How Living In A Foreign Country Changed My Life

Sofia Strohmeier, Copy Editor

Born in Miami and coming from a Peruvian background, I enjoyed exploring my culture and living in a bilingual community and household throughout my childhood. In 2011, I was a lively five-year-old learning to read basic sentences and write the letters of the alphabet in my kindergarten class. Little did I know, I would soon move across the globe to live in a tiny, yet widely populated multi-ethnic country called Singapore, and open a gateway to new cultures I never thought I would experience firsthand. 

I remember when my parents sat my sister and I on the couch and told us about a work opportunity offered to my dadwith one catch: we would have to move from the neighborhood I had lived in my whole life. It was not just a move to a different city, it was a move to the other side of the world. The emotions that went through my mind at that moment were beyond comprehension; a mix of excitement, sadness, curiosity and hesitation.

The house that witnessed my milestones, the living room I had taken my first steps in, the playroom where my sister and I played with our Littlest Pet Shop collection and the sidewalk where I first rode my Disney princess bike all became things of the past as they transformed into a pile of brown cardboard boxes. Just a few weeks after my sixth birthday, filled with a bittersweet feeling, we headed to the airport to begin our 23-hour-long journey to our new home.

To get to Singapore, we first had to make a layover in Los Angeles, where we stayed for a night. My sister and I put the past aside and talked about what our new life would be like, although neither of us really knew what to expect. The next morning, a 17-hour flight awaited us. I laid my eyes on a massive two-story plane with seats that turned into beds and in-flight staff that made me feel like I was living in luxury. 

After the longest but most enjoyable plane experience of my life, I stepped foot into Singapore’s famous Changi Airport, which at the time I considered a city in itself due to its immense size. The jet lag got the best of us, and my sister and I woke up in the middle of the night full of energy due to the 12-hour time difference. We then wasted no time in seeing the city’s most popular attractions such as the iconic Merlion, Marina Bay Sands and Clarke Quay. I do not think I have ever felt such overwhelming admiration as I did when I toured the city. The modern skyline made life feel surreal. In that moment, my eyes opened and I realized the beauty the world could hold. 

When I started the rest of my kindergarten year at Stamford American International School, I felt an immediate culture shock. My teacher was Australian and my classmates were from India, Malaysia, Denmark, Finland and some from the United States as well. I found myself curious about their backgrounds and the languages that they spoke, but I also realized that many of them had moved from their homes to live as ex-pats like me. I never saw such diversity before and I miss it now.

The next two years of school were probably the most vivid and entertaining time of my life. I had friends from all over the world, I learned to speak Chinese — even though I do not remember it now — and I celebrated holidays such as Diwali in full Indian attire. My favorite school events were the holiday festivities. Chinese New Year was always a huge celebration; I dressed up in a Qipao, a Chinese dress, and watched the Chinese Dragon and the new year’s zodiac animal dance away to cultural music. My favorite was the International Fiesta, a day dedicated to all countries around the world. Throughout the school, there were tables set up where we tried each country’s native foods and would later participate in the Nation’s Parade, where everyone represented their country of origin. Although I strutted with pride around the gym alongside the American crowd, I never envisioned myself going back to the United States. I had fallen in love with the multicultural country that diversified my viewpoint and gave me the privilege to adopt a unique identity as a Singaporean. 

My friends and I used to always compete to see who could name the most flags displayed around the walls of the campus gymnasium, and most of the time, I won. I have always been that one person who could put a name to almost every flag and announce the capital of every country.

One aspect of myself that life abroad exposed me to was my passion for traveling. New countries were within our reach, and my family decided to commence our tour around Asia. I climbed the Great Wall of China at six years old, with a big smile on my face as I made the difficult trek up the stairs that were far bigger than I was. I explored Angkor Wat’s Hindu and Buddhist remains as I pretended to be an archaeologist and watched the elephants that served as an everyday mode of transportation in Cambodia. I rode a camel in the Arabian Desert and went to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, UAE. I took in the beautiful beaches of Bali and observed orangutans in their natural habitat in Indonesia. We took photos in the picturesque cherry blossoms setting in the streets of Japan and met the famous Geishas that walked around dressed in their colorful Kimonos. I learned about poverty in floating cities and toured the city of Bangkok in tuk-tuks in Thailand. I pet a Koala and saw wild kangaroos in Australia. I witnessed the 112-foot Tian Tan Buddha in Hong Kong. I gazed up at the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I even watched the 2013 Singapore Grand Prix in the Marina Bay Street Circuit and witnessed firsthand the speed of the Formula 1 cars under the lights of the night race.

All of these experiences have made me into who I am today. I never would have imagined when I moved from Miami that those two and a half years in Singapore would be the best I have ever lived. Today, I look back and see how fortunate I was to have experienced what I did. I saw a side of the world that few people my age have seen. Moving at such a young age changed my perception of the world and taught me that life is more than staying in your comfort zone; it is about taking risks and learning along the way. 

As a 16-year-old today, I am inspired by my younger self for appreciating the life she had and soaking in the culture of every place she visited. She was just as curious about the world as I am today. In continuation to what I started while I lived overseas, my love for traveling has caused my experience to rise to a count of 30 countries visited. 

Contact with people from various backgrounds made me open to learning about every detail of a person’s culture. The most influential gift my parents gave me was the opportunity to see the world’s wonders with my own eyes. Living in Singapore shaped me as a person and I would not be who I am today if I had not been given that experience. Despite our move back to Miami, I still consider Singapore a second home and would return in a heartbeat.