service Chair to the AWA, I volunteered with many groups that benefit Singaporeans. I have worked in the Ronald MacDonald Home for Children at the Institute of Mental Health where we support families whose children are receiving treatment. I have tutored displaced foreign domestic workers through HOME. I have worked side by side with local Singaporeans at Willing Hearts preparing meals for those less fortunate. Volunteering has really allowed me to feel more connected with Singapore in a way that’s different from the glitzy and glamorous side of the city. I enjoy knowing that I am doing a small part in giving back to the country that has given our family so much in the last 3 years.
What life lesson have you learned during your time as an expat in Singapore?
Do not judge a book by its cover. Meeting the amazing people here on this island has really broken down so many stereotypes I brought with me from the USA. I am so thankful that my children have also had the opportunity to experience this firsthand.
Do you have any saying or mantra that you tell yourself when you are homesick or experiencing cultural frustrations?
A church welcome group instilled the saying “be kind to yourself” in my head during our first year in Singapore. When I was sad or lonely, tired or irritable, I would just keep repeating this to myself. When I felt frustrated by a lack of friends or unmotivated to leave my house due to having a bad day, I just let myself off the hook in terms of expectations. It did not happen overnight. Not everyone acclimates, makes friends, integrates at the same pace and it is important not to compare yourself to anyone else.
How do you treat yourself in Singapore? What is your luxury? Was your luxury the same in the US?
Luxury Handbags….I have a self-admitted problem. I had the problem before we moved to Singapore and living 800 meters from Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada stores has not helped! But at least the classic styles I tend to collect hold their value. Some of my LVs are over 15 years old and still going strong!
What item in your Singapore home-away-from-home makes you feel the most settled?
Wherever Ginger, our Siberian cat is, that’s home.
What do you miss from home that you can’t find in Singapore? How would having that item in Singapore change or improve your experience?
TARGET TARGET TARGET. No explanation needed….big sigh!
Did you change the way you dress to “fit in” in as an expat in your new home? (Not weather related, more style related)
Ladies here dress nicer, I find myself wearing dresses more often. Due to the heat and amount of walking, I rarely wear closed toe shoes or heels. Also, you only wear gym clothes if you are actually going to the gym, not to run errands like you do in the US.
What aspect of your personality has been a strength you’ve relied on while an expat?
My desire to join groups and get involved has led me to take on leadership roles in the AWA. Through the volunteer work and the service on the AWA board, I feel I have been able to gain personal satisfaction, happiness, and invaluable insight into Singaporean culture.