This might sound sacrilegious, but I’m a Singaporean that doesn’t like Singaporean food. I’m a really picky eater, and the mix of textures can be unappealing to my palate. So even though most would define Singaporean culture as loving and voraciously consuming food, particularly Singaporean food, I don’t identify with that. I mean sure, most people like to eat, and I’m no exception, but that’s not a core part of how I identify with my country’s culture.


Many people say being Singaporean means being kiasu, or scared to lose. I think I am pretty loss-averse, and am fairly competitive, but so are a lot of really ambitious people. Actually, I think I’m quite laid-back.


So am I really part of that unknown, amorphous thing we call the Singaporean culture? I suppose so. I walk in flip flops even in the freezing cold, I obviously speak Singlish (and I especially love to do so when people act like speaking ‘proper’ English is superior), and I complain about my country all the time, but get riled up when others insult it. So I identify with Singaporean culture, whatever all of that means in totality!


Living in America for a year and a half now, though I don’t quite notice it in my day-to-day life, I have changed a lot. At first, I thought a lot of my mannerisms and actions, like being shy or talking about my home country a lot, was embarrassing since it made me ‘different’ from others. Also, I would feel really ashamed when some people here patronizingly said my English was ‘almost perfect’ – English is my first language! There were some small things too, like how Americans always ask how you are doing, but really they don’t expect an answer, or a true one at that. But honestly, anyone moving to a new country has to go through a process of cultural adjustment, and I’m only human. Plus, because of these experiences, I have grown a strong sense of identity and resilience. And thanks partly to the self-reliant and outspoken culture here in America, I’ve learned to fend for myself and fight for myself. Honestly, most people will never experience ‘making it for themselves’ in a foreign country – but I have! That is my power. 


Staying in France for a month as well this summer, I felt especially misunderstood because of the cultural differences that were exacerbated by the language barrier. For example, I am less direct when rejecting something or asking for help, which meant my needs and wants sometimes went unanswered. Also, my host mom had never actually interacted with an Asian person for more than five minutes before, meaning that she held some pretty ignorant beliefs. While again, I felt ashamed at first, my sense of self eventually grew stronger, and I learned how to express my wants and needs even when language constraints were working against me, and how to push back against ignorant comments. After all, who is going to advocate for me, but me?


Unlike what people I have met on my travels may think about Singapore or Asia, I am no shrinking violet or frivolous Crazy Rich Asian. I’ve realized I am an intellectual, feisty, brave woman who now understands and advocates for her wants and needs. Some of these traits may or may not stem from my culture, but it was my experiences living abroad in very different cultures that cultivated them.