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What life in Singapore as a trailing spouse is really like

Foreign correspondent Marina Wang moved to Singapore with her husband and two kids in 2021 as a trailing spouse. She shares what it’s really like to live and raise her kids here, and how she found community in the city-state.

By SGN | 2 Sep 2022

Travelling the world as a foreign correspondent

At 10, Marina Wang knew she wanted to be a foreign correspondent.

As a Brazilian-born American, Marina found opportunity and joy in navigating two cultures. She loved sharing her Brazilian heritage with friends in school, and grew to love telling stories about different ways of life. When she learned that she could do just that as a profession, she knew that was her calling.

“When l learned I could be travelling around the world, experiencing different cultures and telling stories for a living as a foreign correspondent, I fell in love with it at just 10 years old,” she laughed.

Marina conducting interviews as a foreign correspondent in Mozambique.

Fresh out of school at 23, Marina’s first assignment as a foreign correspondent with Reuters saw her move to Mozambique for over a year. After her stint in Mozambique, Marina moved back to New York, then Washington DC, where a close friendship with her neighbours unexpectedly led her on a path to Singapore.

“When I was living in DC, I had two Singaporean neighbours. And their love for Singapore was so infectious. Every week, we went to their house for dinner and they would tell me stories about this country that sounded unreal.”

Deciding on the move

After hearing so much about Singapore – and making the visit herself in 2018, Marina and her family finally made the move in 2021. By then, they were a family of four.

Marina and her family at the Singapore Zoo.

“In 2020, the pandemic was well underway. We were living in Brazil and situation was getting unstable; I started to think about moving to Singapore, where I could bring them up in a multi-cultural country that was not only safe, but also where we could raise our children with values that matched our own.”

When the opportunity came for Marina’s husband, Ruddy, to relocate to Singapore to join Singapore-founded fintech start-up Spenmo as Chief Operating Officer, they finally took the plunge. Since joining, Ruddy has helped grow the company from 20 to over 200 employees.

While they might be living in a country that was smaller than any other she had lived in, Marina and her family enjoyed ‘traveling’ across cultures within the island state.

“It’s a country that’s so culturally rich that even when we couldn’t leave the island, it feels that you could travel across cultures by visiting different parts of the island. You could experience a completely different culture just by visiting a different enclave.”  

Finding her second family in a foreign country

Marina may only have moved to Singapore with her family in 2021, but she has already built strong friendships with Singaporeans and fellow expats alike. From playwrights to diplomats, to other expat mums, she’s built a strong network of friends that support her as a second family.

Marina at a tea tasting with Singaporean friends.

“The biggest thing that people said is: Singapore is great, but the people are boring. I heard it so much; and nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot emphasize enough how fun and creative and hilarious our friends here are.”

These friendships do not happen by chance, she emphasizes. Having lived in Mozambique, Paris, Brazil and the States, Marina has found that finding a community takes deliberate effort.

“If you decide to move, understand that every aspect of your life is something you need to curate. You’re not going to have a built-in community and career, so it takes a little bit of work to find your tribe. It’s a very intentional process of making a new country feel like home.”

For the first year, Marina and her family spent almost every weekend meeting different people they had serendipitously come to know. She got into as many things as she could – at her children’s school, she volunteered to do teacher’s     day, and      she brought her kids over to museum and indoor playgrounds.

In her free time, she also joined expat groups, arts groups and book clubs. Volunteering was another way for her to build new friendships and give back to the community meaningfully.

By the end of the year, they went from living in a country where they knew no one, to having friends that they could call in the middle of the night and share intimate moments of their lives.

Adapting to life as a trailing spouse

Moving here on a dependant’s pass, Marina  was not eligible for employment without obtaining a work pass of her own. This change in lifestyle was a far cry from her hectic life as a foreign correspondent – a disorienting aspect of moving that many ‘trailing spouses’ struggle with, which often leads to an identity crisis.

“It’s very hard to give up your career for your spouse. And it can feel like you lost your sense of purpose. If you don’t work at finding ways to contribute when you can’t work, it can be very difficult.”

Marina teaching a writing class to migrant workers at HOME

For Marina, she put her writing skills to work through volunteering, by teaching a writing course to migrant workers at Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), a non-profit humanitarian organisation dedicated to empowering and upholding the rights of migrant workers in Singapore. 

“I signed up to volunteer as much as I could, making sure that I made use of my skills – my talents – in a way that benefits society. I volunteered for HOME and proposed teaching a writing course. Many of them want to work in tourism and marketing after they return, and writing and communication skills will be a huge benefit to them.”

“I learned so much from this experience and was continuously inspired by the women I met. Many of them were talented poets and storytellers who had surmounted so many obstacles trying to give their family back home a better life.”

Raising children in Singapore

Moving to a new country with two children under the age of 5, quality of education and how well they might adapt were key considerations for Marina and her husband.

As Marina’s children are bi-racial, she also wanted to raise them in an environment where they could celebrate their multi-cultural heritage while getting to know other cultures.

Marina and her husband Ruddy, right after they moved to Singapore

“I wanted them to grow up being proud of their heritage and race. Here, they’re learning more about Chinese culture and history and they’re proud of it. They’re also young enough that this is home to them and they love it!” she shares.

The quality of education in Singapore also surprised them. Marina shares that her children are learning math here that they would usually learn only two to three years later. She added that if they could enroll      in local schools here, that would be their preference.

To help her sons stay connected to their Brazilian heritage, Marina joined a Brazilian Moms group. Every month, they came together to celebrate Brazilian culture and enjoy Brazilian cuisine. She shares that members are also very responsive and open with sharing resources – it was through this group that she found a speech therapist for her son who speaks Portuguese.

“We make it a priority to travel twice a year. My parents also come over to visit. If you have a complicated life and have young kids, it’s a great place to get to know Asia while giving them safety and adventure, without sacrificing stability for the children. Public transportation is amazing and everything’s so close. It’s just easy living.”

Embracing newfound freedom

When she first shared her decision to move here, she was met with concerned friends worried about a lack of freedom. Singapore’s efficiency and safety came at a cost of stricter laws and enforcement.

Marina acknowledges these points, but having now lived here herself, enjoys the sense of safety and stability she experiences in the city-state.

“They say you’re moving to a country with lots of rules. I know there are nuances to this, and it’s different for everyone. For me, I feel a safety here that I haven’t felt anywhere else.”

“I remember seeing a show with my son at the Esplanade and we were walking home at 10pm through the park, which I wouldn’t do in the US or Brazil. And I remember feeling that this is real freedom.”

“If I fall sick, I know I can get help. I know there isn’t going to be an active shooter in the school, and I don’t need to worry if my kids will fall victim to hate crime. It’s not perfect of course, and there are still many issues to address, but it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

Marina’s daughter at Singapore’s National Day Parade rehearsal

Meet Marina

Marina lives in Singapore with her husband and two children, ages 2 and 4. Before moving to Singapore she worked as a journalist in Brazil, the United States, Mozambique and France. On the weekends, you can find her browsing the stacks of her favorite bookstore or learning about Singaporean history in the country’s museums.

Connect with her here.

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