Leaving Sakaerat today…and some thoughts on meeting Americans abroad

Chewy in Sakaerat

I’m leaving Sakaerat today! I’m a bit sad to go, definitely because the people here have been great and the nature and wildlife have been amazing. I wish I could come back, and I’m glad that I came. The colleague I came to visit has some really impressive research going on here, and I’m glad that I got to go out and search for her study species (Chiromantis hansenae) with her field team.

We went wading into the pond in search of those little guys as well as of katydids. This was quite intimidating to me at first, because it required getting wet up to your chest, and risking potentially falling or floating into the middle of the pond. This was done at night (see my photo), so it made it a little trickier because you could see quite as well. It was a really enjoyable experience and in the end I went wading in the pond twice. I also got to see a lot more spiders, insects, frogs, and snakes than I would have otherwise.

I also got to meet some researchers from Poland, and from Japan, and from USA. It is an interesting mix, with some people working on insects, others on leaves, and others on snakes. Some of the Japanese researchers have been coming here for over 20 years! Meeting some of these folks from the US also reminds me that not everyone has the same attention to detail or rigorousness with their approach to research, and that American stereotypes abroad will probably never die unfortunately because there are some who seem to make it their job to live up to those stereotypes. It’s made me think a lot about how Americans represent themselves to others while abroad, and reflect on my own experience as an American living in a foreign country.

I don’t even prefer to use the term American, because as other North Americans and South Americans will say, they are also American. But, this is a widely used and accepted term, thus easiest to use in this context. What I mean here is people from the USA.

Surprisingly, I’ve had very little interaction with fellow Americans in the past 8+ months. There aren’t any other people from the States in my research group, and not many in the other research groups that share the same space on campus with our lab. The most recent American I met before this trip was in June at Narita Airport when I was on my way back from Tokyo, Japan. It isn’t that I avoid Americans, I just don’t seek to be a part of their social groups. I don’t need that to feel comfortable, at least not currently in Singapore. I guess that is mostly because my research group and the other research groups are very international and full of very interesting people. That said, it does make it a lot easier for all of us to hang out because we all speak English. I’m not sure if I would feel the same if that were not the case.

The crew at the Chang Chalood cafe

I think one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to live abroad is because I’m tired of the typical American. I’m tired of meeting people who only care about themselves and material things, and have no clue what is going on outside of their little bubble. (If you sympathize, check out this song!) But then again there are people like this in many countries. Maybe that is just the typical person in my age group that lives in New York City, but I also feel tired of how conservative or close minded many of the people in the US are. I was also frustrated with living in a country that has issues with evolution and climate change being real things. Although there may be cool chill Americans I haven’t met, as far as I can tell Singapore tends to attract a different kind of American expat (or Westerner in general) if they are not doing research (i.e. the finance type or super rich kids, which I’ve had enough of in New York!). But luckily Americans that I have met abroad are at least somewhat more open minded, because otherwise they would not have left the States at all. But then, that is not always the case.

The two groups of Americans that I’ve met here are in a stark contrast to each other at the research station. It is interesting to witness both working and doing research in the same place, but doing things very differently and have very different overall perspectives and outlooks. The leader of the other research group, though I didn’t spend that much time with them, is a very machismo man and reminds me of a very common type of expat American man. Although it was interesting to meet them, they are not the type of people I prefer to hang out with. Thankfully, my colleague and her team were very much different from him and his team. They are chill and open minded, and are cool people. I’m glad to have met them and hope to hang out with them again soon!

  • Nat

    Your reflections on meeting Americans, as an American living and traveling abroad, mirror a lot of thoughts that I’ve had, especially when I was living in Nagoya. I had a few American friends in my program, and I tried to be friendly to everyone, but there were quite a few Americans whom I didn’t like to associate with. I guess I felt like by associating with Americans whose personalities I saw as stereotypically “American,” I was losing some of my own individuality and risked being lumped into the stereotypes. I now wonder if you could say I was covering because I felt out of place…

    So does your colleague consider chiromantis and chirixalus to be distinct genera?

    • Chewy

      I can agree about feeling like you might lose some of your own individuality and be lumped into the stereotypes. I guess it could be considered covering, or reverse covering, because you are trying not to live up to stereotypes, even if you do possess some of those traits. Maybe it is more like reverse covering because you want to stand out from the group (Americans), not fit in and blend in with them.

      Not sure, didn’t ask her that. Good detailed question, Nat, that I am unable to answer! Sorry!