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Gen Y Speaks: Learning to love Singapore again

Before I left for my exchange programme in Germany earlier this year, my mother said to me: “I hope you find it in your heart to return home.” Intended as a joke, she hinted that I would love it so much in Europe that I wouldn’t want to come back home. There might have been some truth to her words.

Gen Y Speaks: Learning to love Singapore again

The writer (far left in this photo taken at the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia) says that her exchange experience in Germany has rekindled her love for Singapore.

Before I left for my exchange programme in Germany earlier this year, my mother said to me: “I hope you find it in your heart to return home.”

Intended as a joke, she hinted that I would love it so much in Europe that I wouldn’t want to come back home.

There might have been some truth to her words.

Back then, to me, Europe had everything that Singapore lacked. In particular, it had a less stressful learning environment and a slower pace of life.

I rarely express any discontent with living in Singapore. Like most Singaporeans, I know how far this country has come in the last five decades.

But as I watch Singapore reach greater heights, I have felt this home slowly growing distant. While pursuing progress and pragmatism, we seem to have created a competitive society focused on results and bottom lines. Other passions and dreams, especially those that might not reward economically, are often put aside.

Growing up here, I often wonder if my worth to society is determined solely by a few grades on a certificate. Home should not feel like this, I thought.

I wonder if other Singaporeans are becoming less rooted, physically and emotionally, to our country.

According to population statistics, the number of Singaporeans living overseas has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past decade. The 2017 World Economic Forum survey also found that seven in 10 Singaporean millennials were willing to leave Singapore for job opportunities overseas.

An example is 25-year-old Gladys Seah. What started out as a journey to complete her undergraduate degree with RMIT University led to an extended stay and decision to work in Melbourne.

“Many Singaporeans work for most of their lives just to pay off debt,” she said. It has been two years since Ms Seah relocated, and she has no intention of returning home.

The associate private client advisor also said that a good work-life balance is difficult to achieve because of the city state’s fast-paced lifestyle. Furthermore, the high costs of owning a car and housing contributed to her worries.

Over in Munich, my Singaporean friends always responded with negative comments when foreigners asked about Singapore. My friends lamented that Singapore was boring, the cost of living was high and life was stressful because of the high education standards.

Some even thought that quiet racism was lurking just under the surface, despite the country’s efforts to forge multiracialism over the years.

While I did not agree with them, I never rebutted them because I have never identified myself as being patriotic or seen the need to defend my country’s name.

Yet, clearly, their condemnations of Singapore sit uneasily with me.

Most of my peers think that Singapore’s security and good food are the only aspects worth bragging about to foreigners. Apart from that, they say, there is little reason to praise home.

A module on nationalism that I took while on exchange in Munich got me thinking hard about patriotism.

I learnt that being patriotic is more than hanging flags during National Day or watching the National Day Parade.

To me, patriotism is about being proud of a country’s traditions and cultures, as well as having a desire to act in the interest of your country.

In good times, it creates a sense of solidarity. In bad times, it glues people together to overcome obstacles.

While exploring the Baltic states earlier this year, I was moved by the sacrifices made by the partisans who had fought for their countries’ independence from the Soviet Union since 1944.

They gained independence only five decades later, and almost half of the resistance movement died in their quest for freedom. To them, their country was worth them fighting and dying for.

Maybe this power can only be tested in great adversity, which Singaporeans have had the fortune of largely avoiding since independence.

Despite this, continued peace is not guaranteed. If war ever breaks out in Singapore, I wonder how many of us would be willing to do the same for our country.

Social studies, a mandatory subject taught in our primary and secondary schools, teaches students about our national heritage and multicultural society, and helps them better understand local policies.

While education is a great place to nurture this appreciation, more can be done at a national level to cultivate national pride in Singapore.

A good example is this year’s National Day Parade, which, compared to previous years, adopted a more genuine approach in re-telling Singapore’s narrative.

The performance featured stories of everyday Singaporeans and their struggles with high societal standards and expectations. Despite the hardships, they chose to embrace the imperfections of the Singapore identity.

This honesty spoke to the hearts of citizens, including myself, igniting a sense of rapport that I had not felt in a long time.

I came to the realisation that ultimately, change must begin with me.

For a start, I can make a conscious effort to look at my country more positively. For example, instead of harping on the fact that the education system is too stressful, I can focus on how it better prepares me for the pressures that I will inevitably face in the workplace.

I can also be a good ambassador of my homeland the next time I am abroad, ready to highlight the many things about my country that I am proud of and grateful for.

These include the peaceful co- existence of people from different races and religions, a strong education system, and Singlish.

We need to learn to embrace our nation as it is. After all, this is the place that our forefathers built.

One day, if I have the privilege of meeting those friends in Munich again, I will proudly tell them how wrong our descriptions of Singapore were.



Wong Wing Lum is a third-year student at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University. This is adapted from a piece which first appeared in Nanyang Chronicle, the university newspaper.

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