interview with Paly Seabrook
Born Paulina Galarraga, Paly hails from South America and has made Singapore her current home, where she went to high school. From her year book at Australian International School, Paly will be remembered “for being a person who gave sincere friendship and a bright smile to everyone and for being the Dancing Queen.” Some things do not change. Asked at graduation where she will be in 2006, Paly’s answer is “I really don’t know, but I hope that wherever I am, I am happy and so are the people around me.” Let’s find out where Paly is in 2015.
Where were you born?
I was born in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. Up high in the Andean mountains and right on the equator!
Ecuador may be most well known for the Galápagos Islands but her capital has much to offer. Quito is a city of culture, history, and beauty sitting at over 9000 feet above sea level, in the middle of the snowcapped Andes. The equator or the Mitad Del Mundo runs through Quito, whose historic centre has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978. It is said that the famous Casa Gangotena located in the Plaza de San Francisco was once the open-air market of the Quitus before Inca kings built temples dedicated to their deities.
How did you come to live in Singapore?
I arrived in Singapore in August 1995 when I was only 17 years old. I came with my parents and my 14-year-old brother. My dad, a pilot, had accepted a two-year contract with Singapore Airline. We had no idea where Singapore was or what the future had in store for us, but we jumped at the opportunity and were keen to make the most of it. We loved Singapore life so much, that two years turned into four, six, eight… and gosh, we recently celebrated our 20th anniversary here!
The Republic of Singapore is often referred to as a city-state. What many people may not realize is that 60+ islets also form part of the territory, which has increased in size through land reclamation projects. Located just one degree north of the equator, Singapore is also known as the Lion City and the Garden City. Driving into town from the airport, visitors and residents are greeted by plentiful and colourful flowers along tree-lined streets.
Where is your husband from?
My husband is from Cambridge in the North Island, New Zealand, but we met in Singapore, 13 years ago. We were both working here and we were set-up by common friends.
To many people, New Zealand is at the end of the world. It is undoubtedly remote, which allowed her biodiversity to flourish. Before the Dutch and other Europeans came, the Waitaha and Maori peoples inhabited these islands. The term kiwi refers to both a New Zealander and a native flightless bird. Perhaps more well-known than this bird is the Haka dance that many people may now be familiar with from watching the national rugby team the All Blacks perform at games around the world. This is of course only one type of haka, an ancestral dance of the Maori.
Both Quito and Singapore are at or near the equator. How different is it living in these two cities?
Oh goodness, they could not be more different!
Quito has the most amazing spring-like weather all year ’round!Because Ecuador is on the “Ring of Fire” it is prone to earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. The city was founded in the 16th century and it was one of the first sites to be inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. When you live there, you can explore the great outdoors with hiking, horseback riding, fishing in the lakes, etc, as well as wander around the old town, visiting its beautiful cathedrals, museums, and art galleries.
Singapore is hot and humid. This city-state is only 50 years old and has ultra modern architecture. Living here gives you the opportunity to dine al fresco, go for walks along the beach, and spend the weekend by the pool. You can also explore the different neighbors and learn about the various races who call Singapore home.
What are your favourite memories?
My childhood was spent in Quito so I have a lot of wonderfully happy memories of school life weekends at my grandparents’ farm, and summer holidays with all my cousins. I couldn’t pick just one!
My favourite memory of Singapore would have to be the birth of my daughters. Or does that count as two memories?
Where do you call home?
It may sound very cliché, but home is where the heart is. I have moved around so much that at the end of the day, home is where my husband and daughters are.
Are you part of any South American groups in Singapore?
Yes, absolutely. I am a very proud Latin woman and I enjoy being surrounded by others who share my language, culture, traditions, music, and food. We try to meet on a weekly basis with our children so that they can practice their Spanish, and we also go out for dinner once a month – mums only!
You have two daughters?
Yes! Siena was born in April 2011 and baby Georgina just celebrated her first birthday in October. They were both born at Mount Elizabeth Hospital under the fabulous care of my Canadian ob-gyn, Dr Anne Hagarty. Although the girls were born in Singapore, they are not entitled to Singaporean citizenship, so they have a New Zealand passport like their daddy.
How does Siena identify herself?
If you ask Siena where she is born, she often says “I was born in Singapore but I am from New Zealand like my daddy and my sister Georgie… my mummy is from Quito.”
My husband and I are avid travelers and having kids hasn’t stopped us from exploring the world. When Siena was only 10 weeks old, my husband’s job relocated us to London. By the time she was 18 months old, we decided to take a 6-month sabbatical to travel around Spain. Best decision, ever! We moved back to Singapore just before her second birthday. She is now four and half years old and attends a local nursery school near our home.
So far, Siena has already visited 14 countries. Baby Georgina has some catching up to do!
How has being a parent changed the way you see yourself?
Parenting Third Culture Kids is unique and wonderful, but can be quite challenging at times. We want them to become well-rounded individuals with a sense of cultural identity, but it gets tricky when the parents come from two different cultures and the family resides in yet another one! So we end up picking and choosing what we consider to be the “best parts” of the three cultures’ values and traditions, and we incorporate them into our family life.
We also need to think about the languages our kids are going to learn. In our case, we speak English and Spanish at home, and Siena learns Mandarin at nursery. She attends a local, bilingual nursery so she has seven hours of Mandarin a day, every other day. Now that is something we didn’t have as children back in our home countries! With increasing globalization, mixed marriages, and opportunities to work abroad, the number of TCKs is growing exponentially. We as parents need to learn and evolve in order to raise this new generation of kids, as “citizens of the world”.
What are three words to describe Quito?
Equator, mountainous, traditional.
What are three words to describe Singapore?
Tropical, safe, technology.
What are some of the stereotypes you have experienced as a Latin woman and as an expat?
I’d say the biggest, most common stereotype is that all foreigners are here on a fancy “expat package”. Not our case. My husband is self-employed and we pay for everything ourselves. We choose to live here because we love this country and what it has to offer.
As for the Latin stereotypes, there are a few.
That all women look like Sofia Vergara or Salma Hayek. No, we don’t.
That we all love to dance salsa and go to weekly Zumba classes. Sorry, but some of us have two left feet!
That we all speak Spanish… no, we don’t. Brazilians speak Portuguese and they are still Latin Americans.
That we are all passionate about football / soccer. Hmm no, there is more to Latin life than soccer.
That we marry young and have huge families. Well, I’m 37 and I had my second (and last) baby a year ago.
That we come from dangerous countries full of drug lords and kidnappers. There is good and evil everywhere. I’ve been mugged in Europe in broad daylight, and yet I’ve never had any problems in Ecuador.
You have lived in many places, as a foreigner. How do you make yourself at home in each?
It may sound crazy and materialistic, but no matter where we move to, or for however long, we always take our belongings with us. We can pack our lives into a 40 feet container! When you are completely lost in a brand-new city, there is something heartwarming and reassuring about coming home and sleeping in your own bed.
We also make the effort to connect with the local people, as opposed to only hanging out with other foreigners. Feeling a part of the local community definitely helps in the adaptation process.