How to Live in Another Country for 2 Months Each Year and Why You should do it
These are a series of Questions people have asked me ever since I started living in Santa Monica, California and Singapore for extended periods of time. My recent addition to a longer term stay is Tallinn in Estonia. I am writing this not as a guide to but rather my way of retrospection and introspection— and I hope to elicit others who have done this better/different or want to do this to comment and add their advice and knowledge here.
- Why live somewhere else in the world?
I love being born in Singapore and having one of the best academic educational pathways in the world. I enjoy it’s safety, ease of business, public transport, quality of air, food, weather (if not too hot — like it is now) and being with family and friends who have raised me up (literally and metaphorically). I also am very committed to building my country and have been involved in non-profit and government sectors and proud to be able to make a difference.
However recently I was single and bored. I needed a new country to learn from. I am a continually learner and in Singapore I have become too used to things and no longer as surprised by social customs and way things are done in Asia or in a small stable traditional country. Yes it is modern. But Singaporeans and the culture of Singapore is not known to be the most creative, innovative or risk taking. It has a smaller media scene. It has less diversity in industries.
And yes — fewer men for me to date. Simply because many men in my age range are either happily married still or at least married or if they are divorced they seem to go for younger women. So in a simple numbers game, I was not meeting enough appropriate men. My family and friends always thought I would do better with a Western man since I was more Westernized and liberal.
2. When did you take your virgin two month Sabbatical?
I started with shorter two month trips after my coaching mentor suggested it would be good to slow down and let intuition and wisdom to appear. I understood because I tend to be a high achiever and workaholic and could be often found at work despite it being night. It didn’t help that the last few years my mother was unwell and I felt I had to see to her needs and pay bills and be responsible, so I was less able to detract myself from working which seemed like the most responsible thing to do.
After her first recovery from cancer, I had already been in US like 4 times in 6 months learning from my coaching mentor. So it was not such a stretch to go on for a 2 month journey. I went to Mexico and stayed with my summer room-mate from Harvard and I went to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. I really enjoyed that 2 months away. I used the time to write and produce my first corporate book, “Turning Gen Y On: What Every Leader Needs to know about Recruiting and Retaining the Millennials”. And inspired by my mentor, I launched my first apprenticeship program with 3 new coaches who were from corporates and intending to retire with coaching as one of their incomes. Income from that coaching apprenticeship group paid me while I was away.
The Camino de Santiago was one of my most spiritual times outside of my 10 day Vipassana retreat. And I felt very drawn to quiet and nature. Two things Singapore definitely was not known for. The simplicity of life. Merely walking and merely meditating was a sharp contrast to my go-go-go lifestyle of being in the city and also of being overly committed to family, community and work.
So my first commitment was to have 2 months off each year somehow. Best if they could be one after the other. If not 1 month each time. I have NEVER regretted that decision and have attributed my sanity to that choice. I thrived and saw things in perspective, so when days were tough which they soon would be when mom became ill again, I could always return to my body and feel into that ease and rest and joy that I had learnt from my times away.
3. When did this 2 country- 2 continent lifestyle become normalized?
When my mother died in January 2016, I could not bring myself to stay in Singapore. Everything reminded me of her. Everything. So when I was invited for a 4 day leadership event in San Francisco, I left for it. Hoping that the anonymity and the newness would allow my heart to find a space to recover.
After that 4 days, I simply stayed a little longer and started considering USA as the country I would spend more time in outside of Singapore. I had to decide which state and also how to support this new living. So I found myself with some criteria : 1) Near family or people whom I could treat and be treated like family 2) be part of something I could contribute to and grow and 3) affordable and 4) must be a place I would like to live in — temperature, food, nature.
When mom passed, my nights became empty as I used to go back and keep her company. I was already doing remote work like coaching and selling personal development products online because that was how I could afford the flexibility to bring her to the doctors in the day. I had re-worked all my work to make it possible to be there for her in her stages of death as she was for my dad. My dad died when I was 28 and I grew up only when I lost him. Yes I was an adult at 28 but I always lived in his house and my parents cared for me. However now I was my mother’s caregiver. I have a wonderful brother without whom I would never have managed. However he had to raise his family and 3 children. We also have a live-in helper so I was really supported. Just that I was the one who mostly would bring her to the doctors in the day. So I learnt to compromise my work and life to be part of her health care plan. For10 years I was without a job. I was my own boss, a trainer, a community college psychology tutor, a coach and an affiliate marketer. I would train corporate clients and earn like $3000 USD a day and then save and stay home with my mom so that money would stretch.
Now without mom, I could leave any time. I also decided to bunch my training with my corporate clients to certain periods of the year. Yes I did lose some clients and money, however I knew I didn’t have the learning or the joy of staying in Singapore in an empty house.
4. How did you pay for it?
First things first, I got tenants!
I managed to pay for my rent in Santa Monica with renting one room in my Singapore apartment. I was so often away that the tenants felt they had the entire apartment and so I charged more. That meant I was not losing money. My rent was covered. My main costs of living overseas was the airfare. Eating — I would have to eat anywhere in the world and so I did learn to cook and eat at home more in the US. I also had more time to take public transport and I thank God for the invention of shared transport which meant I didn’t need a car even though I was living in L.A. especially since my work didn’t need me to travel as much.
5. How did you find things to do over there? And did you get paid?
So for working in the US, I was never intending to be an employee, I was actually considering starting a new business with an American and I was not going back to the training industry was I didn’t see my value-add when there were so many trainers and more culturally specific. So I went over to see where I could add value to the local community and city.
What I found and realized was how fast growing the L.A Tech scene was and how exciting it was to be part of helping that grow. I had turned down San Francisco as a place to stay as I found it too expensive for my budget and a bit too cold at times. I also knew it was more a ‘boys club’ in some parts of Silicon Valley and I was not keen to play that game. I was excited by Silicon Beach and the potential that diversity in terms of culture and industries in startups would be. I knew it was a worth while thing to do when I after a while became a regular supportive team to startup conferences and networking events. It was a fun way to make new friends and learning about the startup culture in L.A.
No. I did not get paid. I did get connections, invite to events, branding as a ‘power broker’, and friends and a community I really enjoyed. Years of working in corporations and governments, learning and being part of a startup ecosystem was actually a whole new me. A whole new way of thinking and seeing connections and learning about fundraising and valuing startups. In many ways, this new mental model renewed my mind and took me away from my older and maybe even outdated ways of being in the business world.
6. Didn’t you freak out when you had no incoming money.
However I also knew in business when you enter a new market you need to invest capital — money and time — before you can know what to build or do. Rushing to simply get money would mean I was not really understanding the market.
7. So how did you pay for your expenses?
I upped my game with the online world. I started getting more coaching clients and I took to becoming better at Linkedin and Facebook marketing and selling my coaching programmes and those of other experts I supported online.
Basically I made my money NOT from USA but from other parts of the world and selling things online. I lived simply so my online sales could cover my food.
8. So you didn’t save during this time?
I didn’t save any money because I was making enough to meet my needs and not enough to save. However I had my 6 months emergency fund. I had my 3 properties which I invested in before and so that was my retirement plan and I never touched that. I also had some stocks and shares set aside.
9. Why would you affect your income to do this?
Because I was feeding my emotional needs which I had deprived myself of when I was a caregiver and workaholic. I was paying to be free to try something new after 10 years of building a business and being a caregiver to two aging parents.
10. Why are you so sure you can make money even though you have no job?
I guess it was the day I decided I needed extra cash to buy something. So I went to my Facebook page and told my friends and audience that I was creating a new group for coaching and asked them to sign up. And I had my first sign up and at a price point that paid for what I wanted to get.
So I know. I can sell. I have something to sell.
Hence if you can sell and you have a market. You can make money. How much depends on how much you want and how much effort you want to put in.
Since I was not scaling my business. Since I was trying something new. I was comfortable with less money for then.
11. Hidden benefits of living in another continent?
More men to date! LA dating scene is a whole new world not just to the Singaporean. I heard it from out of state Americans too. But that was not hidden. That was expected.
I was more vibrant and energetic because SUNSETS on the PACIFIC are healing! Try it please. Or any place where nature is.
I ate better because I ate home more and I ate fresher than Singapore could offer.
My mind was kept alive by novelty and startup scene and now I am seen as brand ambassador for some summits and Women Leaders in Technology. Things I would never have thought of in my living room in Asia. My connections also helped the Singaporean startup scene too.
I met new friends across ages and gender and cultures and they became sisters and brothers. I have been sooooo supported by people I only knew for 1–2 years or less. I guess being alone in a country or city hit home for some people and instead of me being the caregiver role I am used to; I was now to the poor lonely tourist/immigrant/newbie people could care for.
Recently I gave up my Santa Monica apartment to try living in Estonia. So the last trip, my lovely single mom friend, her daughter and their cat which acted like a dog put me up in their lovely home in Santa Barbara. When I left to see my other friends, each one picked me up from the Amtrak station, fed me, gave me a place to sleep and loved me to bits. Irvine, Culver City, Carlsbad … I had a community. I belonged. I found life-long friends.
I used my intuition more. I had no choice. Deprived of any prior knowledge that I relied on when in my home country; I used my gut more. I used it to try a new place to stay even before a new housemate came in because I felt something was not right. I used it to decide whom to work with and whom not to. One thing about LA is that you can’t really tell who really has the financial means and who doesn’t. So when looking for partners I really had to be careful not to fall in with the people who needed me more than I needed them.
12. Why Estonia? After all didn’t you love Santa Monica?
I loved and still love Santa Monica. I feel my quality of life was great. However it was not the most affordable place to be in. I did get a good deal on my housing and I did want to be in Santa Monica. Returning to US, I may choose another city. Follow my journeys here as I write about that transition and reasons for how to choose the city and country that matches your next life stage.
Estonia is simply a new criteria altogether. I can be an e-resident and start a European business. This excites me as I feel I want to be in Europe more and previously I chose USA because I attended Harvard and could use that to enter quickly to business connections.
However Europe as a place to visit is like Asia is to most of you — somewhere where in 3 hours or less you can be in another country for the weekend. And I love historical sites.
13. How was Estonia? — Watch this space for a new post
14. How did you make money while in Estonia?
This time around I had 2 projects to do while I was in Estonia. I was coaching a Fortune 500 company based in India. I was coaching their high potential leaders. So I, the Singaporean, was making money from India from a French MNC to live in Estonia! Now… that’s my definitely my version of GLOBAL citizen.
I was also writing my next digital product (here’s my last one — https://theamazingyou.com/go/) and could do that anywhere.
15. What now?
I may become a 3 country- 3 continent kinda gal. I am liking that concept alot. I love the communities I belong to. I get to experience colder and hotter climates; ocean and forest and city; did I mention Estonia men are…
I also feel India is my country of choice to build a community too. I would like to build co-living spaces and have single mothers be property managers and live from that. Any one like to join me in this?
and will be trying Africa soon.
I would like to clarify — I am NOT a digital nomad. I do not travel the world to travel the world. I am finding homes in all the places I land. I am looking to be an active participant in the economy and society. I want to fall in love, and build peak performing leaders and communities and be happy for extended periods. I want to live there not visit with a backpack for a month.
And the best thing from this experiment?
I found a home in all of them.
And I found the love of a family — in the face of friends I didn’t know just 2 and a half years ago.
Write me :9