Sure, we all feel it now and again. But recently, I seem to encounter this word more than usual. It pops up on my Instagram feed and lingers in the air from overheard conversations at work. A few weeks ago, Singapore was even cited in an article as being the most fatigued nation in the world. This article, by a UK bedding manufacturer, based this by calculating working hours, time spent in front of a screen and sleeping hours; it concluded that Singaporeans have the highest levels of fatigue. Now, while my competitive, cosmopolitan city loves coming in at number one, this is a ranking that we should be concerned about. Do we really not get enough rest? And do we even realise it?
These days however, the fatigue I hear about and which is more detrimental, extends far beyond work hours and screen time. It’s an exhaustion that has recently set in, an exhaustion brought about by battling the Covid pandemic, an exhaustion that we cannot so easily remedy with some extra rest or time off from work.
As I thought about the kind of fatigue that I experience (because it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how much’), I asked some friends if they felt this way and the majority of them answered with an overwhelming ‘YES!’ The most common factor was the inability to travel. We probably took spontaneity for granted, underestimated the freedom to travel, and never truly appreciated how some time spent abroad was like a magical reset button. The friends who find the county’s closed borders much harder to bear are my expat friends who have not been able to return to their home countries in close to two years as well as those with families living abroad.
Having been an expat, I truly empathise with these friends as the trips back home are necessary to re-establish familiarity and comfort, to reconnect with your loved ones or just to be around for important life events. I appreciate that this is an essential part of an expat’s life. So it’s understandable when my expat friends commented that they were tired of waiting for big changes. There have been many smaller targets in Singapore, for example, of breaking transmission chains, controlling the cases in the foreign workers’ dormitories, or achieving a national 80% vaccination rate. But for many expat families, these provide little concrete relief or hope that they will get to go home for a visit anytime soon, and I can sympathise with their tired frustrations and impatience.
The exhaustion could also stem from an imbalance of work and home time. Many people here have switched to a default work-from-home arrangement. While working from one’s laptop at home, it seems even harder to tear ourselves away from our work. The overlap of spaces creates an inability to properly draw a line and cease working. Just yesterday, I had to stay home and conduct lessons remotely from my dining room table. Between lessons, marking and the preparation of examination revision material, I sat in my dining room for the most part of twelve hours.
On usual days, I try not to bring any work home when I leave the school. I feel like the extra hours I put in may have resulted from an overcompensation on my part. Since I was not in the classroom and teaching the students face-to-face, I felt like I had to make up for it by preparing extra notes. This overcompensation has been obvious among my other colleagues after each lockdown or period of home-based learning. While we comfort our own students and try to ensure that they are coping well with the changes of this pandemic, we attempt to make up for precious lost curriculum time and interaction with students, forgetting that in the end, we’re overloading ourselves and the kids. And as I say this, I will guiltily and sadly admit that in doing this over the past year and a half, I have had much less time, energy and patience for my own child.
Emotionally, I think many people are exhausted too. We’re all tired out from trying to be positive all the time and hoping that things will turn around quickly. As part of a bigger community, people living in Singapore have rallied together to abide by restrictions and measures, minimised social interactions and worn our masks faithfully. It’s amazing how we’ve been plodding on in the hope that life can soon return to normal. But with recent spikes in cases in May and with another surge in cases happening at the moment, our synchronised steps are getting more and more weary, and it is of no wonder that we are fatigued.
Do our kids feel this too? My 8-year-old daughter says she misses everything pre-Covid – fun celebrations in school like lion dances during Chinese New Year celebrations, running around with her classmates in the playground during recess, and most of all, she’s really sad that she hasn’t been able to visit her cousins and extended family in Australia for such a long time. Even though kids might not be able to fully process these changes and communicate this like we are able to, I’m sure they too feel these losses in their little lives. Kids and adults alike are facing both immediate and long-reaching effects of this unprecedented global issue.
No matter how well we are coping with the pandemic, there is no doubt that we are fatigued. Do you feel it? Maybe one way we can cope with this, is to share something that enables you to tend to your health, your mind and your heart. For me, yes I acknowledge that I am feeling burnt out, and I shall go text my sister in Melbourne and commiserate with her.
This is an original post by Karen Grosse from Singapore.
Recently, we went back home for a visit due to family circumstances. We hadn’t been home in almost a year, and I was unsure how my 3 year-old daughter would react to our family and friends. After all, she is a completely different toddler from the one who visited Singapore in December.
She has changed immensely in the past six months; on some days she’s more clingy, on others she’s everyone’s best friend and sends flying kisses to all. There are also (many) days when she’s grumpy beyond belief especially when she’s tired. Sometimes she just charms the socks off everyone including her extremely gullible parents. She definitely has a feisty personality and never hesitates to opine that a person is silly, funny or wonderful.
As I packed for the trip, I felt a mounting apprehension about how she would be with the family. At 15 months old, she moved away from Singapore, where she was born. Since then, she has spent more of her life overseas than she has in her home country. Much of her extended family is scattered all over the world, in countries like Australia, New Zealand, America, UK, France and Canada. In fact, as I type this, we are visiting my in-laws who are currently residing in Oman. Our life is truly an expat life.
All these factors left me with many questions about our return. Would she remember her cousins, aunties and uncles? Or would she think of them as strangers? Would they think she was too different from what they knew her as before? What if there was a gulf that time and space had created? Has her expat life separated her from her roots?
To be honest, these are questions that frequently run through my mind. I often wonder whether my daughter will be able to have strong ties to her family. Will she have sufficient permanence in her life? I fret over her emotional stability because we often move every few years for my husband’s job. He grew up as an expat kid too, moving every few years between Singapore and postings to other countries. As he got older, he kept to himself increasingly as the reality of leaving close relationships behind became more evident and painful. While this survival approach to an expat life may be pragmatic, I’m not quite sure if I’d want my daughter to do the same, either with friends or family.
So the questions remain – how do we maintain close relationships despite the differences in time and space; how can I help her to keep that bridge open? And I know that a huge part of this responsibility belongs to me, particularly because she’s so young right now and I need to help her establish a lasting basis for these relationships.
And what I learned during our trip?
That this is a pertinent issue that requires greater deliberation, and which we need to keep talking about because it is one of the biggest challenges of being an expat family.
However, it also became clear to me that it’s not going to be as tough as I thought. Firstly, I’ve noticed that my daughter seems to have an innate connection to her family, and she possesses a desire to know more about everyone. She constantly asks questions about them, and remembers their encounters, especially when we look at photographs together or when we come across a gift that someone has given her.
And very importantly, our families make such an effort to connect with her. They constantly engage with her, and treat her not as a child, but as a little person with her own personality. In the short time we were home, I feel that she has built a strong relationship with many of our family. Naturally, they have left very deep impressions on my young child, and she must feel that they are important because she keeps talking about them. So half the battle is already won. Now we just have to keep on building on those strong foundations.
Do you lead an expat life? If so, how do you ensure that your family relationships remain strong?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Photo credit to the author.
A few months ago we celebrated our “Asia-versary”, marking six years since we packed up our life in Portland, Oregon and moved to Dili, East Timor with our twin toddlers.
In some ways, it feels like yesterday. I can easily recall the very vivid sense of taking a giant leap into the world, equally nervous and excited. But it also feels like a lifetime ago.
After spending nearly two years in East Timor, followed by four years in Indonesia, we now feel like reasonably experienced riders of the expat rollercoaster. When new arrivals ask how long we’ve lived in Jakarta (and that we will likely be here for another four), they react with wide eyes…“Oh, wow!” This long-term status is unusual but I don’t really mind.
Our diaper-clad toddlers are now full-blown big kids who do not remember our pre-Asia life. Recently my daughter said, “I think we’ve lived in Jakarta for long enough now. Can we please move to Africa?” “Well, no. Not right now, anyway,” I replied – amused that such a move seemed entirely plausible to her, but also a little concerned by the normalcy of transience.
Though I sometimes miss the shiny novelty of being a new expat, I also appreciate our settled life in Jakarta.
Here are six things I have learned about making the most of this unique experience.
Choose the positive
Jakarta is not an easy city to love. The daily challenges of mega-city living – traffic, flooding, pollution and lack of green space – can really wear you down. Though we all have our bad days, choosing to have a positive attitude makes a world of difference. Unexpected traffic jam? Extra time to listen to my favorite podcast. There really is a lot to love here. It is a vibrant, friendly and generally safe city where just about anything is possible (and everything can be delivered). When I focus on the good things, more good things come.
Accept the chaos
In Jakarta, things often do not go to plan and the concept of jam karet (“rubber time”) takes some getting used to. However, learning to let go of being in control of everything and practicing a less-hurried approach to life can be valuable lessons. We love visiting Singapore because it feels like a breath of fresh air. Everything works, everyone follows the rules, you can walk everywhere! But after a few days I am always happy to return home. It turns out I like things a little messier and less predictable. It keeps life interesting.
Living in a different country requires you to step out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. It provides countless opportunities to “say yes” to new experiences that may not have been available before. I have seen friends learn to play an instrument, take up a new sport, climb mountains, get dive certified, learn new languages, undertake distance learning and start small businesses. Last year I ran my first 5K and 10K races and performed with a dance group in front of 600 people. These are things I never would have done in my previous life. I am so glad I said yes.
One of the best parts of expat life is the community of friends. We all rely on each other and the bonds often feel familial. Close friends fill in for far away aunties, uncles and cousins. The downside is that most families will eventually leave and the annual exodus can be particularly tough for those left behind. But as sad as it is to say goodbye, it is also wonderful to know people in so many different places. We have been lucky to re-connect with some of our Dili and Jakarta friends during our summer travels, making the world feel both smaller and bigger. I love that paths do cross again.
I sometimes worry that our kids are missing out on a lot by not growing up in our home countries. The fact that they don’t remember our life before we moved to East Timor makes it even more important to stay connected to “home”, which is sometimes an abstract concept for them. Although home is where we live, home is also the US and UK – where we are from and where our families live. Fortunately we are able to visit every summer and have grandparents that can travel to see us in Jakarta. Prioritizing these special relationships helps us to feel rooted and connected.
After living in the same place for a while, it is easy to get caught up in the daily routine and forget to notice the little things that make the experience unique.
The magic might fade but it is still important to keep learning and exploring. For me this can simply mean looking out the car window (instead of at my phone) or walking the nearby alleyways on my lunch break to appreciate glimpses of local life. I try to keep learning and using Bahasa Indonesia. I also keep lists of new things to do and places to go. Though we have plenty of time to tackle these activities, I am also aware that expat life can be precarious and is never guaranteed. I don’t want to take it for granted for a second.
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Indonesia
Monsoon season is on the brink.
To make things interesting there was a Tropical Depression that started in Sri Lanka and made its way to India, flooding everything in it’s path. It turns out that “Flooding in Sri Lanka” made it to the Facebook Safety Check system and I promptly marked my family as “safe”.
There have unfortunately been a lot of displaced families and ruined homes. Landslides and too much water put Sri Lanka on the news. If you would like to donate to the flood victims please visit the site for YAMU that offers plenty of options for helping from abroad. Our family is in a safe area.
The two days of intense rain that cause the flooding got me thinking of how I always remember an occurrence of strong rain about every place I have lived in.
There are few things I like more than being inside at night with all the lights off and a thunderstorm raging. The way the lightning shines on everything for just a second; it’s like a dangerous magic sparkle.
The first time I ever saw real heavy rain was in Miami when I was 9 years old. I couldn’t believe that so much water could fall from the sky at once. In Lima, our rain was more like spittle in the air, making everything damp instead of washing away grime. The trees got moist but never really clean so the leaves stayed dirty from the soot that never washed away.
The rain in Miami was ruthless, it soaked you in seconds if you got caught outside, parks and streets flooded, the sky would explode in light and the wind would whistle between the houses. When I was 12 we experienced Hurricane Andrew and even if it was a bit scary, I fell in love with heavy rain. Since then, every place I have traveled to or lived in has been marked by episodes of rain.
When my oldest daughter was little, we lived in Cusco, a city in the Andes where rains are quite special. Rainbows are an every day occurrence and sun showers always took our breath away. Once in a while it would hail and the streets would get covered in little rivulets of ice pellets. I loved those days; the sound of hail hitting the roof was so loud we couldn’t hear each other talk.
When I left Cusco, the thing I missed the most was the beautiful cotton like clouds that formed against the crisp blue sky. I didn’t see those again until we arrived in Bangkok. What a sight, giant billowy formations over skyscrapers intertwined with wispy fingers over a deep blue sky that would suddenly turn grey and break loose like a thousand waterfalls. Rain so powerful that you couldn’t see the buildings across the street.
My kids have never been afraid of thunder and lightning, they get excited when they hear the rumbling getting closer and closer as a storm moves in. We watch from the window trying to guess where the next flash of lightning will strike.
I read a book once about a hippy commune in Goa, India. I clearly recall that the foreigners would disappear every year during the monsoon season. What a magical word, “monsoon”.
I didn’t realize the magnitude of a monsoon until we arrived in Phuket. The floods were maddening, the wind overpowering, the rains could last for days on end with no breaks or openings in the sky. Those were long, needless to say, wet days.
In the book Goa Freaks, the people that leave for the monsoon are the foreigners; obviously the locals stay. I am living this firsthand in Sri Lanka and the thing that surprises me the most is how people just go on with their lives, wading through the flood. The women in soaked saris going to work or getting things done without a care in the world. The strong rains are so common that it does not stop people from living. Life is just a little wet here on the shores of the Bengal Sea.
Is there a weather phenomenon that has stayed with you through time? Are your children scared of thunderstorms?
If you would like to donate to the Sri Lanka Flood Relief, please visit YAMU, there are plenty of online “from abroad” options if you are not in Sri Lanka
This is an original World Moms Blog post by Orana Velarde, Peruvian mother in Sri Lanka
You often hear that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Usually this takes the form of one’s family and friends in the familiar milieu of a place that you’ve been brought up in. However, when you’re an expat living far away from home, this might seemingly not apply. You will have occasional visitors, but for the most part you need to survive and thrive on your own.
We have almost reached the first anniversary of our arrival in Abu Dhabi and my daughter is approaching her third birthday. In the past year, she’s transformed into a confident little girl, due in great part to those whom she interacts with everyday. She loves talking to everyone she meets, and has made many friends with both children and adults alike.
I’ve had the fortune of meeting many people since we’ve arrived; some have become dear friends and others are acquaintances I meet occasionally in the course of my day. They offer friendship, conversation and support not only to me, but to my child and family. In a place like the UAE where expats make up 80% of the population, this is probably something that most of us strongly appreciate and even crave, especially when you’re a stay-at-home mum.
Here are a few of the wonderful people we’ve met, who are my daughter’s friends and who often help me to teach my child innumerable life lessons.
Mian is a receptionist in our building’s lobby and is often the first person we meet when we leave our apartment. She has a ten year-old son back in the Philippines and has spent the last 7 years working in Abu Dhabi to support her family. Her two sisters are coming over to work here, and she hopes that when this happens, she can take a break and be with her son for awhile. She recently returned from a one-month trip back home and has many stories to share of her son. Whenever we return from nursery, my daughter will run to the reception table to say hi and stop for a chat before we return home, telling Mian what she did with her friends that day.
At one of our favourite cafes in the neighbourhood, Cindy is my daughter’s favourite waitress. I think all parents would agree that friendly wait staff are angels sent from God! She takes the time to chat with my daughter and plays with her whenever we stop by. Cindy is 21, from Albania, and has been here for 1&1/2 years. Her brother arrived a few days ago and is about to start work in a newly-opened hotel, so she’s very happy that she now has family here. Cindy told me that back home, her mother looks after other children while their parents work. As a result, she used to spend a lot of time with them and could understand what it’s like to look after a child. It’s no wonder she’s so great with kids. We always enjoy our meals at the cafe, especially when Cindy is there as her friendliness never fails to bring a smile to my daughter’s face.
Ms Jasmin is my daughter’s teacher at nursery. She has lived in the UAE for the past decade and her two children have grown up here. When I asked her what was most challenging about her job, she said that it was educating parents and getting them to trust that the teachers knew what they were doing, as well as working together with parents to achieve the best for their children. The most fulfilling aspect was the kids themselves. Throughout the course of the school year, the children change immensely; they learn many new things and their progress is so evident. This is hugely rewarding for her. We have been working together to help my child with her behaviour, and I can see the development since she’s started school. A lot of her social skills have been built at nursery, and this would not have been possible without the support of Ms Jasmin and her other teachers.
Little Tida and her mum were the first friends we made in our building. Now the girls even go to the same nursery and enjoy many activities together. When they initially met, they were much younger and needless to say, there were some tears when they played with each other. In the past year, we’ve seen both girls become fast friends! They’re now in the chatty phase; from barely speaking, they have progressed to having little conversations and influencing each other’s behaviour. It’s amazing how little ones have the ability to change so much in a short time and also create changes in other children through their constant interaction.
Even though we’re thousands of miles away from home, I have a wonderful support system to help bring up my child. The people whom we interact with daily, they are our village and I’m so thankful for them!
Who do you consider to be your “village”? Do you have a non-traditional one? Tell us more!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by KC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.