The Effects of Our Internationality

“Where is home to you?” 

Upon my arrival at Singapore American School this year, the question posed was one I found most interesting – coming from a public school in California, I had never thought that such a question would be the ice-breaker in our first advisory, let alone one that an entire class would have a completely different answer to. Each person had a different story; it made me feel a little better knowing that we were all, to some extent, on the same boat.

As for myself, after jumping around countries, I settled in Singapore for five years and San Francisco for six before moving back. I found myself calling San Francisco my “home,” however, when I lived there, I had always answered “Singapore.” 

Alamy Stock Photo / Roland Nagy & Getty Images / Karsten May

“Where is home to you?” came to be a defining and personal question, the first of many asked of incoming students in international schools across the world – though, for some, an answer may not be as easy to come by. 

International students make up 5.5 million of the student population, and for most, their fate is not by choice: businessmen move to cater to their companies, military soldiers to their bases, and adventurers to new experiences; evidently, bringing their families along with them. 

Cole Labenz, a new 10th grader at SAS, for example, is one of the sons of on-the-go families. 

“I’ve lived in eight places, and I move around every two years. My dad is actually in the military, and he has a pretty demanding job, so wherever he needs to deploy to is the place I’m going to go to next.” 

For Labenz, his definition of “home” is not exactly the same as it is for most. 

“I don’t particularly have a place I call home, every place I’ve lived in I kind of find home in. It’s just kind of what I’ve grown up with, so I don’t really know anything else.” 

Chart by Singapore American School

At SAS, overseas students make up its majority: of 4,022 students, 92% come from out of the country. Labenz is only one of them.

Along with countless others at SAS, he was on the same boat (or, rather, a massive yacht) as his peers: where “home” was to him didn’t have a straightforward answer. 

Or for others, like myself, my “home” simply depended on which one I chose to respond with that day. 

Though my moving troubles are tremendously minuscule compared to his, I can tell you one universal consensus: it is mentally draining. 

THE EFFECTS OF AN ON-THE-GO LIFESTYLE: A PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE 

Not only do [new international students] face academic stress, they also have the additional social stress of having to start over and meet new people when they go to a different place. I feel like having that lack of consistent community and support system can be taxing for them.

Dominique schleider, peer support

Research has shown that identity gaps in international students are more than ordinary. They are proven to experience culture shock, homesickness, lack of support, and troubles with adjustment – all of which are catalysts for anxiety and depressive symptoms that 47% of all international students suffer from.

Information from the American Psychological Association

Additionally, international students are prone to academic distress: according to the American Psychological Association, students consistently on-the-move are more likely to perform poorly in school and have more behavioral problems than the latter.

To Rachel Proffitt, an Advanced Topic Psychology teacher at SAS, these mental and academic adversities are far from surprising. 

“There are some things that we know about people who, either through military or through ‘third-culture’ kids, like a lot of the kids [at SAS], may suffer in developing personality traits for adaptability, intimacy, and social connections. When you ask people who move a lot of questions about feeling like having a home, it presupposes that it is the most important thing. It’s not.”

In psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of identity vs. role confusion, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs, and goals – and as Proffitt describes, this exploration often compromised in students constantly on the move. 

In essence, teenagers with an on-the-go lifestyle may be the ones most affected: it forces extraversion, culture, and the acceptance of exclusion on their personalities. However, the positives can sometimes outweigh the negatives.

I know there can be unique struggles, but there can also be some unique strengths.

RACHEL Proffitt, AT PSychology

Though the question of “home” may remain unanswered for many students, the standout struggle has allowed us a superhuman sense of adaptability. Compared to the latter, international students have more experience in cultural differences and are involved in more adventure. We are naturally skilled in cultural relations and communication, and if we ever piss off a mafia, we can pack up and go without a problem. 

Though permanent stability is longed after, our internationality is our identity. It is the story we tell on a first date, the experience that distinguishes us from the rest in a job interview, and the thing that makes each of us interesting. 

As for now, our stories remain in the making, and adaptability is still an ongoing struggle for many new and incoming students at SAS. Dominique Schleider, a member of Peer Support and student at SAS, offers ways to help include and reduce the psychological detriments for these students.

“Especially in current times, students who have recently moved to Singapore may have a harder time getting settled in our community. We should be a friendly face in the halls, check in with these students, make time for them outside of school – anything to make them feel more welcomed.” 

In other words: help a brother out. Everybody at SAS has been in this situation at least once. Though it may feel awkward at first, it doesn’t compare with how they feel – at a new school in a new country, they feel like the outsiders.

Have a conversation, walk them to class, or even a simple nod in the halls does wonders. Take it from a “new kid” herself, nothing goes unappreciated.

Because, maybe, we can aim to make SAS their “home.” 

Author: Isabella Wesson

Isabella is a junior, and this is her first year at SAS and The Eye. She has lived in many places, but is primarily from San Francisco, California. She loves the beach, traveling, and listening to Gunna. She is interested in pursuing a career in communications and media in the future. She can be contacted at wesson786293@sas.edu.sg.

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