How Different Experiences of Migration Have Helped Me Mature by Lindsay Wong
I’ve always had an identity crisis when it comes to my definition of where home is and what culture I identify with the most. This is largely due to migration. I’m a third culture kid: someone who has grown up in a different country from where their parents are from. Both of my parents are from Singapore and technically so am I, but I’ve lived in Singapore for only two years; this is the shortest amount of time I’ve spent living in a country. I’ve lived in four countries for varied periods of time: six years in New York City, ten years in Tokyo , two years in Singapore, and three years in Melbourne. Because of my experiences in moving between countries, I’ve had to learn about whole new cultures and deal with culture shock. This has been challenging, but I feel like I have matured and become more independent from living abroad.
Moving between countries is an extremely tedious process. Packing all your belongings into boxes, cleaning up so your house is completely bare, leaving the place you called home, and getting a one-way ticket to your new destination is challenging. It’s hard to leave behind a place you’ve grown to know and love so well then live in a completely new environment that you may not be familiar with. Starting over from scratch in a new school is a daunting experience; all eyes are on the new kid for the first few weeks. Furthermore, in many cases, cliques have already formed in school and it may be hard to find a friendship group to fit in with. When I moved from Tokyo to Singapore in eleventh grade, I was really scared about entering a new high school because I knew that by then everyone had already formed cliques. I hadn’t been the new student in school for ten years and I didn’t like having that kind of attention on me. However, even though it was hard to make friends again, I found it to be a rewarding experience; it helped to prepare me for university, where I inevitably would have to be reoriented in a new environment with even more new people.
Moving from Tokyo to Singapore also meant that I had to start familiarizing myself with life in Singapore; I experienced culture shock. I loved living in Tokyo – I cried for hours as I said goodbye to my friends, teachers, and all the places I frequented and fondly remembered. It was hard for me to accept that I would no longer be able to go to Disneyland whenever I wanted or experience matsuris (Japanese festivals) and hanabi (fireworks) during the summer. Immediately after moving, I often found myself daydreaming about returning to Tokyo. Furthermore, prior to moving, I had only been to Singapore for holiday to visit family. The longest I had stayed there was two months. Singaporean culture is so different from Japanese culture, by which I had been surrounded for literally half of my life. While I had been used to constantly bowing my head in Japan whenever I interacted with people and being quiet and polite at all times—especially on public transport—this was not commonly practiced in Singapore. I had to get used to chatty people on the train and the occasional argument at hawker centers. However, adjusting to life in a somewhat familiar but still new environment did allow me to grow as a person as I became more open to new experiences.
My previous experiences with migration had more or less prepared me to move to Melbourne for three years as an international university student. The only difference this time was that I was completely alone. Moving to a residential college in early 2018 was my first true taste of freedom as this was the first time I would be living separately from my family. Because I depended a lot on them, it was hard to get used to living alone and being independent. I started taking pride in all the little things that I had to do for myself such as buying essential goods, grocery shopping, and doing laundry. I felt like I was “adulting” for the first time in my life. I felt homesick at the beginning, but the feeling started to dissipate the longer time I spent in Australia. Having control of my life, making mistakes and learning from them, and learning how to cook and clean for myself has equipped me with lifelong skills that will definitely prove to be valuable in the future. Living independently abroad is challenging but exciting: I feel like I learn something new every day.
My different experiences of migration have helped me mature in different ways. While my move from Tokyo to Singapore enabled me to get used to new cultures, become more exposed to different kinds of people, and learn how to get settled in a new community, my move to Melbourne allowed me to fully embrace life as an adult for the first time. Migration may be met with mixed and/or conflicted feelings, but it’s best to adopt a positive mindset when going about it and making the most out of it.
By Lindsay Wong