Emergency Ex-Pat Holiday Survival Guide: My First Holiday Season Abroad

I moved to Singapore at the end of September, knowing absolutely no one.  I met some incredible people in a short span of time, but no matter how many people you meet, being away from family for the first time over the holiday season proved to be much harder than expected. 

3 Survival Strategies to Making it Through the Holiday on Year 1:

After all of my experience living abroad and dealing with the holiday season, these would be my top survival tips:

  1. Planning ahead is the best advice I can give to anyone moving before the December holidays.  This may sound obvious, but people start planning their holiday break almost 6 months in advance sometimes, so you can never start asking people questions too soon, even if you are new to town. Know where you’re friends plan on going, whether it be traveling home, going on holiday, or staying local.  This can make or break your holiday season!  If you can’t go home, see if you can join your friends on holiday, or plan a holiday with your friends. 
  2. Check with your embassy to see if they have any holiday parties.  Not only is this a great way to meet other Ex-pats, but they put on great holiday events.
  3. Never spend the “actual” holiday alone. Often you’ll find when living abroad that there will be plenty of celebration, just not on the actual holiday. This can make the actual day feel a bit strange. Do whatever you can to avoid this, especially on year one.  Find that friend of a friend to hang out with because, even if you have a skype date with your family, once that phone call ends, you will feel miserable. You want to make sure you have plans to meet up with someone to keep your spirits up.  Even if you’re aren’t celebrating the Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Years, on the day its meant to be celebrated, sometimes it’s nice to have company just to get you through the day. 

My First Thanksgiving in Singapore

Thanksgiving was easier to manage because it isn’t a major global holiday.  It’s generally celebrated on the weekend with friends because Thursday is not a holiday.  And as it is before December, when all the major holiday parties and travel occur, friends are likely to still be in town.

Thanksgiving seems to have come and passed very quickly and for some odd reason, it doesn’t feel like it’s the Holiday season.  It might be because the temperature hasn’t dropped below 80 degrees since I’ve arrived in Singapore, or it may be because this is my first Thanksgiving not surrounded by family, but regardless of the obvious differences between this holiday season and the last, I have still been making the most of this amazing city and of course still having a Thanksgiving dinner.

Get in my Belly!

The Saturday before Thanksgiving I went over to Jenny and Jessica’s condo for the first Turkey Day feast.  This Thanksgiving went from a Turkey feast to a Brazilian dance party.  Below is Jenny and myself and two girls whose names I can remember, they were just visiting.

Pedro Negro, the bar that we went to on Arab street, happened to be hosting their annual festival, of what I don’t know, but it sure was a lot of fun.  They had dancers parading down the street and loud Brazilian music!!  

All of the Dancers were wearing large feather head dresses, haha

 Chris, Jessica and myself, having fun as usual 🙂 This was definitely like any typical “night before Thanksgiving” shenanigans, except in a tropical climate.  Can’t complain.  Celebrating your first Thanksgiving before the holiday can really throw your brain for a loop.

That night flew by of course and one might wonder how I managed to be productive the next day but somehow, I managed to roll out of bed and go to a play…A Shakespeare play, lol, who would have thought.  It’s amazing the things one will do to see Kevin Spacey.  He was performing in the Shakespeare production of King Richard the 3rd.

For not knowing any of the plot or understanding and of the Shakespearean language, I very much enjoyed myself.  Kevin Spacey is quite an amazing actor, and I must say I’m very excited to see him reenact my former job in the new movie Margin Call.  ha-ha

The Show was at the Esplanade, a beautiful bubble-shaped building right on the water.  The architecture is the most unique and progressive that I’ve ever seen.  This is just one of the many unique-looking buildings in Singapore, but what makes this building more impressive is everything that you can find in it.  It is not just a “theater by the bay” it’s a giant mall and a major transit center.  

While my mom was here, we actually went to go see an authentic Indonesian dance during a dance festival.  We had tried to see a Thai dance later that week but we ended up seeing the “Beyond the Dance” a detailed explanation and breakdown of the dance, not exactly the most riveting event, but a cultural event that you can’t see many other places in the world. 

As to be expected my actual Thanksgiving was spent working.  But the unusually hot weather made it feel more like the first day of summer instead of the beginning of the Holiday season.  Despite being thousands of miles from home I managed to drag myself out of bed at 5 in the morning and say a Happy Thanksgiving to all the family.  I also went out for by far the most unique Thanksgiving dinner ever.  A delicious, all-you-can-eat mussel and fries dinner at a restaurant called BrusselSpouts.

Jessica introduced all of us to this amazing restaurant and it gave us American’s a great home away from home as a Non-Traditional but overly filling Thanksgiving meal.

And there was nothing left…

Clearly I don’t know metric beer sizes yet.  Just like me,  I ordered the larger of the beers…I wasn’t expecting a JUG! Literally!  I had to hold it with two hands.  I guess that’s a way to make you drink slower (I had to drink it like it’s a sippy cup).  

While I may not have been with Family and my besties* for Thanksgiving, I definitely spent it with friends 🙂 

….But the Festivities didn’t end there!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving there was another Thanksgiving feast hosted by a bunch of GS locals.  Below is the grill master.  

But the turkey was being cooked down in one of the apartments.  We were at the corporate housing building, ultimately hotels with kitchens.  

Below is Me, Jessica and Preeti

The food and the company were both amazing.  We had a very large bird, with cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts, steamed carrots.  Plus there was bruschetta as an appetizer and a delicious sundried tomato spread, just in case people hungry :-P.

The Party was on the condo’s room top desk with the pool and overlooked Orchard road.  Once the food was nearly completely eaten, we used the tables serving the food, for none other than flip cup and beirut.  Who would have thought that, similar to being at home over the holidays, a good old fashion game of flip cup would ensue.  It made the night!

After the feast, we all went to a club called Mink.  Techno dancing and strobe lights, that’s really all I have to say.  It was not my scene, to say the least, but I had a good time despite spraining my ankle…leave it to me.  This is why I never wear high heels out at nightclubs. 

After I got home I realized that I don’t think I’ve ever had so many Thanksgiving dinners in my life.  It made me so grateful to all of the people I’ve met and have known for such a short time, and so thankful that they welcomed me into Singapore in every way possible!   

My First Christmas In Singapore

I can’t say Christmas was as easy as Thanksgiving was, nor was it as easy being away from home.  Not getting to celebrate my favorite holiday with my family was tough, and the fact that the majority of all of my new Singapore friends were either home (back in the US) or traveling outside of Singapore didn’t make it any easier.  

However, I tried not to let loneliness get the best of me. I made the best of a difficult situation, on Christmas Eve and day I spent a large amount of time Skyping with family as they feasted on amazing food without me.

As I sat alone messaging friends “Merry Christmas” on Christmas Day, my friend Jenny caught word that I was spending Christmas alone.  She knew that Chris was in town with having Christmas with his family and friends, and even though I had only met Chris a couple times, he reached out to me, told me “no one should be spending Christmas alone” and basically forced me over to his family’s Christmas feast.  I could not have been more grateful.

Chris’s sister hosted the dinner and she had her family there, Alex and Elena, accompanied by some of Alex’s friends.  Elena is actually a senior at a private High school in CT, talk about a small world. Despite being Lyndsey’s age she did not know her.  

We started with a table full of delicious appetizers, prosciutto-wrapped on a breadstick, cheese and crackers, chips and dip, yum, but this was completely overshadowed by the main feast, traditional Korean Christmas style.

The amount of food was overwhelming.  We had a huge ham roast and a huge turkey, with all of the Fixin’s one could ask for.  There was cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potato crumble (amazingly delicious), corn, mashed potatoes, salad, and possibly a few others.

I didn’t have any plans for Christmas, in fact I really thought that I would just be sitting home watching Holiday Inn followed by Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation, then maybe some Rudolph and Care Bear Nutcracker Christmas ( 🙂 ) but I’m really glad Chris reached out, and I was never expecting to get invited to such a feast.

Of course, the dinner was amazing but talking with everyone made the night that much better.   We all had some very engaging discussions from topics ranging to my upcoming trip to India, to the global financial situation to book recommendations.  

It ended up being a very late night, in a very good way.   I’ve been meeting so many amazing people in Singapore, all of whom have done so much in life and have experienced so much that it’s giving me more and more ideas of things to do, places to visit, things to learn.  

It’s been 3 months since I’ve moved around the world from my friend and family and home.  It’s been 3 months of “NEW,” new working, new friends, new ways of keeping in touch with my stateside friends and family, new holidays traditions, new me.

   I’m trying to think of a good quote to summarize my experience in my first 3 months in Singapore, but using someone else’s words isn’t appropriate, so I might as well go with MY quote/thought/philosophy.

“Life isn’t short!  Life provides you with certain opportunities to make it feel short, but in reality, these opportunities expand your life infinitesimally, you just need to take advantage of them” 

I often found myself thinking that life was too short to travel everywhere I’d like to visit, to work with people I’d never imagine possible, to meet people who’ve experienced the world in ways I’d never imagine.

Now I find myself in an experience where I know my life will never be too short because every opportunity that is presented to me, I embrace and I will see where it will lead me.