For expat teens in Singapore, leaving school for university often means leaving home and venturing overseas to live independently for the first time. This is a significant source of concern for many families, and understandably so; suddenly managing one’s own finances, personal safety, schedules, transport and more at the tender age of 18 is not so much a next step but a huge leap.
How then can parents and schools best prepare teens for the big bad world of adulthood, moving overseas, and navigating university life?
A common concern raised amongst parents is their teenagers’ lack of awareness with regards to personal safety and security. With Singapore often rated as one of the world’s safest countries to live in, parents have concerns that growing up in the country can mean teens are ‘sheltered’ from the harshness of the wider world.
While frightening a teenager with stories of attacks and burglaries before they embark on a new chapter of their life is perhaps ill-advised, parents can support their awareness and skills in keeping safe by discussing risks that they are likely to face, such as the dangers of walking alone at night, the risk of theft of expensive electronics items, and the need to keep doors locked in student accommodation.
Another often referenced concern is that expat children in Singapore are not familiar with doing things for themselves. Preferring the Mum-and-Dad-taxi-service to public transport and being able to order just about anything with the click of a button, Singapore teens may not have opportunity to develop the skills needed to navigate their way around an unfamiliar city and solve practical problems themselves.
Your child is leaving home and you as a parent are likely to be feeling a mixture of anxiety, trepidation...as well as a big temptation to continue to run every area of his or her life. Try to hold back! Your child is now a young adult, and needs to be aware that now is the time for them to take responsibility for managing their own life.
To help with this, begin to transfer responsibility to your teen in small steps before they leaves for university. Encourage them to take risks, and let them deal with the emotions and other challenges that life at university will bring.
Singapore can provide the perfect environment for developing independence, and schools are playing a key role in this.
Tanglin Trust, for example, has developed an excellent Lifeskills programme which, in Year 12, covers topics such as breast and testicular cancer self-examination, car care, camp cookery and university and careers-focused activities.
"Once back in the UK, Tanglin has a very robust Alumni programme to support and engage its UK alumni community. Each year, the school identifies the Top 20 university destinations of its graduating cohort and connects leavers with Tanglin alumni at each UK university.
"Each year, to help students transit to living an independent life in university, the school presents the Year 13 Graduating cohort a fun ‘UK Survival Guide’. The guide includes friendly tips on living on their own, easy cooking recipes, how to use the washing machine, how to budget, etc."
Singapore expat life is perhaps one that is unconsciously chosen by families for ease, rather than through necessity and life here can act as a safe training ground for young people in gaining skills in independence rather than preventing this development.
While most university freshers have limited experience in managing their own finances, it could be argued that Singapore expat teens will likely have had less opportunity in this area than most. With little opportunity for weekend employment alongside their studies, most Singapore teens will not have had their own income and may have less of an appreciation of their expenses. Taking care of rent, bills, groceries, and a social life may feel like a major leap.
It is a parental responsibility to teach our children that a budget is fixed and any spending over and above that has to come from their pockets, whether from a part time job or from their savings.
A good tip from one parent is to pre-order their food online,
“As students seem to spend their money on socialising it is a good idea to give them some of their budget in a supermarket shop which you can order online and have delivered every week anywhere in the world.”
For every teenager who is a capable cook, there are ten others that have never so much as boiled an egg! Lets face it, a student will inevitably live on noodles and pizza for much of the time but despite this, it’s important to educate them on the benefits of eating healthy food.
Teach your teen the skills to whip up a healthy, balanced meal at least a couple of times a week. Well before they fly the nest, start on the basics of cooking for one, such as how to prepare staple meals like pasta, jacket potatoes, omelette, chicken curry and even beans on toast!
Many schools offer specific sessions on surviving the first few weeks at university, financial planning and budgeting, personal safety, cooking, home skills, DIY skills and even changing a car tyre! If your school doesn’t offer these lessons, why not suggest it at the next parent teacher meeting?
As a Nord Anglia school, Dover Court International is part of a ‘Global Campus’ virtual learning environment, which enables students to stay connected with other students across the global NordAnglia Education family of schools.
The school says:
"Through competitions, student-led initiatives, and teacher-created resources, students can extend their learning experiences outside of the physical space on campus. Our students are encouraged to participate in this programme to discover new experiences and passions, build new skills and interests, to develop their leadership and collaborative abilities, and in the process develop discipline and responsibility."
The school says that students are equipped with life skills reflective of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile offered in its Sixth Form can equip students with the broad range of skills needed for their potential future pathways.
"We want our students to understand that as they journey to university and through life, it is important to focus on gaining transferable, interdisciplinary skill sets. Education should never be considered as a specific destination but as a journey. In practice, this means that instead of encouraging a student to say that they would like to study at a certain university, we instead encourage them to think about what values and interests underpin their subject choices, or to identify what they are passionate about."
It's an education that Ishita, alumnus from Dover Court's Class of 2021, feels has prepared her well for the world beyond Singapore.
“The emphasis that Dover Court International School has placed on developing student voice and initiatives has developed the skills to equip myself to navigate this volatile, uncertain, ambiguous, and complex world with confidence.”
And finally... it isn't all doom, gloom and fear for expat teens venturing into university life overseas. Parents and educators told us of how living in Singapore also equips young people for this transition, in ways that their counterparts who have grown up in their home countries may not have the benefit of.