By Sharon Lin

Ng Shu Yan
(Photo by Derrick Ho)

The three Fs - family, friends and food - are the main reasons why overseas Singaporeans head home after having worked or studied abroad for some time. Coupled with the promise of exciting job opportunities in a state that's buzzing with activities, it seems there is no better time to return than now.

Living in a foreign land, immersing in another culture, visiting places others can only dream of - what's not to like? But when all these is said and done, these returning Singaporeans say this tiny dot is where they truly call home.

Banking on the opportunities
It's been more than a year since Ng Shu Yan returned from Melbourne, but she's still not quite used to the crowds in Singapore. "When I first came back, I felt quite claustrophobic. Singapore is really congested; there's not enough space. I still rather stay at home some times," says the 24-year-old. She constantly craves for the wide, open spaces she used to enjoy in her four years spent in Australia as a student at Melbourne University.  

Despite this, she has never regretted moving back home. With a stable job at Morgan Stanley, Shu Yan says it would have been hard to find the same kind of work opportunities in Australia. "It's quite a closed economy over there; they are always very pro-Australian," says Shu Yan, on the difficulties in staying on in Melbourne after her graduation. "Furthermore, the financial sector here is at its peak now. A lot of investment banks are coming to Singapore to set up their headquarters in Asia. I think it's a very good time to be here," she adds.

Besides the thrill of being in a booming industry, Shu Yan is also glad that she's in close proximity with her loved ones. Even as a student, she would choose to come back every year to visit, or to take up short internship stints. When asked why she didn't choose to intern abroad instead, she says, "After one whole year of being away, you just want to come back and be with your family and friends."

"You can have a lot of friends overseas but sometimes it still gets very lonely. You have your friends coming around but you don't have your siblings or parents," she laments.  "It's always better to come back to family, where home is," she adds. And if this means giving up her laidback lifestyle and accepting the lack of physical space here, you can be sure she's willing to make this sacrifice to be where her heart is.

Soaring high in our skies
It was a long eight years spent in United Kingdom, where Vivek Krishna completed his ‘O' and ‘A' levels, and graduated with a degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Brighton. Fresh out of university, he did not bother to look for employment in the United Kingdom.

"Working in UK as a foreigner is not easy - priority is often given to UK citizens. There's some European Union regulation about it," says the 26-year-old. So he packed his bags and returned in 2004. Even if not for the lack of opportunities, Vivek says he would have come home eventually too. "Because my parents are here, my roots are here. I don't want to come back as a tourist, just to visit," he adds.

Shortly after his return, he found a job as a probation officer. But long hours at his job dealing with teenage delinquents tired him out, and he desired to see the world again. And what better way to do this than to become an air steward? "With this job, I can just get a flavour of other places; I don't have to settle there. At the end of the day, I can also come back home. I can have the best of both worlds," says Vivek, who is currently flying with Singapore Airlines.

For Vivek, family was the main pull factor for his return.  "My parents will never migrate anywhere else. My dad has a well-established business here, what will he do with it if he migrates?" he questions. Having spent his childhood and gone through National Service here, he says he has always felt Singaporean. In fact, being a part of the prestigious national carrier has heightened his sense of being Singaporean!  

Unlike Shu Yan, he has long gotten used to the way of life here. He says that it was the lack of familiarity that often made him feel homesick during his time in the UK. Even on long flights abroad, Vivek admits he sometimes feels the same way. "After about eight days or so, it feels so good to touch down in Singapore," he adds with a smile.   

Suzanne Leong
(Photo by Sharon Lin)
Bringing a slice of France home
For 57-year-old Suzanne Leong, it was clear that she would come back after spending some time overseas, as she felt that "being alone in a foreign country is just not the same as being with your family." Back since 1993, it was not just a hodgepodge of memories that she brought back from her time in France; her love for all things French also sparked off the idea to import a slice of France home.

Currently the owner Makarios, a French café at the National Library, Suzanne says her intention was to teach Singaporeans how to appreciate French food in a casual and laidback atmosphere. "French food cannot be hurried; it's not something that can be cooked in advance," she says, comparing it to the speed at which locals often expect their fare to be served. "Singaporeans are always in a hurry. We eat too fast," she adds.  

She fondly recalls an incident in France where she was invited to dinner at a friend's place, where the meal lasted a whole six hours. "I took a short nap during dinner and when I woke up, they were not yet done yet!" she says with a laugh.

Before serving up French delicacies at her café, Suzanne worked as an English-French translator for over 10 years at local French social club, Alliance Francaise. "It was the only way I could retain my knowledge of the language. I liked that it allowed me to be in touch with all things French," she says.  

Even as she tries to keep her overseas experiences close to her heart, Suzanne admits she still misses the life she used to lead in Paris. In the past, days were spent visiting museums and attending cookouts at her French friends' homes. That kind of culture, she says, does not exist in Singapore. "I think that our government is trying its best to build our culture, but it can never really obtain the kind of standard in France… their culture has been there for centuries," she adds. 

But unknowingly, Suzanne and her French cafe have also become part of the cultural landscape in Singapore. A pinch of cultures from abroad, a dash of Singaporean-ess; this fusion of overseas know-how with local familiarity is what makes Singapore unique. It is also sparking off business ideas like Suzanne's in the tiny island-nation.

Besides being outlets for returning Singaporeans to reconcile their overseas experiences with home, places like Makarios also help contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the state - a much needed boon in Singapore's aim to become an attractive destination to work, live and play in!