Today I thought I’d share some of my experiences growing up as the child of two expats (ex-patriots) – that is, my parents packed up and left Australia to work overseas for several years in two different countries. And their children, naturally, went with them.
Being an expat is a truly unique experience and one I firmly believe everyone should have at least once in their lives. There’s nothing quite like living as an outsider (for that is what you are, for many years, perhaps forever in some places) and observing another culture through different eyes. You learn so much, not just about them and the bigger world, but about yourself.
So, it all starts in 1978, when my parents were teaching in Tasmania, Australia. Dad had always been a bit of a red-haired Irish rebel, and he finally persuaded my mother that packing up, leaving her family and friends, and moving to a foreign, somewhat backward (to her) country might be a great idea.
They had a toddler at the time, my brother, who was between 6 and 12 months (I don’t know the exact timeline) and Mum was pregnant with me.
It must have taken a huge leap of faith for Mum – I never thought about it as a child, but now of course, my perspective has changed somewhat. Still, she did it, and the little family moved to Singapore.
In Singapore, Dad taught at the international school, and Mum settled down to keep house and raise her 1.5 children. And they found that it suited them very well. Mum’s parents came out to visit once or twice, which must have been just wonderful for Mum. She soon found the local playgroup full of other Aussie and New Zealand expats, with some Brits and Americans thrown in. She found the local park, and as a family, they all discovered the delights of the local zoo – a favourite for our entire family for many years to come.
When Mum went into labour with me, there was no option – it was give birth in Singapore or bust. Now, if you’ve never been to Singapore, let me hastily point out that it is super-clean, super-efficient and as far from “backward” as you can get. And they speak English (among several other languages)! So there was no hassle, no worry about health or safety. Still, I am sure that Mum had an uneasy thought or two in her mind. I know that, many years later when I was hospitalised in Japan, I also felt a little uneasy – I guess this must be a symptom of the feeling you have when you are not in your place – the place you know, where nothing unexpected will happen. Japan also is 100% modern, clean, state of the art, and its professionals are the best of the best; I have had a long running love affair with Japan and its people for many years. But I still felt that slight question. Being sick (or in Mum’s case, in labour) and unable to do anything about it, can’t have helped of course.
Anyway, when Mum went into labour, they didn’t have a car, so Dad rang the ambulance. The ambulance refused to come, as they did not consider birth to be an emergency. So they had to catch a taxi, and I was not willing to wait – Mum very nearly gave birth in the car! Fortunately she held on (I don’t know how) and I came into the world at Glen Eagles Hospital, Singapore.
Side note: As I was born in Singapore, I had the opportunity of taking Singaporean citizenship. But it would have meant giving up my Australian one, so Mum and Dad declined on my behalf.
Our family spent another two years in Singapore, working up to the end of Dad’s contract. My father, being the wonderful man he is, was unable to leave the Irish rebel behind, and unfortunately made so many waves that when he and Mum applied to renew their contract, they were turned down. It says something about the lifestyle there that Mum wanted to stay on as much as Dad, humidity and all.
Still, back to Australia we came, when I was about two and a half, and bought a house in the country, and settled down – for a while….
Tune in for part II, in which the family moves once again, and this time I am old enough to actually remember it – catch you then!