• CWBA

Outside the Law with Justine Pierce: Singaporean Sabbatical

Updated: Oct 27

After graduating from CU Law School and happily working at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office for about five years, my partner was unexpectedly offered an opportunity to relocate to Singapore for a new job. We had visited Asia once or twice before this opportunity arose, but the continent and its cultures were largely a mystery to us. Even more daunting was the prospect of having to sell, donate, or store basically all our stuff, work out the LSAT-worthy logic puzzle required to bring our cranky old cat with us, and perhaps most daunting of all, quit a job I loved in a place I loved before securing any new opportunity in Singapore.

We talked to our friends, family, and colleagues, and realized that if we decided not to go, we would always wonder “what if?” One of my oldest friends had moved to Singapore several years before, so having one friend on the ground who wouldn’t let me sink was a huge plus. In the end, we decided to make the leap!

After arriving in Singapore, I took some time to settle in, learn about the culture of the small city-state known as the “Little Red Dot,” and plan some travel to the nearby amazing locations (Angkor Wat, Phuket, and Bali—oh my!). I promised myself I wouldn’t freak out about being jobless for a few months, but to be perfectly honest, I struggled with having no income of my own and being financially dependent on someone else. Singapore’s immigration policies didn’t help my struggles, labeling me a “dependent” of my partner with few rights of my own. For example, I couldn’t open my own bank account and had limits on how much money I could withdraw from the joint bank account we shared. An even more extreme example is how my partner had the unilateral right to terminate my visa and kick me out of the country if the mood struck him (thankfully it never did).

In addition to lacking the anchor of a job, life in Singapore posed other challenges, such as the disorientation caused by life on the equator where the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm every single day, regardless of the time of year. Equatorial life also meant every day was 90 degrees with 90% humidity, so pants and long sleeves became a thing of the past and anti-frizz hair products became my new best friends. The official language of Singapore is English, but tuning my ear to understand the Singaporean accent still took some time and a lot of “I’m sorry, could you say that again?”

The struggles were balanced by the experiences I could have nowhere other than Singapore. Singaporeans are admittedly obsessed with food and have “hawker centers” where you can roam from food stall to food stall and affordably sample the wide array of Singaporean cuisine like chicken rice, satay, roti prata, and an infinite variety of noodle dishes. Wandering through Chinatown was an assault on the senses, especially during Chinese New Year when the streets filled with tourists perusing tiny shops selling brightly colored decorations and fruit stands where the pungent smell of durian might knock you off your feet. And although it’s a Taiwanese restaurant chain, Singapore had several Din Tai Fung locations where we could stuff ourselves with soup dumplings, the best fried rice you’ve ever had, and terribly overpriced Gold Medal Taiwan beer.

Perhaps the second biggest obsession for Singaporeans is travel, and I hopped on that bandwagon with enthusiasm. Because it’s such a small city-state, you can’t get on a plane without leaving the country. Thailand, Bali, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Australia are all within a few hours or less by plane. An hour-long ferry ride could take you to Malaysia or Indonesia. We never got tired or blasé about the once-in-a-lifetime experiences within reach and tried to take advantage of them every chance we could.

Eventually I buckled down and found a job. Working as a lawyer in Singapore was its own incredibly challenging and rewarding experience that taught me so much more than legal skills, such as when to throw a “lah” onto the end of a sentence for emphasis when chatting with coworkers. Right around the three-year mark, I realized that Singapore may have been an amazing temporary home, but I missed Colorado. Serendipitously, as that realization dawned, my former boss reached out to let me know a spot on my old team at the AG’s Office was opening up so we decided to make another leap.

Long story short, we packed up our Singaporean lives and returned to the comforting embrace of our Coloradan friends and family. Living in Singapore for three years gave me a new appreciation for my Colorado life. I’ve been back now for a little less than a year, and although Colorado may not have any ancient temples, elephant rescues, tropical beaches, or street food like I’ve never tasted before, there’s nothing like fall in Colorado. I may still dream of eating Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings and fried rice while drinking Taiwanese beer, but my hair has never needed fewer anti-frizz treatments.

Justine Pierce is an Assistant Attorney General in the Health Care Unit at the Colorado Department of Law, where she represents the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.



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