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Singapore - Kaleidoscope: Wanderlust and City Dust from the Eyes of a Migrant

Q: What are some measures / policies taken by the local government to ensure integration (both social & economic)? Are they effective?

A (Taoran): In government (Housing Development Board) flats, there is a fixed ratio of people of different races to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds can interact with one another. This helps to close the cultural gap between different racial groups. However, in the current times it might not be effective as there is minimal interactions between neighbors.

A (A.R.): To be very honest I am not very sure. I came here when I was very young so it did not really apply for me, but I feel that more can be done as my friends who came at an older age tend not to fully fit into the local community.

Q: Do you think migrants with different backgrounds (eg. nationality / income level) will integrate to the society with different levels of difficulty? How?

A (Taoran) : Definitely. Low-skilled workers earn little as compared to, say, expatriates. So most of the time they just work or stay at home. And if their workplaces are foreigners dominated (like construction), they cannot socialize with the locals.

A (A.R.): Typically there are 2 broad categories of migrants:

  • Low-wage earners doing blue-collar jobs (e.g. Bangladeshi construction workers)

  • Foreign talents and high-wage earners doing white-collar jobs (e.g. Caucasian project managers/expats)


Due to the relatively high cost of living in SG, low-wage earners will face more difficulty integrating to society than the high-wage earning migrants. Accommodation, travel, and food expenses are high so it will be extremely costly for low-wage earners to spend on going out/socializing to adapt to the community. Singapore also strives to be a smart nation and is pushing for a cashless society in the near future, which may be impossible to keep up to for the low-wage earning migrants.

Q: In what ways are the cultures in your country of origin different from those in your country of residence? Do you prefer one culture from another in general? Can you list your favorite bit of culture in your country of origin and your country of residence? (eg. religion / festivals / rituals / cuisine etc.)

A (Taoran): I come from China. It is quite similar as they are both Chinese dominated. I do not have a preference. The food for both. The local cuisine is very diverse and unique while Chinese cuisine is something that always feels like home.

A (A.R.): In my country of origin (India), every occasion is celebrated as a festive with firecrackers, dance performances and circus shows out in the streets called "thiruvizha" which directly translates to grand festival. In SG however, we are limited to mini celebrations at home due to our small size as a nation. I personally prefer the many lights, sounds of musical instruments in thiruvizhas that fill the air with glee to the silent celebrations in SG.


Q: Are there any specific policies (by school or by government) that (in your opinion) discriminates against foreigners/gives locals an edge?

A (Taoran): I don’t really think so.


A (A.R.): The hardest part has to be the usage of Singlish which was difficult to get accustomed to at first. Although this does not directly discriminate against foreigners, it does make the environment less inclusive and invites room for ambiguity which is not conducive for effective learning. Some activities/scholarships/competitions are also unavailable for foreign students so this may hinder their education as well.


Q: What was the hardest part of adapting to the local education system?

A (Taoran): Learning the language. The language of instruction in China is Chinese while that here is English, so it was quite difficult when I came in primary school.

A (A.R.): I never really had the challenge since I came when I was young.


Q: What are the major barriers hindering you from completely integrating to the local community? Do you think it is possible for an international student to fully integrate into the local culture? Why or why not?


A (Taoran): The language. Chinese still feels more familiar than English. I think it is possible as long as they are willing to step out of their immediate circles and hang out with the locals.

A (A.R.): I feel like I belong to the local community, and there isn’t really any barriers left for me. As for the larger Indian immigrant community, many Indians do not consume Beef and Pork, the favorite meat choices among the Chinese, the majority in Singapore. Hence, we do not get to enjoy Singaporean delights such as Bak Kwa and Char Siew. However, Singapore is host to multi-national cuisines and it is definitely possible for an International student to fully integrate into the Singaporean culture.

Interviewed by Hunter Gao

Edited by Chloe Yeung

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