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Far from forgetting all about it, Thelma De Souza has never felt closer to the Singapore flag – literally. She keeps one on the wall of her room as a constant reminder of home. Being away from home has made her more patriotic.

“In a way, I become ‘extra’ Singaporean after I left home,” she said. “When I was studying in Australia, I suddenly developed patriotism, where once there was hardly any. Being in the minority has made me speak up and feel more Singaporean. I appreciate Singapore food more and try to emulate my Mum’s cooking. I have a Singapore flag in my room and have taught my husband our national anthem.”

Leaving home to marry American Leo Prescott, 24, was not easy. From the moment she gave up a marketing communications job, lodged a spouse visa application to the time she bought winter clothes prior to her departure, she dreaded the thought of saying goodbye to her family at the airport.

“I could never forget how I felt before I left, if I tried like mad. I was crying at the sight of my mum and how we were going to have to say goodbye soon. I was totally depressed that I could not see the day-by-day growing up of my nephews who I love so much,” she said.

“Besides the anxiety of coming out to a new place, I was thinking of everything I was losing. Family was number one, then came friends, country, familiarity, just everything about Singapore.”

Thelma, 27, met her husband while he was on a working trip to Singapore. The dates turned into a long distance courtship via email and by phone after he left. He returned a year later to ask her to marry him. “I don’t know exactly when it happened, but we fell in love.”

Having now lived in America for two years, Thelma anxiously awaits her first trip home. “I look forward to catching up with family and friends this Christmas, doing things Singaporean, like hanging out at a sarabat stall with friends.”



“When I was studying in Australia, I suddenly developed patriotism, where once there was hardly any. Being in the minority has made me speak up and feel more Singaporean ..... I have a Singapore flag in my room and have taught my husband our national anthem.”


Not that Thelma is not enjoying herself in Sacramento, the capital of California. She works at the Sacramento County Office of the District Attorney as a support staff while her husband is completing his training at the San Jose Police Academy this November.

“America is huge. I get a somewhat freeing feeling when I make road trips. We could be at the ocean front in the morning and the mountains at night. I like my friendly and polite neighbours, taking my dog for walks in the park and watching kids in the front lawn with the sprinklers on, on a hot summer’s day, pretending to be at the beach. The differences here makes it equally special.”

She does regret the loss of the little things about life in Singapore. She said, “I miss the little nuances that are so ‘Singaporean’, like apeks (old Chinese men) with white undershirts, people speaking different languages or burnt hell money in the middle of a sidewalk.”



But she hopes to keep as much of her Singapore heritage as she can, especially when it comes to their yet-to-be-born children. She said, ‘We talked and feel we must instill a bond and affinity to Singapore from a very young age ... I want to give my kids the option of returning to Singapore more often as adults if they want to.”


But she hopes to keep as much of her Singapore heritage as she can, especially when it comes to their yet-to-be-born children. She said, ‘We talked and feel we must instill a bond and affinity to Singapore from a very young age. This worked with my cousins who were born in London and they love Singapore. I want to give my kids the option of returning to Singapore more often as adults if they want to.”

Once they are old enough, Thelma plans for their children to spend at least half a summer with her family in Singapore. This way they can understand their roots and be closer to their grandparents. “We’ll be happy if they decide to work in Singapore, that’s for sure. And Leo agrees with me.”

To make sure that they would not be uncomfortable with the Singaporean accent, Thelma says that she will keep her accent even if her kids think it “uncool” that she sounds different from the parents of their friends.

And it sounds like it will be more than the accent that she is keeping. They would most likely be brought up like Singapore kids. She said, “ I don’t like the way kids grow up here.”

With her husband agreeing and even cooperating with the occasional ‘lah’, she might well succeed in raising Singaporeans away from Singapore.


     

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