“After living under a very westernised household and being in an international school at a very young age, I had to enlist for National Service. I was 18 when I entered, and it was a pretty tricky situation. All my friends were gone and I didn’t cultivate many friendships with fellow Singaporeans prior to my entry.
Having an American accent didn’t work in my favour either. Not only did people hold back when they talked to me, I also kept getting asked whether I studied abroad. The worst part was that I didn’t, and it’s so awkward to explain – western stepdad, extremely open-minded mother and many expat friends.
I had one gift which saw me through, and that was picking up languages by ear. I studied Malay for a short while before leaving the local system, and I picked up basic Mandarin by listening to conversations. Speaking bits and pieces of those two languages made people feel more comfortable around me.
It was the toughest during BMT. It was hard to make friends when the wavelengths were so different. There was one Canadian guy in my unit who helped saw me through. By the time I entered the canine unit, I had already learnt how to adapt better, while picking up lots of local lingo.
Now that I’m working, people tell me to shut up when I speak Singlish because it sounds terrible, so I just speak Chinese or Malay. It’s usually an icebreaker once people start talking to me. It serves the purpose of assuring them that I am as Singaporean as anyone else, even with a different accent.
Do I feel properly integrated? I’ve always felt Singaporean, and being Indian, Malay and Chinese is something that I’ve bragged about for as long as I can remember. No matter how internationalised I am, I’ll never pose as something I’m not. I’m just a local who sounds a bit different, that’s all.” – Ezra, 24
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