“Singaporeans are increasingly mobile. The quest for degrees, employment and post-material fulfilment will mean more Singaporeans overseas. We need to engage them in a way that connects at the affective and cognitive levels. Otherwise, Singapore will be but another place to them” (Engaging The Absent Citizen, Mr. Eugene KB Tan).
I read with interest the commentary – “Engaging The Absent Citizen” (March 6, 2010) – by Mr. Eugene KB Tan.
Indeed, the advent of globalisation has brought about heightened communications and enhanced mobility, encouraging Singaporeans to endeavour into different parts of the world for work and study. It is without coincidence that many of these individuals are the crème de la crème of the Singaporean population; students and professionals who excel in their respective fields and possess tremendous potential and abilities. Their ventures overseas inadvertently exposes them to diverse cultures and even politics, with various experiences enriching them in ways that are simply not possible in Singapore.
It is disheartening to hear that many of these aforementioned citizens make the decision to remain abroad instead of returning; after all, Singapore is a place that has done much for them in their formative years. Mr. Tan seems to attribute the trend of increasing “absent citizens” to the fading sense of belonging – exacerbated by extended periods overseas – as well as the mantra that the grass is greener on the other side. Logically, it seems natural for the Singapore administration to put in place additional initiatives and programmes to increase the modes of engagement; constantly reminding them of their roots. The premise of Mr. Tan’s contention seems to revolve around his conviction that “the birthright of citizenship alone is not enough to bond a person to Singapore”.
But is this really so? Is it right to perceive that citizenship is merely another form of identity? Why the need for elaborated efforts to convince them that Singapore is their true home? In the first place, in their personal commitment to the country was in any doubt, why make the effort? For any true Singaporean, the innate sense of belonging does not need to be stimulated from peripheral efforts; simply because our love for this country stems from within. Imperfections are aplenty and we still have a long way to go for enhanced progress in this nation, but no matter where we might be, a true Singaporean will never quaver when asked about his citizenship.
By all means, allow the current programmes to connect overseas Singaporeans back home to remain in place. These activities are for individuals who have the intention to return home some day soon. But for those who no longer have Singapore in their heart, we must learn to let go.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.