Living away from Malaysia can trigger a lot of different longings

There are many facets to Malaysia’s cultural diversity, with the most celebrated (and to many Malaysians abroad, memorable) being its scrumptious food, affordable living and laidback lifestyle.

As Oxford University law student, Shaun Kua puts it: “Malaysia is like chicken rice. Each ingredient – the chicken, the rice, the cool cucumber - remains distinct, as opposed to a blend of flavours as in fried rice.”

This theme of food is also picked up by Johan Kamal Hamidon, 27, who is pursuing his PhD studies in Queensland, Australia. “Nothing beats home cooked food and Malaysian delicacies. Those are some of the few things I miss most about Malaysia.”

But while missing flavours, family and friends, he also misses the way Malaysians behave with each other.

“Malaysians in general are polite and very respectful people. We treat our elderly with a lot of respect and love and hold close to our cultural values and beliefs as reflected in our daily routine,” he explains. “I miss being around Malaysians.”

Johan Kamal Hamidon, kneeling third from left, in Queensland, Australia. Johan Kamal Hamidon, kneeling third from left, in Queensland, Australia.

For Juanita Jamsari, 23, who is pursuing actuarial studies in Sydney, Australia, it is that special feeling of truly being at home.

“Being at home gives you the sense of familiarity and warmth that I miss when I am away,” she says.

She adds that Malaysians have a knack of going out of their way to help someone in need, which is a rare trait to find when abroad.

Juanita Jamsari, currently studying in Sydney, Australia. Juanita Jamsari, currently studying in Sydney, Australia.

“Studying abroad naturally changes your perspective on many things,” says Juanita. “Although Australians are generally friendly and welcoming, learning that you have to start depending on yourself was still frightening. You can either choose to stay scared or overcome your fear and move forward.”

And while all of the young students are missing different things, they all agree that there have been positive changes.

“One prominent change I saw in myself is that I am more confident in communicating my views. I also learned to appreciate the effort of investing in oneself, whether that’s signing up to a Spanish dance class through Groupon or going to a networking event,” she added.

For Oxford-based Shaun, studying abroad helped build his sense of direction.

“I undoubtedly left with ambition that many would consider unhealthy, an uncompromising commitment to realizing said ambitions, and a sense of doing it all with a degree of panache,” he says.

With this in mind, “if I wanted to contribute to the world, I think there is reason to focus on Malaysia,” he adds.

“Malaysia is already a world leader in Islamic finance, palm oil and rainforest biodiversity. We are fast becoming an alternative destination to China for solar panel manufacturing. And it remains to be seen what lessons the Malaysian model of multiculturalism can generate for the rest of the world. “Working through these challenges is what I look forward to.”

In Queensland, Johan, who was active in his universities’ extracurricular activities, says his experience abroad drove him to become more mature, independent and responsible.

Shaun Kua, currently studying at Oxford University, Britain. Shaun Kua, currently studying at Oxford University, Britain.

And it reinforced his love for Malaysia.

“Being away from home also made me more patriotic and created a sense of responsibility in me to give back to the Malaysian community both abroad and back home. This drove me to participate actively in Malaysian student organisations and student councils such as the Malaysian Students Council of Australia (MASCA) for many years,” he says. “I am looking forward to making Malaysia a better place for its people and future generations.”