Remaining rooted to Singapore: “Where are you really from?”

Sharmista with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee

Sharmishta is only 26 years old, but in this short amount of time, she has lived in nine countries, across 3 continents. She shares her rootedness to Singapore even though she has spent a majority of her life away from this island, her insights as a third culture kid moving around the world, and how being a global nomad steered her passion for international affairs and global governance.

29 June 2020 / By Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” – Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

In more ways than one, the cities I’ve occupied in my life have nourished me with an insatiable appreciation and thirst for adventure, discovery and belonging. Most importantly, they’ve taught me that I can choose to be “a citizen of worlds”, as Taiye Selasi once said.

Growing up, the recurring question in my life has been, ‘where are you really from?’ As the years pass, I have discerned that my sense of place, or habitat, begins and ends with Singapore. While I may be a partial product of the nine countries I have lived in and the more than fifty I have travelled to, for me, it matters not where I’m ‘from’ in the traditional sense but where I feel represents my place. And so, while third-culture kids are often deemed to be ‘rootless,’ I have realised that the cosmopolitan bubbles I was raised in across the Middle East, Europe, South and South East Asia are in many ways a reminder of all the reasons why, wherever I do live, I will be able to trace my own self-defined roots back to Singapore.

ImageCelebrating the power of unity at the East Side Gallery (Berlin, Germany)

Being immersed in such hyper-diverse surroundings as the desert-lined suburbs of Oman to the metropolitan chaos of Mumbai, I have viewed my passion for international affairs and public leadership as an inevitable facet of my identity more so than a labelled career choice. And so, through living in diplomatic hubs like Washington DC and Geneva, I have learned that my Singaporean ‘coat’ is a necessary complement to my ‘global citizen’ hat.

ImageMuseums offer a ready habitat no matter where I go (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Through my urban nomadism, a large reason for why I’ve been able to maintain my links with Singapore has been through celebrating the shared culture of our island. While we may be the ‘little red dot,’ our values as a diverse people keep us close and larger than life.

My professional work in the space of international affairs and leadership policy has provided me a fruitful means through which to keep up and think about Singapore as well as its evolving role in the wider global landscape. Engaging with emerging and established leaders across public and private sectors has provided me a way of meaningfully exchanging on Singapore’s successes and contemplating how its policies can be adapted elsewhere and ameliorated.

ImageIn conversation with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2016 visit (New York, USA)

ImageSharing ideas on how to finance the 2030 Agenda during an innovation sprint with several representatives from multilateral institution (Geneva, Switzerland)

In November 2019, my present role afforded me the pleasure to lead a special programme on leadership and smart cities, using Singapore as a case study. Hosted by NTU, the programme offered me an opportunity to affirm my identity as a Singaporean and a global citizen, proving yet again how these two are not mutually exclusive. Exploring how Singapore has achieved transformative strides across its planning for housing, mobility, and healthcare was a proud way for me to celebrate our breadth of achievements and learnings as a nation. Recently, I was selected as a fellow for the Harpswell ASEAN Programme in Women’s Leadership. which invites aspiring female leaders from each of the ASEAN member states. Representing Singapore in this programme is an obligation I take seriously, offering an opportunity to share our successes while learning about how we can continue to collaborate with our ASEAN peers to inspire positive change.

I am reminded ever more that Singapore’s intangible strength comes from its brilliant minds and how these minds have remained open and strived to innovate the country’s capabilities. Be it connecting with fellow Singaporeans residing in the same cities or attending events hosted by the Singapore Embassy, I have kept my own Majulah philosophy well and alive. Over the years, despite being abroad, I have created priceless memories associated with Singapore from collaborating with fellow Singaporean students to host a memorial service for late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, attending an environmental short film festival about the island, and receiving a standing invitation for Chinese New Year celebrations at the Embassy. These moments are incredibly special to me, offering a slice of home and most importantly, providing me with an avenue to share Singaporean culture with fellow citizens and friends of Singapore.

ImageCelebrating National Day (and the Singapore Bicentennial) at one of my favourite shophouse rooftops (Singapore)

The cities I have lived in have not only provided me an education in Singaporean identity but more importantly, how we can each continue to celebrate it despite our differing experiences. As a Singaporean, I rejoice in how these moments have instilled in me a greater self-awareness, of gratitude for our island and of the duty we all carry as ambassadors of it.


About Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan

A proud Singaporean, Sharmishta Sivaramakrishnan was raised across the Middle East, Europe, South and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland where she works for the World Economic Forum. Sharmishta is the Youth Ambassador for World Summit Award, a member of INSPIRIT, the Singapore National Youth Council’s community of emerging Singaporean leaders, and a fellow of the Harpswell ASEAN programme in Women’s Leadership. Passionate about global governance, she is committed to strengthening public leadership through cross-sectoral cooperation and activating youth engagement. Sharmishta is also an amateur photographer and freelance writer.

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