From Singapore 🇸🇬 • To France 🇫🇷

From Quarter-Life Crisis to Toulouse: A Two-Decade Adventure Abroad

The story of Denise • January 31, 2024

Denise in Girona

About Denise

In today’s interview, we are delighted to have Denise with us, a wanderer from Singapore who now calls Toulouse, France, her home. I was pleased to meet her during a tour in Toulouse and was fascinated by her story. Here it comes!

Hi Denise, could you tell us about your life in Singapore and what led you to leave?

I was deeply immersed in the bustling world of Singapore, working as a photojournalist and living a hectic life. Working from early morning to late night, including some weekends, at some point, I told myself that this could not possibly be what life was about. I just got hit by a quarter-life crisis, questioning my choices and wondering what could await next. It’s quite funny because usually, people mention a mid-life crisis, not a quarter-life crisis. But here I was, at around 25 years old, stressed by work, not able to take it anymore. As a result, the idea of a sabbatical year abroad came to me, which eventually extended into a permanent move.

And what motivated you to move to France?

I must thank my colleague from Chile for that! At work, I was often complaining about the contrasting lifestyle between “the laid-back & lovely Europe” – which I had briefly experienced in previous trips – and “the busy & materialistic Singapore”. My Chilean friend could not take it anymore and told me to either do something about it and move to Europe or stop complaining. I got angry as I don’t like being criticised but that was the kick I needed! Shortly after, I left and settled in the heart of France, in Clermont-Ferrand to learn French.

At first, it was supposed to be one year abroad but of course, as you now know, I never went back. I got to live in Italy for 7 years, then moved to Spain, and finally decided to call Toulouse my home in 2008.

How easy was it for you to move? Did you get any help or support?

Unfortunately, my dad had died when I was young so I got used to working and making a living for myself. My first year in France was funded solely with the savings I had made through years of work. Luckily, in France, you can study languages for quite a low fee provided you go to public universities and not to private academies. At the time (in 1999), it was 1,000 euros for the whole year. I got myself a tiny room with just a bed. The other amenities were shared with others.

Also important to note is that I made some connections while I was living there and got to work as an English teacher, which helped my finances tremendously. I did not have any friends when I moved to France or Italy but then I made really good ones during my stay.

So, I think I am lucky, but not because I got financial support (because I didn’t!) but because I speak English as a first language. English, Spanish, or maybe French native speakers have a lot of teaching opportunities abroad!

Moving to a new country undoubtedly brings its set of challenges. Could you share more about your initial struggles and how you overcame them?

Oh, cooking! I was used to Singapore’s convenient food options. Suddenly, I had to cook, and let me tell you, my first attempt at curry from scratch was… memorable. Also, independence hit hard. No more running to family or friends for every little issue. I had to solve problems by myself, which allowed me to become more independent and be the person I am today.

You have been away from home for 2 decades now. How do you cope with the longing for Singapore, and are there particular strategies or rituals you employ?

I fly back regularly (at least every year or every 2 years), stock up on Singaporean goodies, and surround myself with reminders of home. And technology helps a lot – staying connected is a lifesaver.

Most importantly, when abroad, go out, sign up for activities, and make friends because they will save your life. I don’t know where I would be without mine now.

What is your impression of France now vs then, when you moved there 20 years ago?

I find that people are more individualistic now but I think this is the effect of an internet society, which is not only seen in France. In 1999, there was no such thing as Tinder, Facebook, or Whatsapp so, if you wanted to do a language exchange, you had to put up a paper ad in a university and people would call you. Now, everyone is online but people are also not motivated to meet since everyone can easily communicate online and also, there are more online distractions like Netflix, which pushes people to stay at home more.

You work as a tour guide in Toulouse, what’s your favorite spot there?

I have two! The convent of Jacobin is a lovely and peaceful ex-convent that looks majestic in the morning when the sun reflects on all the colors within. The other place I like is the mini waterfalls in the Raymond VI garden. It is really worth seeing!

For those dreaming of a life in France, what top 3 tips would you give them?

Firstly, learn the language. It’s your key to integration because the older generations don’t speak English at all. Actually, I would recommend learning the language, no matter the country you move to, otherwise you will remain an outsider.

Secondly, use the internet to make friends – it’s a game-changer. Join Couchsurfing, backpacking, or sports groups on Facebook. You can also create your gatherings. “New Friends and Food in Toulouse” is a group I have created to connect newcomers, foreigners, and locals around food.

Lastly, patience and persistence are your best friends in navigating French paperwork. One of the reasons why I bought my apartment here was because I just could not rent it. In France, you can’t rent an apartment if your salary is not at least 3 times the amount of the rent. After I got divorced, my salary was not enough to get a place for my son and, therefore, I had to buy a flat.

Immersing oneself in the local culture is integral to a fulfilling expatriate experience. Are there any more local French artists, books, or films you’d recommend for cultural exploration?

Certainly! For music, check out Bigflo et Oli, and explore the enchanting jazz pieces of Claude Nougaro, a Toulouse-born artist. While I might be a bit out of the loop regarding recent literature and films, these cultural gems offer a great starting point.

Moving abroad can be daunting. What would you say to those who are scared to take that leap?

Number one, fear is in your head. Remember, 90% of the world is filled with nice people. Don’t let the fear of the 10% hold you back. I did have bad experiences where I got robbed, cheated on my money, experienced racism, fights but I prefer thinking about the great experiences that happened. Focus on the positives, and the journey will be worth it.

The good moments you will experience while traveling will outweigh the bad ones, provided you allow your mind to seek the positives.


Denise’s journey from Singapore to Toulouse is a symbol of 20 years of growth, exploration, and resilience. Her story extends beyond the life crisis into self-discovery and becoming independent. What’s coming next for Denise is not in the books yet but she thinks about Latin America as a future land to explore. She truly is an inspiration for people of all ages contemplating their journeys into the unknown.

You can always reach out our Interviewee by checking out the below links 🙂

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