Making effort to integrate boosts expat life

My more than 30 years of working with and providing counsel to expats have shown me the potential harm an expat posting can do to marriages ("Expat life not as rosy as it appears" by Dr Yvonne McNulty; Oct 10, "Expat life has perks, as well as risks" by Ms Tracy Holden; Forum Online, Oct 13, "Glitzy image of expatriate life belies its darker side"; Oct 18, and "Expat life involves leaving one's comfort zone" by Mrs Padmini Kesavapany; Forum Online, Oct 20).

While there is no easy solution, expats themselves can minimise the strain. I suggest making a preliminary trip as a family before deciding on a posting. Residing for a month or two before deciding on a more permanent stay also helps tremendously.

There is a big difference between being a tourist and being a resident - when a shoe becomes unglued, when you need a luggage repaired, or a tooth fixed, is when you discover that difference and your own ability and propensity to change, adapt and adopt.

Once relocated here, hanging out in expat "enclaves" is the worst thing to do; locals are friends you haven't met, so integration is key.

Most Singaporeans are more than happy to show them the way, take them to good food places hitherto "unknown" even to other locals, and even opening the doors of their homes to them.

The expat who fits in well and enjoys his tenure here is a happy person - you can tell when he loves our laksa and chicken rice, eats mooncakes and durians, shops at wet markets, speaks Singlish and chills out by cycling or shooting the breeze with us at our void decks.

Some like it so much and fit in so well that they are reluctant to leave when their posting is over. Many have even opted for local employment terms or work for local firms, and have chosen to become permanent residents.

Hospitable Singaporeans welcome them all but it is the expats themselves who must make the first move.

Michael Loh Toon Seng (Dr)