Expatriate integration – making the effort

By A Chinese Singaporean

I’m writing in on the topic of expatriate integration in Singapore. 

To start, I have to lay it on the line and mention that I have nothing against expatriates. I have lived, studied and interacted with people from all over the world for years in the UK, so I am hardly excused from harbouring xenophobic attitudes.

I do value diversity, and I would love it if Singapore ever becomes as multi-cultural as major world cities like London, Los Angeles and Toronto.

I love nothing more than getting to know people from other cultures and world views more intimately. This is what I have always done while I was in the UK, and as the interactions between locals and expatriates (any person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing) are few and far in between because our daily lives just do not seem to cross paths, it might seem natural that I would have taken up the rare opportunities to engage with expatriates who have crossed mine.

Sadly, this has not been the case, and I am writing this because I feel ashamed of myself. Rather than helping in being a solution to the problem of expatriate integration, I have largely kept to myself. He/she could have spent the whole of our long commute alone, bored and open to conversation in the same train carriage as me all the way to he/she alighting to wait side by side with me at a bus terminal for the same bus, and I would not have done anything to break the ice.

I know that it is not because I embrace the flawed notion that expats are unapproachable, or that, like some others, I embrace the misguided notion that I am unworthy of engaging them after having placed them on a pedestal.

Rather, it is because I embrace this irrational fear of being seen as approaching them only out of reverence, and out of awe. It is with this mindset that my sensitivities have been heightened to the point where I find myself reluctant (not afraid) to approach them, and herein lies my problem.

I do agree that more needs to be done to successfully embrace and integrate foreigners, and on my part, I do sincerely apologise for not fostering sufficient interactions with the expatriate community.

I will never forget the warmth extended to me by locals in engaging me in conversation while I sat alone on those trains and on those buses when travelling around the UK, and I do wish that this warmth can be similarly extended to others experiencing living out was once my situation.

However, I also feel that if the conditions aren’t made right in this big city (to reduce the awkwardness of initiating conversation, for example), I fear that, however accepting we might be of them, we may just be reduced to superficially staring at each other in that train carriage, in that bus terminal, and on that bus.