Being a Singaporean studying in New York, I’m always asked (by other Singaporeans) what my plans are for the future. The conversations often go something like this:
“So what are your plans after you finish your studies?”
“Probably going to finish up a year of OPT (Optional Practical Training) and then go back to Singapore to work for a few years.”
This leads into a little roundabout discussion that culminates in my statement of planning to be in Singapore long-term, before I inevitably get one of the following responses:
- “Are you sure?/Really?” (i.e. disbelief and disdain)
- “Oh, but a lot can change in a few years.” (i.e. an assumption of my naivety, as well as an assumption that I will change my mind and choose to stay in New York)
- A strange expression that is part condescending smile and part knowing grimace
This is not an exhaustive list of responses along these lines, and neither is it a full representation of all responses. Nevertheless, I would say that one or a combination of the three occurs 70-80% of the time. These are the responses of a person who is thinking to themselves, this girl is so young and idealistic and ignorant, and also – why the hell would anyone choose Singapore over New York?
At this point, I try my best to change the topic.
I find no need for me to explain my decision to them, or even to explain it here. I’m starting to find the idea of constantly mathematically assessing and recounting the pros and cons of each place to be physically nauseating. Perhaps I know that my plans for the future have that idealism that always seem to be vulnerable to the burden of cynicism (why should I be carrying a burden belonging to someone else?). Nevertheless, I can’t stop thinking about how disrespectful and patronising any of these responses are, even if the person never meant it to be. To me, it is the implication that my life choices, perspectives, priorities are wrong, or lack a certain awareness, when they simply do not align with those of the other party. It slips out ever so slightly, but I catch it. I am always waiting for it – for the judgment.
I can’t decide what annoys me more. The fact that people are underestimating me – my intellect, my awareness, my conviction – or that they are unknowingly thrusting upon me something that is so contrary to the reality in my head. Perhaps I feel like they are attempting to shut down a certain sincere need to do something with my life within the context of Singapore. A vague statement, I know, but it seems like vagueness is my only line of defence right now.
Anyway, why the hell would anyone choose Singapore over New York? Well, Singapore is home. Isn’t that reason enough?
(It is for me.)