How to parent a child who is studying overseas

I’m making this guide as a child who is studying overseas :P probably because a lot of my fellow international student children are not as thick skinned as me to ask for stuff. Also, this is for all the parents who wished they had children who communicated in precise terms how they could best help them or parent them. I’m here to communicate what your children crave/want while they are overseas. This is no rocket science but sometimes Singaporean parents can be really obtuse/socially inept and need things spelled out for them in black and white (Newsflash: If you’ve never thought about whether you are socially inept, you are probably socially inept).

1. Send stuff from home for their birthdays. Not useless stuff like clothes or bags or whatever, which they can get cheaper anywhere else (but Singapore), real things, like pineapple tarts, Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa, spice packs, things from Singapore that they would REALLY LIKE but cannot have. Order flowers from a local florist or chocolates or AMAZON GIFT CARDS or something. Most any other country has a far more advanced online shopping system than Singapore and you can exploit that to get your children things they really need or want.

2. Send stuff for Chinese New Year – ang pows, chinese new year snacks, anything really, because there is no festive spirit in countries that are not Singapore and Hong Kong and that’s when they’ll be feeling the most homesick. Do NOT on any account skype them with all your chinese new year goodies in the background stuffing your face gleefully with food that they cannot find overseas. Even an ang moh foodie has famously said “Culinarily, they [Singaporeans] are among the most homesick people I have ever met.” Don’t make it any worse than it has to be.

3. If they send you messages or pictures or updates on whatsapp, BE RELEVANT when responding. Don’t just ignore the 50 pictures they spammed with a totally inane, off-topic response like “went out for a movie today”. You ought to show some base level of interest in their lives overseas, whether it is marvelling at their shitty home cooking or admiring the scenery only found in temperate countries while simultaneously being turned off by your child’s douchebaggy sharing of Too Many Travel Photos. They’re allowed to be socially inept. They’re children! You’re not.

4. Know when their exams are and encourage them! Say you’ll take them out for a meal to celebrate when they are back or something. Many singaporean children study really hard to gain their parents approval (usually not easily gotten if gotten at all) and it can be tough when you’re not around to care about how their academics are going.

5. Arm them with recipes of your home cooked food (if you are a good cook). Be tech savvy. Start a google drive account to share recipes, family photos, etc.

6. Update them on things back home, particularly family/church gossip or news specific to your country. I really don’t understand why this one is so difficult. Is it just my parents/Z’s parents who are this uncommunicative? I just found out this week that my cousin had another baby girl who is now THREE MONTHS OLD. And I found out by seeing a photo on facebook.

7. IF THEY WRITE LETTERS TO UPDATE YOU, REPLY THEM!!!! I cannot believe this has to be said. When I write letters to XXX she reads them and says, “very interesting!” and then files it away (or tosses it, I don’t know) and proceeds to ignore any of the questions I’ve asked her in the letter to SHOW SOME MODICUM OF INTEREST IN HER LIFE. If you haven’t learnt to be entertaining in how you describe your day to day experiences, read a self-help book, or just read writings by entertaining people! It might rub off on you. Or help you to cultivate your sense of humor or interestingness. I think you generally have to be a -not boring- person yourself to be able to see the interesting things happening in your life or perceive “boring things” as “interesting things”. But instead of just writing yourself off as someone who “doesn’t say much” (which I’m sorry, is a big fat excuse), you should at least TRY to share openly about your life, like you would do around the dinner table, which obviously we can’t do now because we’re not in the same freaking country.

I don’t know, it seems like our parents are perfectly happy to abide by “out of sight, out of mind”; they’ll only talk to us if we are in listening distance. I find it plain weird. Even my foster mom from Ithaca gave me a call on my birthday to wish me happy birthday and sent me a nice email full of interesting gobbets about her week.

Bottom-line: Your twenty year old child IS STILL YOUR CHILD. You don’t get a break just because they’re 9000 miles away!


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