This is their home, truly

Going beyond just doing what the locals do, these expatriate families have sunk deeper roots in Singapore

They relish local food, speak Singlish, celebrate local festivals, sing National Day songs and have local names. You probably would not guess they are not Singaporeans until you looked at them.

At a recent gathering on National Day, five-year-old Eli Leske belted out: "This is my country, this is my flag... This is my family, these are my friends. We are Singapore, Singaporeans."

Born in Singapore to Australian nationals Tom and Terri-Anne Leske, he identifies as a local, his parents say.

"He doesn't look Singaporean, but he considers himself Singaporean. All three of my children do," says Mrs Leske, 28.

Eli has a twin sister, Olivia, and their younger sister Hallie is three. All of them were born here.

"We meant to come here for just a year after Tom got a job offer in Singapore, but we've been here for close to six years now and we're not planning to move," says Mrs Leske, a food photographer and author who also runs a food blog. Her husband Tom, 38, is a stockbroker.

There are other expatriate families here like the Leske family, who moved here from overseas, gave birth to children here, and now call Singapore their home.

Their closest friends are locals, they enjoy eating and cooking local food, and their children attend local schools, celebrate local festivals and can speak Mandarin.

Mrs Leske says her two older children were given Chinese names by their teachers in school, and that she overhears them speaking to each other in Mandarin at home.

Her youngest, Hallie, loves singing the Chinese nursery rhymes and songs that she learns from her pre-school at home.

"She's the only blondie in class, but we love that she's learning the language. We want her to have a culturally diverse upbringing," says Mrs Leske.

Swiss national Steeve Montandon's three-year-old daughter Liyana is also experiencing a culturally diverse life here.

At the local pre-school where she is enrolled, she eats local food such as sliced fish mee tai mak, claypot rice with chicken and nasi lemak.

Her best friend in school is a Singaporean and her speech is peppered with Singlish, says Mr Montandon, 41, who came here in 2008 and runs a financial advisory firm. His wife, Lucia, is currently studying.

"Liyana says things like 'Wait ah', 'Cannot lah,' and 'I told you lah', and she naturally calls older people here 'auntie' and 'uncle'."

He says his family's closest friends are Singaporeans too, whom they met through work and who, in turn, introduced them to other locals.

One of their closest groups of friends here is made up of a mix of Singaporean Malay, Indian and Chinese families and their children.

Besides spending time on weekends together and celebrating one another's birthdays, the group of about 30 has even gone on several holidays together, with kids in tow.

Since 2011, they have travelled to places such as Bangkok, Tokyo, Bali, Perth and New Zealand.

Mr Montandon says: "We always wanted to live somewhere else in the world and when we came here, we wanted a Singaporean experience.

"We didn't want to just spend time at the Swiss Club here or hang out with fellow expatriates. We intentionally made the effort to adapt ourselves to people and life here."

Even their daughter's name reflects their time here, as Liyana was named after one of Mrs Montandon's Singaporean Malay ex-colleagues, who had that name.

Since settling here, the couple have come to enjoy drinking kopi. Mrs Montandon, 38, a Mexican, also adds sliced chilli padi to everything she eats because she loves spicy food.

They frequent hawker centres for some of their favourite local dishes, such as char kway teow.

Mr Montandon says that at one point, having char kway teow was "a must" for him at least once a week, until a concerned local friend told him the rate at which he was ordering the dish was not good for his cholesterol levels.

Local food appears to be a big factor that makes foreigners feel at home.

South African national Joanne Ford, 37, says her three children's favourite "tar pau" (takeaway) item from hawker centres is chicken rice. "My kids never ever get sick of chicken rice," says the training and development specialist, whose three children, aged between four and eight, were born here.

Her British husband Benjamin, 44, is a director in a finance company here.

She likes having yong tau foo, which she describes as "the dish where you choose your own noodle type and the ingredients you want".

Inspired by zi char here, she does Chinese stir-fry dishes when she cooks at home.

Mrs Leske not only cooks local food, but also shops for groceries at Tekka wet market. At least once a week, she heads to the market via public transport to buy vegetables, meat and fish. It is an experience she looks forward to.

"The food is very fresh and cheaper than what I'd pay in the supermarkets. Yes, it's a bit chaotic - but I like that," says Mrs Leske, who buys greens such as kailan and Chinese spinach, and fish such as snapper and locally farmed barramundi.

She adds that the stallholders are able to speak English, and when they do not, there is always pointing.

Local festivals and festivities have also made an impact on these expatriates.

Every Chinese New Year and National Day, the Leske family hosts both local and expatriate friends at their home.

During these gatherings, Mrs Leske whips up a feast of local delights, including yusheng, nasi goreng, black pepper crab and crispy Chinese pork belly - all of which are inspired by her time here, she says.

Both the Leske and Ford families have also adopted the habit of giving out hongbao during Chinese New Year.

They usually do not give them to children, but to the security guards and cleaners in their estates and workplaces, as well as to their children's teachers in school.

Mrs Ford says: "It's our way of saying 'thank you' to them."

Some of these expatriates have gone on to sink even deeper roots here by setting up businesses.

Australian national Johanna Crichton, 44, works as an English teacher here and also owns Plonk, a restaurant in Serangoon Garden which was set up in 2013.

The single mother, who has three children aged between 10 and 17, says she is happy with life here.

"Singapore is our home," she says.

Even so, she does make trips back to Australia with her children several times a year, and her siblings and their children come to Singapore to visit often too.

It is the same with the other expatriates The Sunday Times spoke to.

They too make trips back home at least once a year, as they say it is important for their children, while comfortable here, to know and have warm relations with their family members overseas.

Some of them have adapted practices from home to a local context.

Mrs Leske, who enjoys having picnics in Australia, says she sometimes packs home-cooked food into containers, grabs a few blankets, and has a "picnic" with her husband and their children on the rooftop of their rented house in Kovan.

Once, she also organised a birthday party for her twins in the form of a picnic at a neighbourhood park.

Some things, however - such as taste buds - are not as adaptable.

Although British-French national Alex Fenby, 45, director in a telecommunications company here, loves local food, he says there is a "maximum number of times" he can have local dishes.

"I still need a Western dish, like a duck confit or a steak, at least twice a week," he confesses with a grin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 20, 2017, with the headline 'This is their home, truly'. Print Edition | Subscribe