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Jonathan Fox: the challenges and rewards of living and working abroad


Wednesday evening in Minsky Auditorium, University of Maine Ph.D. student Jonathan Fox presented his experience of living and working in Singapore as the timpanist for the National Symphony Orchestra of Singapore as well as teaching at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

Fox, who is originally from Norwood, Massachusetts, holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from Julliard, in New York City. His experience in Singapore began as a “two-year working vacation” which turned into a whole new life for him. He welcomed the audience to the presentation with a “very casual” introduction to his life and his experiences abroad compared to the experiences a first-year college student may have.

“Making new friends can be amazing, but it can also be a challenge. For me, it was a challenge,” Fox said.

In his introduction, he offered many pieces of advice, telling the audience: “You think you know who you are now if you’re a freshman; just wait two, three years, and you’ll surprise yourself.”

Fox also discussed balancing career and financial aspirations. He joked about the differences between life in New York City and life in Singapore, saying: “[In New York] I had several roommates. They were all cockroaches.”

Fox’s further explanation his finances abroad explored aspects such as benefits packages, taxes, the standard of living and the global financial crisis and its effect on his experience living in another country.

A significant portion of the presentation also focused on his professional career as a member of the symphony, a teacher and a volunteer. Fox appeared to take much pride in the accomplishments of his students, including a trip to the United States, where a marching band program he had helped to implement watched a University of Massachusetts football game and went on to win a marching band competition at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

“Their victory was getting there,” Fox said.

He also discussed working with teachers and students in a remote village in China to teach percussion to the students and give the teachers an opportunity to explore alternative teaching methods in a school with no arts program.

“I’m not changing the world […] I’m not necessarily trying to make the world a better place. I’m just trying to make some people happy. I like to see some smiles,” Fox said.

When it came to social and cultural changes in his life since moving to Singapore, Fox talked about differences in population, food, communication and censorship, among other things. He included several slides of humorous mistranslated English phrases he had seen throughout Asia, as well as very large apartment complexes with hundreds of apartments in them to showcase the differences in population density within different cities.

As for his social life, Fox explained meeting his wife abroad, and how they kept in touch with his mother back in Boston.

“I talk more to my mom now than I did when I lived in New York and she was in Massachusetts,” Fox said.   

At the very end of his presentation, Fox reflected on the changes that he had gone through since he began his time in Singapore, saying: “I’m quite sure I’m not the same person as before.” He also recommended living and working abroad, saying: “You can tell I’m leaning toward the rewards [of working abroad]. There are challenges, but my two-year working vacation turned into eighteen. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t still be doing it.”

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