Posted by: angmlr007 | 22/02/2011

Keeping “rooted” while going global – What makes us Singaporean?

I was at a friend’s house a couple of nights ago giving tuition, when I chanced upon her assignment from school. It seemed like some kind of National Education thing, and it required her to create a presentation about certain Singapore-related topics. The theme was about embracing diversity, and one of the questions really got me thinking: “What can we do to encourage Singaporeans to remain rooted to Singapore, while going global (to pursue their education)?” It was damned relevant to me, since I myself will be leaving the country to study Biology in US by August this year. And so my friend and I sat down to talk about it (too bad it wasn’t over a warm cup of coffee).

Photo by meadbh metrustry (Flickr)

What does it mean to be Singaporean?

I think it’s an issue that has been debated to death already, but I still find the need to lay this question down clearly. What does it mean to be a Singaporean? I know that holding onto a Singapore passport makes you a Singapore citizen, but does it necessarily make you “Singaporean”? Would you consider someone who holds onto Singapore citizenship, but has all his wealth, career, and family residing in a country on the opposite end of the globe a Singaporean?

About more than half a year ago, I remember handling one particular guy who had been staying in the UK for more than a decade, and has settled down there permanently. Since he was holding onto a Singapore passport, he was required to return to the country to fulfill his National Service requirement, of which he has not been doing so since he was forever out the island. So, when some paperwork started to screw up and he was facing penalties for AWOL, he started to pester me to get his name cleared.

While I was largely sympathetic and understanding to his plight (come on I’ve no more interest than he does to return to the army after ORD), I couldn’t help but wonder WTF was he still doing with his SG citizenship if he’s made up his mind to stay in the UK for the rest of his life. His answer was: “But I still visit Singapore like a couple of days in a year, when I’m transiting between places. Keeping my Singapore citizenship means less hassle to enter and exit the country. It’s a nice place to live in…” Yeah sure. I am totally convinced that is good enough reason for you to keep that passport since it “doesn’t hurt you anyway”.

So we shall define being a Singaporean as being a representative of the country, contributing directly or indirectly to the dynamics, development and progress of the nation.

Globalization: An inevitable, necessary outcome of the modern society

Globalization is a must for every nation that enters the new millennium. With international boundaries slowly breaking down, communication becoming more efficient, and people and places being brought closer than ever via improved transportation and the Internet, in is inevitable that we become exposed to new information and knowledge beyond the confines of our neighbourhood, or the borders of our country (except for maybe North Korea…?). In fact, countries today are all the more dependent on each other for survival, as our economies slowly become interdependent for growth. In order to remain competitive, Singapore, like every other country, needs to embrace globalization to stay ahead in the race. Perhaps that explains why a lot of us are encouraged to venture overseas for our education – countries like USA, UK, Australia, and now even China – because it is hoped that we will bring these new ideas from overseas back to Singapore.

Staying “Rooted”…? The Things that keep us returning to our sunny island

Photo by Graeme Pow (Flickr)

Of course, Singapore has certainly exercised much of its means to send its citizens/PR for education overseas in a bid to broaden our people’s intellectual horizons. However, all of these would have come to nought if most of us decide not to contribute back to the nation. Not trying to stir up some nationalistic feelings here, but it is a fact that Singapore suffers a loss each time one of its citizens decide to take everything he or she owns and shifts it out of the country. Just like how lots of locals complain that foreign talent are coming in to take our jobs and money and bringing it back to their homeland, we Singaporeans are doing no better if we are simply taking whatever we can from here and walking out of it thereafter.

In essence, we Singaporeans should learn to remember our “roots”, and rather than taking flight, take pride in the fact that we are Singaporeans and work towards contributing to the community and society here, where we belong. But, being the practical me, there must always be valid reasons that allow for locals to continue contributing to our homeland. Here are some which I feel are most pertinent to us:

The Practical

1. Employment – Lets face it. All of us need money. If there are no employment opportunities in Singapore for locals, and the cost of living continues to rise, people are not obliged to continue staying here. This situation is not helping most of us, since there are more and more foreign talents that are coming into the country, gradually displacing the locals from certain job sectors and industries. Say all you want, but there are only that many openings for employment, and someone has to receive the boot by the end of the day.

2. Stability and Security – One thing Singapore takes pride of – and which lots of us take for granted – is the stability here. Economic stability, political stability, social stability, you name it, you got it. Very few countries in this world can match the kind of peace we have developed here for the past few decades. So long as Singapore retains this positive aspect, I am very certain many of us wouldn’t mind continuing to live and work here.

3. Competititveness and Job Prospects – For the few of us who are aspiring to climb the corporate ladders in our career, we would certainly want to climb the ladders in places where the sky is the limit. Why climb the stairs at your neighbourhood playground, when there are entire skyscrapers for you to scale further down the road? To tackle this problem, Singapore needs to ensure its economy continues to remain competitive on the international stage, so that talents will be convinced that their careers have a future being developed in Singapore. An example: If I am convinced that I will get no meaningful research done in Singapore, I will simply leave the country to go somewhere else where my research ideas and efforts will be appreciated and welcomed.

The Ideal

4. Sense of Community (Friends and Family) – Friends and family play an important role in the building of our local community. Perhaps that is why so much effort has been placed in sprucing up our neighbourhoods, promoting social programmes that bring people together, etc. Many of us (me included) are willing to stay in Singapore, because most of our friends and family are residing here. I am sure this will continue to be one of the main reasons that anchor most of us here.

5. Vision – Which great organization works without a dream, or a vision? All of us need to be united under one goal, and work towards it. As of now, I don’t see that vision anywhere. Maybe there is, but I’m simply ignorant of it, or not party to it. Oh well.


My Plans (for now)

As of now, I have to serve a bond of 6 years when I return from my overseas education, with the likely endpoint being a PhD. I have no plans to emigrate long-term in the future, but with the world changing so fast before our very eyes, who knows? Only time will tell.


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