A woman who arrived in Singapore 15 years ago as an "expat's wife" has shared her journey in becoming a citizen on YouTube. In her interview with YouTuber Max Chernov, Yana Fry, now a life coach, said that she "didn't really like it" for the first five years of living here—until she decided to become "proactive and curious" and started learning about Singapore's society and culture.
No fixed home before coming to Singapore
Fry lived in Russia, Switzerland, and New York before coming to Singapore with her late husband.
She said she liked the people in New York, where they have "big dreams" and are more "risk-taking", compared to people in Singapore, who are more "risk averse". She explained that she didn't want to move to Singapore but had no choice. However, after years of staying here, she started to appreciate the beauty of Singapore.
Singapore doesn't have "big dreams" but is "safe and efficient"
"The beauty here is you have safety and efficiency, but maybe you don't have as much excitement. In a place like New York, you would have a lot of excitement, maybe, but not so much safety and efficiency."
Fry clarified that she doesn't think one is better than the other—because it depends on where you are in life and what you want to do.
Expat's life not as glamorous as people think
It was difficult for her the first five years, Fry recalled, because she "didn't know a single soul" except her late husband.
She pointed out that people thought an expat's life would be "glamorous", but the wives of the expats usually struggle with integration.
She explained that it's often the men who move here for the jobs, and they were the ones who would have tasks to do every day and colleagues to interact with.
You have to change your mentality to fit in
For the women who come as family members, those with children will have the opportunity to meet other parents at school, but those who do not would have to "start from zero".
She found it tough initially, until she changed her mentality on how to fit in with Singapore.
"Understand that you are in a different place, you are in a different culture, you are in a different country, so you can't just stay with what you know."
Advised foreigners to "actively meet" local people
She said it wouldn't help with integration if foreigners came here and started looking for communities representing their country of birth or a familiar culture.
"Because you stay in the same bubble, you don't actually really get to know what is happening in this particular place," she explained.
She advised people who want to live here to "actively meet" local people, whether at their workplace or their children's school.
She also recommends volunteering. For her, she volunteered to give all kinds of courses and also mentorship for people.
"If you are moving to a new country, you want to make the best of it. I definitely learnt a lot from the local people here, and they have been incredibly kind."
Singapore the "least judgemental place" she been in
She also finds Singapore the "least judgemental place" among all the cities she's visited or lived in.
In other countries, even though the people might not be aggressive towards you, they will always make you feel like an "outsider", Fry feels.
Chernov echoed her sentiments and pointed out that in cities like New York where the effects are doubled, as they not only identify themselves as Americans but also as New Yorkers.
She said she faced similar circumstances in Zurich, Switzerland, where she even learnt German to assimilate into their culture.
However, she found out that what she learnt was considered "high German" and not "Swiss German" in Zurich, which she said is only "slightly different", like a dialect.
"Like if I go into a bakery to buy bread, and if I try to speak in high German, a Swiss person will answer to me in dialect, making a point that I'm a foreigner, an outlander. It feels as though you lose no matter what you do."
She added that the kindness of Singaporeans was what made her stay:
"It was my first experience where I feel that there was no hostility, there is no judgment, there is no 'us versus them' kind of thing."
Tears in her eyes when she became a Singaporean
Fry also shared about the day she officially became a Singaporean.
She said the ceremony was "very, very beautiful", and the minister gave a "very, very moving" speech.
"I've had tears in my eyes listening to him. It was so moving how he said it."
She explained that the minister was talking about how there are many ways for someone to become a citizen of a country, and in most cultures, it is based on your language, birthplace, and looks—but Singapore's different.
"It doesn't matter where you are born, what language you speak, what religion you have, what you believe in. What unites people is that you believe in the values that Singapore represents."
Fry said that someone like her, who has moved around so much, feels accepted even though she is different, and she genuinely wants to contribute to Singapore.
"Not many cultures offer that, so Singapore is unique."