Casey Chow spent a decade away from home in Shanghai where she raised her children, Gareth and Grace. As a homemaker, she had settled into a comfortable routine. So when her husband was offered a better position back in Singapore, they made the tough decision to relocate back home.
“After spending so many years away from Singapore, I’d gotten used to life overseas,” she said. “In fact, I was really reluctant to return home at first!” But she knew that such an opportunity does not come by often for her husband. It was a good career move and within the same company. So in July 2015, the family packed up their belongings and returned home to Singapore.
Casey Chow and her family in Shanghai, China
Staying Connected with Singapore
For her children, the move back home was surprisingly smooth. It helped that Casey made sure her two kids remembered their roots despite being away from home.
“We’d spend every summer holiday as well as Chinese New Year in Singapore,” said Casey. She had also signed Gareth and Grace up for the Overseas Singaporean Unit’s Camp@Home event. “It is a really great avenue for kids like them to get to know Singapore's heritage and culture,” she said.
Gareth (left) with his newly-made friend at Camp@Home
During their time overseas, Casey kept her children connected to Singapore’s heritage and culture through movies and television dramas. “We watched local productions such as ‘I Not Stupid’, ‘Ah Boys to Men’ and ‘Little Nyonya’, which they enjoyed,” she said, adding that these films and drama series provided good opportunities for her children to learn and understand more social issues and cultural norms back home.
Just before enrolling, Casey also put Gareth and Grace in school immersion programmes. For three weeks, they experienced Primary School life – from participating in the morning assemblies, to attending classes and going for recess. Casey also timed it so that her children joined in their schools’ National Day celebrations, to be “fully immersed in the spirit of celebrating Singapore’s birthday”.
“They were hesitant in the beginning, which was understandable for any seven-year-old, but they came home happy at the end of the first day of school. They have also become more accepting of special needs students in their class,” said Casey.
There was, however, some initial culture shock during the first week. “[One example was] buying their own food at the canteen, and having no idea what the names of the various local dishes were,” she explained.
She also quipped that the early morning wake-up calls took the children some getting used to. “When I woke them up for school the first morning, they asked me why Singaporean children had to go to school at night!”
Grace and Gareth in their school uniforms
The children have since gotten used to local primary school life, thanks to the welcoming environment of their respective schools. “The teachers and students made an effort to look out for them, and that was very nice”, Casey shared.
Settling Back Home
For Casey, adjusting back home was not without any initial hiccups. “At times, I felt a bit disconnected as the Singapore today is not… the one [I remember from] 10 years ago,” she recounted.
As a stay-at-home mother, the lack of a social network posed a real challenge. “My friends are all working, and the schedule of a working person is very different from that of a stay-at-home mum,” she said. “I meet with a group of fellow Shanghai returnees once in a while as there are more common topics and experiences that we can share and talk about.”
The group, also known as the ‘Thursday Tai-Tais’, is an extension of a group of Singaporean ladies she met with over lunch in on Thursdays while in Shanghai (hence the name). A fairly large group of them also returned subsequently – Casey included – and they continued their meetings, though just once a month, back home in Singapore.
“Singapore is a safe haven to raise children. We don’t have to worry about food and water safety here, and [the children] can walk or take public transport on their own, without me having to worry about their safety.”
Casey (third from right) and her family at Singapore Day, Shanghai in 2015, with DPM Teo Chee Hean and Minister Grace Fu
For fellow returning overseas Singaporeans, she advises, “When it is time to come back, we should then embrace the change with an open heart. Take your time to find the most suitable path to settle back in. Bring only the good experiences back with you [when you return] and try to make Singapore a better place for those back home.”