Potluck of Cultures


This is Angela. She is from Singapore.She jokes that what she loves most about the United States are Amazon (Prime!) and the trash disposal in her sink. “I love that! I’m going to bring it home if I can. It is the best thing ever! (laughs)”

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When Angela first joined her husband in Atlanta almost 1.5 years ago, she didn’t particularly like her new life in the United States. For her, the lack of purpose she experienced there, as well as the lack of friends, were the main reasons she did not enjoy her experience of living abroad in the beginning. “When I first came, I was really lonely and didn’t have much to do… It was the first time living outside of my home country that I didn’t have a purpose and I was very sad. I didn’t want to come here and just be someone’s wife.” Coming from a very fast-paced and work-oriented country/culture, where work has to be physically seen and where work ethic defines their culture and identity, Angela found it very hard to adapt to life without a job. She admits that it took a while for her to overcome this work-centered mentality. “One thing that really changed me a lot, was the fact that after a while I felt that it was okay not to do anything, but it took me a long time to decide that… a really long time. My Singaporean friend in Vancouver actually helped me come to this point in my thinking. She told me to just be happy and not be so bothered about what people think, even though people in Singapore don’t understand. When I finally reached this realization, I was very at peace with myself.” Now, Angela has found a new purpose. Besides volunteering at Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center and City Hope Community, she has also started working as a freelance graphic designer and aims to finish setting up her online business/online project this year. As one of the few girls in the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group that are allowed to work in the United States, she feels that there should be more options for international spouses. “I wish that everyone could work, but I also understand why not everyone can.. I wish there were more things they could do, but I feel like every girl has to find out what that is for themselves.I think that this will change in the next few years, because women’s rights are getting more and more support.”

14990999_680362412112222_2102835746867642177_oLikewise, she has also found new friends that she can share her life with in Atlanta. “Now, I have friends. Not just friends, I know there are people around that I can talk to or that I can meet and hang out with.” She loves Georgia Tech’s International Spouse group, because it has given her the opportunity to meet friends and to become part of an international network of people who share her experiences. Even though she feels that language and culture can be barriers in international friendships, she believes in pushing through them because it allows her to learn about ways of life she wouldn’t know otherwise. “Unless you grew up in the same culture, you can never fully understand another person. But this is not a bad thing… The only person I can fully understand here is my friend Teresa, because she is also from Singapore. I can say one word and she totally understands. Our language, body language and gestures are the same. We don’t have to say anything, we know exactly what the other means.” Nevertheless, Angela often feels frustrated by the feeling that she is constantly misunderstood by people in the United States, both linguistically as well as culturally. “There are a lot of trivial funny differences: when we say

lift, they say elevator, boot for trunk, etc. When my husband leaves his job, he used to say: ‘Bye guys, I’m going to make a move!’ and his colleagues would say: ‘On who?!’ (laughs) After, we all laugh about it, but it still bothers me.”

14962732_680362435445553_7538622590921778963_nAccording to Angela, the cultural differences between Singapore and the United States are vast. She tells us that she was surprised by how vocal, smart and opinionated her American friends were, but also by how fast they think and how much they know. She also prefers the way in which work-life balance is emphasized in the United States, as opposed to Singapore. “Here, people sometimes knock off at 3 p.m., while in Singapore we work until at least 6 or 7 p.m. But it is a good thing. Here work can be flexible, as long as you get the job done. It’s a lot about work-life balance, in my culture we don’t have that. So that is one thing I prefer here.”

Though she still cooks traditional Singaporean dishes at home every day, what she misses most is the food of her home country. “At home I cook what my husband calls set A. (laughs) In Chinese cuisine, what we eat at home is 3 dishes: a bowl of rice, one with meat, one with vegetables and a bowl of soup. I still do this here. So, when we say we miss food, we don’t mean we miss the dishes, more that we miss the convenience of getting food: in Singapore, when we don’t feel like cooking, we just head downstairs and just get a meal for 2 dollars… These $2 dishes are huge in portion and it’s always very good food.”

Ultimately, even though she will always feel at home in Singapore, she feels that she has gradually come to feel at home in the United States as well. “When I first came to Atlanta, I didn’t like it, but later I grew to like it, once I had more friends and purpose!”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja



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