Culture

Caught between the States and Singapore, I finally found my identity in something higher

Edwin Sng // June 23, 2020, 5:24 pm

Edwin Chia identity

All images courtesy of Fireplace Worship.

Ever since I was young, I was super interested in music.

I loved to dance and sing, but I was very unlike your typical Singaporean kid. My parents didn’t sign me up for piano lessons, and I didn’t have any formal music education until much later on.

In my early preteen years I came across an Eminem song on YouTube, and I immediately fell in love with the message and the medium of rap. Then in 2014, I listened to J. Cole’s new album, and it inspired me to begin writing and composing my own rap.

Since then it’s become a gift from God that lets me express myself and share His heart through my words! And I’ve got a lot to say, because my growing up years were not easy.

Because of my dad’s job, my family has had to relocate from here in Singapore over to the United States multiple times throughout my life.

Living in the US was a lot of fun. It was a brilliant, horizon-broadening and eye-opening experience. I have a lot of precious memories of the States, as a young kid and as a teenager too.

But because we moved at such crucial, developmental, formative years in my life, I effectively grew up in two different cultures and became ingrained in two different value systems.

I struggled with the feeling of not really being accepted.

In the US, I would be bullied for being Asian. In Singapore, I would be bullied for being too angmoh. It really confused me as to how I was supposed to behave – who I was supposed to be!

I began to wrestle with this identity crisis when I was 16, but it was never really identified or brought to light until I was 18.

At this point, I had returned from my previous trip to the US, where I was enrolled in university and surrounded by a whole bunch of older people, but never really managed to make friends.

It was only when I returned to Singapore, and began attending my church’s youth service regularly, that I experienced a community of friends who accept and love me for who I am!

But even then, I still struggled with the feeling of not really being accepted.

Singapore, the place I’ve learnt to call home

Being raised in America for half of my whole life, my experiences at school were vastly different from that of my Singaporean friends who went the usual route of secondary school to ITE, polytechnic or junior college.

I had skipped half of secondary school and tertiary education in its entirety, heading straight to university when I touched down in the States.

So I wasn’t able to relate when my peers discussed anything about school, and it made me feel left out.

On top of that, having completed university before my peers took their A-Levels or graduated polytechnic, there was no foreseeable “next step” for me.

Everyone would talk about what university course they would apply to or the campus life they looked forward to experiencing, and I would not be able to participate in these conversations.

I was doing things for the approval of the people around me!

So I strove to fit what I thought were my friend’s expectations of me, and in doing so, became someone that I was never meant to be. I was doing things for the approval of the people around me!

I wanted to fit into the image that I thought my friends had of me. I thought I had to portray myself as wise beyond my years simply because I’d gone through university.

I assumed that I was expected to make the right decisions all the time, and because of that I beat myself up for the mistakes that I made.

I thought that I had to fit in to the “normal” Singaporean mold, so I began to change the way I behaved to be more Singaporean than I really was.

I suppressed the more outspoken, expressive and idealistic views that I held and tried to take on what I thought was a more “tame” and “socially acceptable” version of myself.

In the end I came to realise that most of these expectations were coming from my own insecurities about my identity. They weren’t actually being forced upon me by my friends.

The girl who just wanted to fit in

Through this struggle, a close friend of mine identified this as an identity issue. Initially I denied this, thinking, how could it be that I have an identity issue?

But gradually, I realised that it was God who was opening up a deep place in my heart, a place that was hurting, that was still incomplete. He wanted to show me a love that could complete me in my identity, and I realised that I wanted something like that so much.

An impactful step I took toward healing has been seeing a counselor for my mental and spiritual health. I was initially opposed to this idea, because I was afraid that doing so wouldn’t help me. But since taking that step I have been able to understand myself better, and reconcile with certain parts of my past.

I find it easier to accept my differences among others, because I know that I am secure in Christ, who formed the very fiber of my being!

Another big step was being accountable to my parents and close friends. I would reach out when my depressive episodes triggered, and thank God that they are not just ready to listen, but also correct in love and guide me back to the Cross.

Since taking these steps I’ve worried less about fitting in or standing out, and thought more instead about how God will use my unique experiences to teach myself and others valuable lessons about life.

Now I find it easier to accept my differences among others, because I know that I am secure in Christ, who formed the very fiber of my being!

My journey of healing is far from over, and even as I share this with all of you, I’m taking one day at a time, one step at a time.

But I know this for certain: There is a God who loves me, He is the One who created me and He tells me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, woven by him!

Every mistake or victory that I’ve seen, every experience that defined me as a person, they were all part of God’s plans!

It is reassuring to know that even in those moments that I’ve felt too different to be loved, God loves me so dearly, because He was the one who made me who I am.

To end, I’d like to share a rap about my journey. I hope it speaks to you.

Edwin’s story and song premiered on episode 5 of “By The Fireplace”. Hosted by Fireplace Worship, you can listen to more musicians like Edwin share and sing on weekly Wednesday episodes at 9pm over InstagramFacebook or YouTube.

For more stories from “By The Fireplace”, check this one out:

The circuit breaker that reset my plans but saved my life

THINK + TALK

  1. Describe yourself in 5 words.
  2. What if you took some of those words away? Would you be any less?
  3. What do you think your identity is rooted in?
  4. What does God say about you in the Bible?