Living in Singapore: Lifestyles Chapter (Updated!)

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The Living in Singapore Fourteenth Edition Reference Guide is finally out!

Written by expats for everyone, the guide gives essential information for a seamless move to and maximum enjoyment out of the Lion City. It’s published by the American Association of Singapore and each chapter is written by an experienced writer with many years of living in Singapore (like me!), giving readers the best possible insight into life here.

Living in Singapore

I wrote the original Lifestyle Chapter for the Thirteenth Edition in 2014 and this year I had the opportunity to update it. The chapter covers everything from political activism to pornography laws to libraries to the LGBT scene to environmentalism to religion. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

So, you’re fully unpacked. You’ve figured out your morning commute. The kids are settling into their new school. Your phone is loaded with local emergency numbers. You know where the nearest grocery store is. All the basic necessities have been taken care of. Now what?

In a diverse, modern metropolis such as Singapore, there’s no reason to simply hunker down and survive your time as an expat. While it’s always difficult to leave behind the communities that matter to you, you don’t have to sacrifice your passions just because you find yourself living abroad. It’s important to tailor your life as an expat to your preferences, lest you begin to resent your new environment.

Perhaps you’re a devoted Protestant seeking a church to attend. Perhaps you’re hearing impaired and wondering how to find a new circle. Perhaps you’re a compulsive environmentalist or a BDSM fetishist or a bookworm. Perhaps you’re all of the above. Our lifestyle choices are what make our lives ours, no matter where we are. This chapter covers a few ways to transplant your old habits, hobbies and values into this fresh setting. You might even be inspired to try something new.

This year, we even have a funny commercial to promote the guide!

You can purchase Living in Singapore as an eBook through Amazon, Apple iBookstore, or Google Play.

5 Things to Know Before Accepting a College Offer

Written in April 2014 for Aureus Consulting:

Congratulations! You’re in! You’ve been accepted to not one but several universities! …Now what? Which offer do you accept? How do you choose between top schools? There are 116 universities in Great Britain and over 4,000 in the United States, so any school in the top 25% is going to offer you a quality education. The key is figuring out which education is the right one for you.

1) Consider the money. I know, I know, a good education is priceless. Except it isn’t. According to The New York Times, the number of students who have to go into debt to get a bachelor’s degree in America rose from 45% in 1993 to a little over 94% today. So even though you might be eager to accept an Ivy League’s offer, take the time to weigh the costs. While the school’s reputation may boost your career in the long run, it might be too much of a burden on your job requirements in the short term (especially as fresh college graduates don’t earn as much as they used to). If schools with similarly reputable programs are offering you scholarships or have less costly tuitions, they might be worth looking into.

2) Don’t be blinded by celebrity. Yes, we all want our resumes to feature the name Harvard or Oxford at the top but just because a school is prestigious doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your future. Find a program that fits you. Did you know that Durham University in the UK is ranked in the top five globally for Geography studies? And National University of Singapore is in the top ten. Harvard isn’t even in the top 50. So if you have your heart set on becoming the world’s best geographer, Harvard wouldn’t be the place for you. Do your research and make sure a school fits your unique needs before signing on.

3) Environment. Would you prefer a quiet study session on a wooded campus or a fast-paced debate in a busy city coffee shop? Colleges come in all shapes and styles: from tiny rural communities to business-oriented hubs to sports-loving schools the size of small towns. Coming from secondary school, which doesn’t offer much choice in learning environment, you may not know your ideal study setting. Give it some thought. You’d be amazed at how much your surroundings impact your educational experiences.

Bard College

4) Ignore the rankings. Or if you can’t ignore them, then go by brackets instead of digits, since they tend to be less changeable (i.e., a school in the top 20 instead of school number #7). Different publications have different parameters for their rankings and those parameters might be completely irrelevant to what you value in a school. For example, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014 put the California Institute of Technology as #1 but the U.S. News & World Report put it at #10 and Forbes placed it at #18. You’d go nuts trying to make your decision based on college rankings.

5) Know yourself. The better you know what you want to do, the easier it will be to figure out where you want to go. Take some time to really ask yourself what is important to you. Is it being close to your family? Is it getting a high-paying job in finance? Is it having time to write in your journal? Where do you want to be after university? Believe it or not, those four years will go by fast and before you know it, you’ll be setting off into a career with a degree in hand. Determine what you want that degree to say about you now and your journey will be that much smoother.

 

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Tips for Settling Into a New Job

Written in February 2014 for Aureus Consulting:

For recent graduates fresh to the professional world, you may be comforted (or disappointed) to learn that starting a new job is rather similar to the first day of school. You’re eager to appear intelligent yet likeable. You wonder who you will eat lunch with. You worry about how you will handle the workload. In the beginning, you will need to learn everything: where the bathrooms are, how to submit expenses, whose toes not to step on, and so forth. During my first decade post-graduation, I worked at a non-profit organization, a high powered New York City law firm, an Irish software company and an Australian one, and at an English school for Japanese expats in Singapore. Every single time I moved into a new role, I encountered a fresh set of lessons to learn, difficulties to overcome, and-in some cases-cultural norms to adjust to. Since many young professionals come to Aureus Consulting seeking guidance on how to move their careers forward, I thought it would be helpful to compile a few of the tips, tricks, and suggestions that I’ve picked up along the way.

Ask questions. It’s tempting to try and impress your new boss with how sharp you are, but no one expects you to know the ins and outs of the company in your first few weeks. It’s important to ask questions if you don’t know something. If you’re too busy pretending to appear competent, you won’t actually learn how to be. This is something even more experienced professionals can struggle with. You might worry that if you require help, people might think you’re stupid. Or worse, that by asking for advice, you might somehow cause people to dislike you. Recent studies have discovered that that line of thinking couldn’t be more wrong. Wharton professor Adam Grant, Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, and persuasion specialist Robert Cialdini are among the large number of experts who now consider seeking advice to be one of the most effective strategies for encouraging others to warm up to us. So, ask away!

Accept that you will make mistakes. It will happen. It will be embarrassing. It’s okay. Mistakes can be forgiven and forgotten. However, one thing your superiors will not forget is if you try to cover up a mistake. Let me give you an example. Back when I was working as a paralegal in that New York City law firm (my first paying job after college), I once accidentally moved an important file from my team’s shared network drive to my desktop. When I attempted to return the file to its original location, I found that it would take over two hours. Instead of informing my superiors of the problem, I just prayed that no one would notice the discrepancy. Of course, they did and I was reprimanded harshly, not for accidentally moving the file but for failing to own up to my mistake. The error was a minor one but my poor handling of the situation caused me to lose the trust of my team, which took far longer to repair. If you do make a blunder, the best course of action is to admit it, apologize, and ask how you can avoid repeating it in the future.

Be aware of your own limits. You might be tempted to say yes to everything during the first few months on a job. It’s easy to understand why: you want to demonstrate that you were worth the chance the company took when they hired you. And while you should absolutely be tackling your new role with gusto, taking on more than you can handle can backfire, since the quality of your work is likely to decline. A growing body of research shows that people are at their most productive when they are allowed take short breaks during the workday and when they obtain six to nine hours of sleep every night. To quote Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything: “Human beings aren’t designed to expend energy continuously. Rather, we’re meant to pulse between spending and recovering energy.” So when your supervisor asks if you can take on another project when you already have ten on your plate, don’t be afraid to (politely) say that you won’t be able to at this time.

Be willing to adjust to a new office culture. Culture shock can happen to even the most prepared individuals. After all, it’s impossible to know quite how you will fit into a new environment until you’re smack in the middle of it. Whether you’ve relocated to another country or simply to a company with a different work ethic, I highly recommend you take note of the business habits of your colleagues. Are important decisions reached in a weekly meeting or through casual email dialogues? What is considered an appropriate manner of communication within the office? What are the leadership styles of your superiors? Does everyone attend the annual company baseball game even if they’re not required to? While you shouldn’t have to completely alter your work style or personality upon entering a new position, being aware of your company’s socio-cultural norms can only help you.

Find a mentor (or two). Who are the people at your company you wish you could be like? Ask them for advice on your projects and offer to help them with theirs. By actively getting involved in certain tasks, you’ll not only improve your knowledge base but you’ll likely gain a reputation as a supportive coworker. This isn’t just smart networking; this will also create a congenial work atmosphere that you can grow in. There is, however, a fine line between being helpful and being a brown-noser. If you’re not genuinely interested in emulating your boss, she or he will catch on sooner or later.

Don’t get discouraged. The honeymoon phase will wear off and you may realize your new job isn’t perfect. No job is fun every hour of every day. At some point, you may even feel like quitting. If you get to that point, take a few deep breaths. On tough days, remind yourself of why you took this job in the first place and what your long-term career goals are. Even if you do decide that this role isn’t the right one for you, it always behooves you to base such a choice upon rational consideration rather than your emotions of the moment.

The learning curve of any job is hard to predict from the outset. And much like the first few weeks of school, the amount you need to learn can sometimes seem overwhelming. The most important thing you can do is be open to absorbing new information, even if it’s as inconsequential as where the bathrooms are or what the trick is to getting the printer to work.

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A Chronicle of St. Andrew’s Cathedral

Published on August 1, 2013 in the Singapore American Newspaper:

Surrounded by Singapore’s glittering malls, the white spire of St. Andrew’s Cathedral sticks out like a grandmother at a sweet sixteen party. And much like a grandmother, the church has been witness to a long and layered history. But rather than becoming obsolete amidst the rapidly developing shopping centers and trendy restaurants, St. Andrew’s has proven itself to be quite capable of evolving and adapting without losing sight of its mission.

In many ways, St. Andrew’s is a bastion of Singapore’s history. Though there is no burial ground at the church site, plaques line the walls of the main hall in memory of soldiers, nurses, and civilians from almost every conflict: from the mutiny of February 1915 through the Pacific War, during which the cathedral acted as an emergency hospital before the country fell to the Japanese in 1942. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, it is hard to deny the important role St. Andrew’s has played throughout this island nation’s past. For example, in 1842 the church assisted in founding what is present-day St. Margaret’s, the very first all-girls school in Southeast Asia, despite widespread opposition to the young girls’ removal from slavery and to the education of women in general.

The story of St. Andrew’s began in 1823 when Sir Raffles chose the site of the cathedral to be the location of Singapore’s first Anglican church. The building was completed a decade later and named for the patron saint of Scotland due to the large contributions made by local Scottish businessmen. However, this original building was struck by lightning twice in 1838 and, deemed unsafe, it was demolished. The present building was consecrated in 1862, which made last year the cathedral’s 150th birthday. Although Christian congregations have recently been shrinking worldwide, St. Andrew’s still has a robust community of between 5,000 and 6,000 regular patrons who attend services at a variety of times in a variety of languages. During the late 1990s St. Andrew’s actually found itself unable to accommodate the growing volume of churchgoers, but since the site had been declared a national monument in 1973, no additions could be made to the church structure. Therefore it was decided that an underground worship hall would be built to service the growing congregation. Completed in 2005 the Cathedral New Sanctuary is a modern chapel kept cool underneath the Welcome Centre, which is snuggled up to the City Hall MRT entrance.

Like Singapore itself, the church is an amalgamation of international influences and it has consistently integrated both new technologies and diverse cultures. The neo-gothic architecture is distinctly English. The reredos (an ornamental alabaster screen with a mosaic depicting the birth of Jesus) was crafted in Italy. The sturdy wooden pulpit was made in Sri Lanka back when it was still called Ceylon. Each page of the Bibles nestled in the pews is split in half with English on one side and Mandarin on the other. St. Andrew’s is over a century older than the Republic of Singapore and acts as a living chronicle of the nation’s history. Hopefully this dynamic cathedral will continue to be an indomitable part of the cityscape for many years to come, regardless of the gleaming skyscrapers that spring up around it.

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