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A Spanish expat’s journey to Singapore and beyond

Many people only ever dream of moving to a different country in their lifetime, let alone several.

But for one expat, this dream became a reality. Dubai, South Africa and Singapore are merely a few destinations that Mar Pages can tick off her list of countries lived in. Originally from Barcelona, Spain, Mar authors the aptly named ‘Once in a Lifetime Journey’ and has lived and worked in a variety of countries — truly encompassing what it means to be ‘globally mobile’.

Here, Mar shares her experiences of living in Singapore and beyond, and reflects on the ups and downs of a life lived abroad. 

Why did you decide to move abroad and for how long have you lived abroad?

“I moved to Dubai at the beginning of 2006 to pursue a job opportunity that came up at a telecoms management and strategy company. From there, I moved to Johannesburg in 2008, then returned to Dubai in 2009.

“I headed to Singapore in 2010, where I am currently living. Prior to that, I had spent a summer in Honduras as a volunteer, two summers in London as an Investment Banking intern and one semester in Montreal as a student.”

What does the term “wellness” mean to you? And what, if anything, are you doing to achieve it?

“It’s a term that refers to one’s overall well-being encompassing mental and physical health and general happiness with one’s life and choices.

“I practice yoga, I try to walk places instead of taking taxis whenever I can and I go to the gym with my partner (who is a bit of a gym fanatic). I try to not overeat, though when I travel I tend to try local foods and always look out for the best places to dine. I drink moderately, mostly wine during meals on the weekends, and I try to sleep a minimum of seven hours per day. I make sure to take at least one day off per week (Saturdays) when I am in Singapore, while I may work at least half of Sunday.”

Once in a Lifetime blogger Mar, a Spaniard who moved to Singapore, taking a picture indoors in her new homeland Once in a Lifetime blogger Mar, a Spaniard who moved to Singapore, taking a picture indoors in her new homeland

Sources: APG

Would you say you have a better or worse work-life balance since moving abroad?

“I have gone through various periods. Over the last 13 years I have been under a lot of pressure and stress at some points in my professional career. I had no real personal life and I didn’t have any control over my schedule, particularly during my consulting years.

“Recently, I made the decision to set up my own digital marketing practice and focus my efforts on my passion, leaving behind the corporate world and my professional career at Google. Now, I lead a much more balanced life. While I continue to work long hours, it’s not the same as I did as a consultant — it’s on my own terms and I have the choice to take a day off whenever I want.”

How comfortable do you feel about using public health care systems abroad?

“I have always had a very comprehensive private insurance policy that covers me for any issues, emergencies, evacuations and other needs globally. Working for multinational companies and on international assignments across the world means I need an insurance policy that stands up to anything and thankfully, this has always been the case.”

Do you always know where to go to get primary care, how to access a specialist and how to pay for your care?

“I can always reach out to my insurance company. They also have an online portal where I can get more information and the right to a second opinion to any diagnosis. Whenever I moved to a new country I always located the referral hospital for any health care need. As an expat, there were usually one to two that were favoured and I stuck to those. It has always worked out for the best.

“When I worked as a consultant, my insurance was global and allowed me to seek medical help for outpatient needs anywhere, so I tended to do all my annual check-ups in Spain.”

How does the quality of the healthcare systems abroad differ from the health care system in your home country?

“Private healthcare in Dubai, Singapore and even South Africa is extremely expensive, so not having insurance would be a very irresponsible decision. Health care in Spain on the other hand, is surprisingly affordable for the quality.

“I feel that in Spain we have the best of the best when it comes to the quality and affordability of the healthcare system — but I have never felt there was anything lacking abroad. Even in South Africa, where I had an emergency operation done, the quality of care was always high. Singapore has fantastic hospitals and specialists, and Dubai had a well reputed international hospital I would always use if I needed, but I practically never had any emergency there.”

Since moving abroad, do you feel that mental health is better or less supported and recognised than at home?

“I have always been lucky enough to have friends and colleagues who were supportive. Google was certainly an environment where these things are openly respected and where there is never any consequence from admitting to any issues — much the opposite.

“I have also never felt there was a taboo, but this is also a reflection of my personality, as I never cared much about what others could think. Admitting to any mental health issues is not something I would have problems doing. I would also make sure to take steps to address it.”

Expats are more prone to mental health issues because they lack a support network in their new home. What advice would you give for maintaining good mental health while living abroad?

“Having a strong network of friends abroad is essential because you do lack your regular network at the beginning. But keeping healthy is also about being strong, self-reliant and believing in yourself so you depend less on others.

“When moving abroad, I combine a mix of building strong local connections, keeping the ones at home and building a sense of strong self-reliance and self-esteem. Keeping busy and always doing things to stay productive can help you to meet people and keep you from feeling lonely.”

What would you say is the best part of international life?

“Being surrounded by people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different points of view and different ways of life. It is the best part. Multicultural environments are more enriching, more dynamic and far more interesting to me. These environments can also give an eye-opening perspective on anything that happens, which is essential to combat lots of the problems the world suffers today.”

What was the worst part for you about moving abroad?

“Perhaps the problems of moving to Dubai, which was, at the time, a massive construction site and little else. Making friends just happened because of my job, so my colleagues became my friends. English is something I was already fluent in from my previous job. Culturally, Dubai was also a tad difficult to navigate back then with some things not as clear as they are today.”

Mar, author of the Once in a Lifetime blog, sits on an outdoor sofa in her new home of Singapore Mar, author of the Once in a Lifetime blog, sits on an outdoor sofa in her new home of Singapore

Source: APG

How easy or difficult is it to maintain a healthy diet abroad?

“It is not difficult to me. What I do find hard however, is trying to stay healthy when I’m travelling — as was the case for nine years. But for as long as I am in a fixed place, I can usually find healthy options, whether that’s eating out or cooking for myself.”

Describe the role of exercise and how it differs from your home country.

“In Singapore, yoga is very popular, and something that pretty much everyone practices. That is not the case in Spain. The same happens with going to the gym. In Spain, sport is an outdoors activity. People run, cycle and play sports, they do not tend to stay inside a studio or gym. Also people walk everywhere, go out to do things and have a generally active lifestyle - sport becomes a part of life rather than something you set time aside for.”

What drives you to pursue international careers?

“The curiosity to learn about other cultures and other points of view. Curiosity still pushes me to travel today, 13 years since I first moved abroad.”

Do you think that you’ll always be drawn to international living?

“While I yearn to go back home and have a more settled life, I know deep down, that I’ll continue to travel 30 to 40 percent of the year.”

Whether you’re a soon-to-be expat or a settled one — Mar’s experiences with moving abroad and becoming globally mobile is sure to inspire those on expat journeys of their own. Learn more about relocating to Singapore or read another interview with another expat living in Singapore.

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