THINGS I'VE LEARNED AFTER LIVING IN THE USA FOR TWO YEARS
Three days ago, my husband and I, together with more than 150kg worth of clothes in suitcases, flew across the world back to Singapore.
While I have been losing my shit in the midst of packing for the past few weeks, it's been a little surreal, because when I packed my bags to move to Los Angeles two years ago, I honestly thought it would be a permanent move. And let's be honest — of all the places in the world for my husband to receive a job offer, one from Singapore is, while very much welcomed, not exactly expected.
Anybody who has followed my journey on social media would know what a hard time I've had adjusting. It's different when you move to a new city, or country for a job or education. You're immediately exposed to a possible social circle, and then you sieve through the shitshows and find your tribe. My experience, falling in love with someone, moving across the world to be with him and marrying him, is definitely a different route than the usual, and here are the things I've learned:
#1 Home is no longer a physical place, but a concept instead
James Baldwin puts it succinctly, "Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition." Every time I was in Singapore (which was a good handful, because my first job here was actually for a Singapore-based company), I'd miss LA, and vice versa.
#2 The Grass? Always greener on the other side.
Growing up, the United States has always been this beacon of hope – somewhere you could go to be yourself, somewhere where they have it all figured out, and all that jazz. I know now, living here, that it is far from that. So many things great about this nation, but a lot of other things, which are coming into light particularly with the upcoming elections and their nominees, are not so great.
It only occured to me how little other people know about what goes on in the US when I paid a GP a visit on my last visit home for a flu shot. He asked why I didn't want to get it in the US instead because according to what he knew, "healthcare is free in the United States".
Um, no. While my first employer in the US refused to get me insurance even though they wanted to own my ass, my second employer, which is part of a international corporation did. My employer paid 90 percent of my, and my husband's healthcare insurance, and I had to pay 10%, which amounted to almost $200 every two weeks taken out of my pay cheque. Even after that $400 monthly, it was a co-pay, meaning I'd still have to fork out money when I'm at the doctor's.
Let's not even talk about freelancers. While it's a concept that makes sense, when I priced out ObamaCare, a bare minimum coverage for a healthy woman in her late twenties would set her back $320 monthly. Here I am waiting on payment for an article I wrote three months ago for $250. What makes you think freelancers can afford to shell out $320 per month?
#3 You also appreciate what your country will probably never ever have.
The beach, the snowcapped mountains, and the desert literally an hour's drive from each other? Unreal. The fact that I walk out of my home and see an unabashed display of nature at its finest? Unmatched. Gluten-free, dairy-free everything and Mexican food that doesn't cost a nation's GDP? Much, much appreciated.
#4 Your Math will improve.
Between mental calculations converting the weight of your groceries at the supermarket (0.5lbs of shrimp does not a good BBQ make), to figuring out what it means when your mother-in-law tells you that it's 30 degrees out (because in Celsius, and in Singapore, that's normal weather), the ability to convert from metric to the mess that isn't metric will come to you faster than you would think possible. Also, figuring out all the timezones from working with people across the country, and having family across the world will help that too.
Also, tipping. Can I tell you how elated I am that I don't have to calculate how much obligatory tip I have to add on to a $200 meal?
#5 You roll your eyes at people who complain about CPF
The reason you're able to purchase your own home (granted, on a 99-year lease) at 29 when you and your spouse come from a middle income background is thanks to CPF. Singapore has the 4th highest home ownership in the world at 90.3 percent, while places like the US, are at a surprising 64.5 percent. What I'd like to know is how many people under the age of 40 living in California or New York actually own their own home, vs. shelling out half their pay cheques or more for rent.
#6 Safety is something you will no longer take for granted.
Never in my existence, in my life in Singapore, have I felt unsafe because I am a woman. While I've never felt unsafe in my Burbank neighborhood in LA, I cannot say the same for the area I worked at - my husband picked me up every evening, and that one time when he was late and I decided to walk... well, let's just say I had a pepper spray in hand the whole entire time.
With stories like Alton Sterling's, and hundreds more of shootings, kidnappings, hate crimes, mass shootings, I couldn't be more happy to come home. Maybe the train fucks up once in a while and maybe my eczema will come back because of the weather but at least I know that my family will not make the news for another police shooting, or have to worry that my future children are safe from mass murderers while at school.
Living out of your home country and away from everything that's near and dear is a different experience for everyone. Mine tested me, broke me and patched me back up again and I'm a different person than I was before. Maybe I will pen down every little detail that happened over the course of the two years (oh my God, it's juicy!), but for now, I'm glad to be home.