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Today I’m sharing another installment in my travel interview series, featuring Courtney of Nourish The Free Life. I loved learning about her experiences in Singapore and her thoughts on work exchanges as a unique way to see new places.
Can you share a little about who you are, where you’re from, and your background?
I am Courtney, I am 32 years old and I was born and raised in Washington State, USA. Growing up and through high school I really had no idea what I wanted to be, entering college, I still had no clue. When I was 19 I got a job in banking and that naturally led me to end up deciding to get my Bachelor’s degree in business. I worked in banking for almost 10 years and worked my way up from being a teller to doing mortgage loans. After ending a bad relationship and taking an inspirational trip to Vietnam, I ultimately decided to sell everything and move across the world to China to teach English. Now, for the last 5 years or so I have been traveling, living and working overseas.
How much did you travel growing up?
Growing up I would not say that I traveled a lot. We did short trips around our state, to nearby states and Disneyland. Going into high school and college, I got a little bit more travel experience going to Canada and Mexico, as well as some other states. My first ever overseas experience was when I was 28 to Vietnam and I went solo!
Can you share a little about the work exchanges you have done and your thoughts on those experiences?
This year (2019) I recently tried out some work exchanges through Workaway and I would say I highly recommend this to anyone! My first experience exceeded my expectations, though the second not so much. However, the second experience was a lesson of what to look for and how to choose the right opportunity. My first exchange was staying with a family in Turkey, where I tutored their young son in English. In exchange I had a free place to stay, my food covered and live in local tour guides. It was so incredible and I now can say I have a family back in Turkey. The second experience in Italy was different, it was supposed to be a work exchange at a villa retreat in exchange for stay. I do not want to go into negative detail about it but just did not turn out how I was expecting and ended up leaving after a few days. I got some great takeaways from both I would like to share if you consider this. Again, I think it is an amazing way to travel and save money along with really getting to experience local life.
When looking for opportunities such as this on a site like Workaway for example, read the reviews. Make sure there are some recent reviews and see if they are positive. Next, communicate. Ask all the questions you want to the host. They should be willing to answer them. If you don’t have a good feel for that from messaging, ask them if they would be willing to do a quick Skype call just to meet them. Follow your gut feeling if it seems like a great exchange and you are getting a warm welcome from the host.
Can you share a little about why you moved to Singapore and what you do there?
I had visited Singapore back in 2018 and I really enjoyed the city. It is an easy place to adjust to as it is very westernized, a safe city and easy to get around as well as travel to nearby countries. The opportunity came about to take a teaching job at an International school here and I couldn’t pass it up. I have the chance to explore more of this awesome country, make good money and also I have a lot of time off to travel.
What was the process of getting ready for living in another culture like? How long did you have to prepare?
This is my second time actually moving to another country, my first was when I moved to China. The process this time was simple. In the last 5 years, I have traveled a lot, so I know the process. With that being said there is always the unknown and moving and getting set up in another country is completely different than traveling. You have to find a place to rent, get a bank account, learn how to pay bills, grocery shop, etc. The before process that is hard is just packing everything because you have a limit. Deciding what are the best clothes you need and what you can live without. I am just moving for one year so clothes and other toiletry things are all that I really need to prepare.
Typically if you are moving for work, your job should take care of your visa to work in that country prior, so that is something you should not have to worry about. Mentally, you can never fully prepare for it. You have to go into with an open mind and be willing to learn and adjust to the culture and different processes. It is not easy, but the experience is priceless.
What are the most challenging parts of living in Singapore?
Overall Singapore is a pretty easy country to live in, especially for me, after living in China for two years. In some ways, it feels much more like being back in America. Every country has its differences, however. I would say the most challenging things are just what I listed above, just learning the everyday things, such as how to pay your bills, how to find things you might need, the use of public transportation, etc. Singapore is also really hot and humid all the time, that is an adjustment for sure.
What do you enjoy most about living there?
I love the opportunity to get to experience such a diverse culture in a modern setting. Singapore is really a melting pot of Asian culture as well as a hub for big financial and tech companies that really brings expats from all over the world to live here. Typically in groups of people, there are so many different countries represented, which I think is neat. Also, the diversity and deliciousness of the food is a big plus!
What are the main languages spoken there and do many people speak English?
Singapore was founded by the British, so English is the main language of Singapore. Locally it is known as Singlish as it is not always proper English and includes some of own unique words and ways of saying it due to the influence of other cultures and languages. The other widely spoken languages here are Chinese, Tamil and Malay. Most everyone here does speak English, even though for many people it may not be their first language. It makes it easy to get around and communicate everywhere you go.
What is the weather like and was it hard to adjust to?
The weather is tropical and the tip of Singapore is actually the southernmost part of mainland Asia. We are currently in the monsoon season which brings a lot more rain and thunderstorms, but there is still sunshine in between. The weather is always hot and humid but a bit cooler this time of year from October to February. It is not easy when it is so hot all the time, but everywhere has air conditioning and most condos have swimming pools so it is easy to stay cool.
Did you have any favorite local food dishes in Singapore?
I have been here for about a month now and still have a lot of local food on my list that I need to try. There is a big mix of all kinds of Chinese food, Malaysian food, Indian food, and Asian fusion. I have enjoyed trying it all. Nasi Padang is considered a Malaysian food but found a lot here locally. Curry puffs are more a quick snack but a local known fast food here and they are yummy. I like wonton mee, which is basically noodles with wontons and pork. Satay is delicious around here and somewhat of Indonesian influence. Roti Prata is one of my favorites, it is Indian inspired but has its own unique twist in Singapore. It’s a thin pancake type bread that is filled with things like meat or cheese, baked crispy and served with a side of curry sauce.
How is transportation there – did you mainly use public transport?
Yes, I mainly use public transportation. It is very easy to use here. The buses are frequent, clean and get you to just about anywhere. The metro is even faster and they continue to add new MRT lines around the city. It is also super clean and safe and runs from about 5am to midnight every day. There is also the option of regular taxis or car apps like Uber. The main ones used here are called Grab and GoJek. They are super easy to use and can save you a bit compared to normal taxis.
What would you recommend seeing/doing in Singapore for someone visiting for the first time?
Firstly, the main tourist area of the CBD (central business district) and the Marina are a must-see. You can see the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Merlion statue, marvel at the Gardens by the Bay and also seeing the gorgeous lights of the skyline at night. Taking time to see the different cultural districts such as Chinatown, Little India, and the Arab district are a great way to see the diversity of the city and experience so many different cultures and foods all within one day. My personal favorite is a bit more off the tourist route, but I love the nature parks, gardens, and skywalks. There are so many trails you can take around the city that make you forget you are in this great metropolis. Lastly, a visit to a hawker center is a must. This is where you can eat at local food stalls. They are inexpensive, give you a taste of local culture and have some of the best food that you can find.
Do you get to travel much to surrounding countries?
I have only been here a month so I have not, but there is definitely the opportunity to, yes. There are ferries you can take to some close by Indonesian islands for a quick getaway. Malaysia is just a short bus ride away as well. You can also fly to so many countries close by at a low cost, from the best airport in the world. The opportunity for travel is definitely amazing. You can take a flight to places such as Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and more and be there in as little as two hours.
What tips or advice would you give to those planning to move to another country?
I would say first do some research to be sure that is somewhere you truly can see yourself living. Look up blogs of other expats and read their experiences. Find people on Instagram that are currently living there and reach out to them. What you read online is not always accurate or sometimes exaggerated, especially if it is something written in the news. Finding actually people who have experienced those places and getting their thoughts and stories is the best. Also, no matter where you move to, you must have an open mind. You can not expect things to be conducted in the same way as your country, be respectful and open to learning about the culture and the people who live there. Be sensitive and understanding to their normal way of life.
What is your blog about and where can we find you on social media?
My blog is called Nourish the Free Life and it is about inspiring others through travel, holistic health and creating a life of freedom. My username on Instagram is @journeywith.court I would love to connect with you!
Emily again! Have you been to Singapore? I’d love to hear your experiences below in the comments! Heading to Singapore soon?
Before you go, you might enjoy: 11 Tips for Overcoming Flight Anxiety
Thanks for reading!