01 Jan 2017

People - Coming Home

Corinne Ong - Research Fellow, Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities

It was a no brainer to the sociologist - Singapore is the place to be, especially in her research interest of social science.


Corinne Ong

In her prime, Corinne Ong chose to leave her academic career in the United States and return home to Singapore, the place she felt was the best environment for not only her career but also her ageing parents. It was a no brainer to the sociologist -  Singapore is the place to be, especially in her research interest of social science.

“I noticed new opportunities in Singapore,” she said. “There is increasing recognition and attention accorded to social scientists beyond academia. I see job recruitments for social scientists in the government and private sectors, and especially so in the environmental sector which I am passionate about.

Weighing the options

For family-oriented Corinne, it helps that Singapore’s excellent and affordable healthcare system, its safety, and its superior transport networks have made the Garden City “so much more elder-friendly” in recent years.

These were key factors to Corinne as her parents were already in their old age when she left to pursue her academic and career goals. The 31-year-old spent five years in the US from 2010 to 2015, completing a masters’ degree as well as a PhD in sociology at the University of North Texas, before working for one year in North Carolina.

Fortunately, her parents were healthy and fit—and they still are today. Nonetheless, Corinne and her sister—who was also doing doctorate studies in the US during the same time—knew they did not have many relatives or friends to count on to support their parents should anything happen to them. 

Corinne considered moving them to the US, but the option did not seem attractive.  For one, medical care can beis a concern, as the US has the world’s most expensive healthcare system. “You hear anecdotes from friends about people being turned down for medical services because they cannot afford the cost,” recalled Corinne. “I was so shocked to hear that because this has never happened to us in Singapore.”

She was also worried that her parents would find their mobility hampered by the lack of safe and convenient public transport options in the US. Many older adults, some in their late 80s, have to drive “because that’s the culture there”, she observed, adding that she often saw pothole-ridden roads and broken pedestrian walkways.

Ticking all the boxes

After a year of work experience as an assistant professor of sociology in North Carolina, Corinne decided it was time to return to Singapore. “I feel my parents can experience much more independence (in Singapore) than they can in the US,” she says.

Everyone can get around easily and safely in Singapore, which has already built a “superior network of transport systems”, she points out. The Garden City is also ramping up infrastructure to help Singaporeans stay active and mobile, from well-paved pedestrian walkways to park connectors and links between neighbourhoods such as between Simei and Upper Changi.

While she acknowledges Singaporeans’ complaints in recent years about the shortcomings of the MRT and bus systems, she appreciates the authorities’ responsiveness to these grouses and its efforts to improve public transport.

Corinne is also heartened by the government’s efforts to provide Singaporeans with quality medical care which is often heavily subsidised in public hospitals. “My parents have also told me how they appreciate Singapore’s healthcare and how the government has tried doing so much for its people compared to many other countries. Scheme after scheme, programme after programme, is being rolled out to make a positive change in our people’s lives.”

For Singaporeans abroad who baulk at Singapore’s high housing and car costs, Corinne offers a counter-argument. “If you think pragmatically, Singapore has such a high quality of healthcare and infrastructure that it’s ultimately really cost-effective to be home.”


Read the stories of Singaporeans living overseas.