Saturday, August 8, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday, Singapore!

Today marks Singapore's 50th National Day - the country's Golden Jubilee. There's a lot to reflect on as Singapore celebrates this important milestone. Singapore went from third-world country status to becoming one of the four Asian Tigers in the short span of a few decades. This nation has seen war, poverty, riots, unspeakable loss... and then incredible success.

One of the gifts you get from celebrating with someone, whether it be a birthday, a holiday, an anniversary, is self-reflection. You sit around the table as a friend or family member blows out the candles on a birthday cake, and as the smoke clears and the lights are turned back on, you can't help but get lost for a moment - where was I one year ago? Facebook's new "On this Day" feature lets us reflect every morning on where we were a year ago, two years ago, three, four, five... Those reflections can be joyful, and they can be bittersweet.

Singaporeans have a lot to celebrate today, and they've planned incredible events to do so. As I reflect on all the accomplishments that Singapore has seen in the last 50 years, I, too, am lost in that moment of reflection. I realize this is also a milestone for me, too - I've been here for a total of three years and am ready to begin my fourth. 

I was awakened this morning to a heart-stopping blast from the island-wide siren to mark the beginning of the National Day celebrations. As I let my heart resume its natural beat, I found myself laughing as I remembered my first experience with Singapore's fighter jets flying over the Central Business District to rehearse for an upcoming National Day celebration just three years ago. I had only been in the country for a matter of days, and I may or may not have ducked to the ground in fear as the planes roared overhead. When Singapore celebrates, they seriously celebrate.

And I have a lot to celebrate, too. I've grown and matured in ways I never could have done if I hadn't stepped out of my comfort zone and taken a little stroll to the other side of the planet. I've gained confidence and experience as a professor, and I've reached goals and milestones as I left young adulthood behind for... adulthood. And I've gotten to know myself better. There have been times of great conviviality with new friends on this equatorial island, and there've been times of great solitude and even loneliness, as well. I've learned what I can do. I've learned how much I can accomplish and how much I can handle. I plan courses, book flights and hotels, make transoceanic journeys six times a year. I shop, I cook, I take buses, trains and taxis. I get lost, and I find my way back again. 

Those who say "life begins at the end of your comfort zone" are absolutely correct. I left my comfort zone three years ago, and have never been happier for it. When I return to Buffalo for good, I won't be "going back" because I'll not be returning as the same person. I'll never leave this part of my life behind me, because it's a part of who I am now. My time in Singapore has changed me, for the better. For the older, for the more experienced, for the more worldly. 

I celebrate with Singapore today, too. I celebrate an amazing country that's given me a place to reach for new goals, new opportunities, new experiences, perhaps even a new life. I celebrate growth and I celebrate success. I celebrate the future, and looking forward. Majulah means "onward" - and onward we shall go.


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