How To Survive “Last Expat Standing” Syndrome In Singapore – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin

Feeling emotionally fatigued because your friends keep leaving SG? Here's how to deal from veteran expats.
22 October 2019


Change in an expat’s life is inevitable.

But, some things seem to never get easier. Take, for example, when friends leave Singapore.

The typical times  families come and go are at the start or end of the school or calendar year, so either late summer or December/January. Now that it’s fall, and we’re between these common expat migrations, it may feel like you’re the last expat standing. Again.

Personally, I’ve been here nearly 8 years, and I’ve been through several sets of friends. Only a few have become long-term expats like myself. While I’m never shy to try to make new friends in sports or women’s groups, I have gone through periods where I take breaks, and just enjoy the friends I have here. For some who’ve left, I’ve been able to maintain connections with them, mainly on social media. At least one of them became a closer friend after she left!

While it can be hard not to take it hard, veteran expats have some tips to help us all roll with the revolving door of friends…

Put Yourself Out There

One of the biggest suggestions from most expats is to get involved with a social organization like AWA Singapore (which includes all nationalities, just SYK), ANZA (Australian & New Zealand Association) or the Indian Women’s Association Singapore.

Another useful tip is to get involved in your child’s school community. Or, explore a hobby you enjoy with like-minded people such as cooking or baking with the International Cooking Club Singapore or immersing yourself in history, culture or art as a docent with the Friends of the Museum.

Basically, you never know where you’ll find that next good friend, if you don’t put yourself out there and take risks getting to know people.

Some long-term expats have told me it helps to make more local Singaporean friends, because expats always leave. Sure, it may take a little more effort to overcome cultural barriers, but if you’re going to be here for the long-haul, what do you have to lose?

If you’re into sports like rowing, golf, netball, rugby or even CrossFit, you probably already know that sports and fitness activities can bring people together quickly and create lasting bonds by sharing the successes and failures of friendly competition. So, while you’re here, consider joining a sports club, team or group, and never really be alone.

…Or Don’t

Of course, there are those who recommend not to invest precious emotional time in those who you know are only here for a short period of time. I remember having lunch with one outgoing friend, who told me no one would speak to her or see her once she said she was moving home. Brutal.

And, as a long-term expat friend of mine, who grew up a third-culture kid, points out, “The people who require the most effort may not be the friendships that stand the test of time as an expat.” But, she also adds, “Good friends will not be hard to keep in touch with, even if they leave.”

Keep Hope Alive

Another expat friend, Alex Gow, sent me a poignant message on the topic of expats leaving. It hit home for me, and I hope it gives you hope, too:

“You are never the last expat standing. You may have lost all the friends that were there before you, and who you met when you arrived. But, you also nurtured the friends who came after you and who are still here. It’s not about finding new friends. It’s about realizing some have become your friends without you noticing. Their friendships will be different… but friendships nonetheless.”

An AWA friend agrees in this blending of old and new friends, noting, “Always being open to new friendships means you’re never the last one standing.”

So, keep your eyes, mind, heart and schedules open!


About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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