Thinking of studying overseas? Whether you’re coming to or leaving Malaysia, here’s what to expect when making the move.
Your visa is ready, bags packed, and flight booked… That's all it should take to move and start your new life in Malaysia right? WRONG!
Moving to another country is super exciting but also requires a lot of planning and preparation — from your finances and programmes to having the right documentation. Though it may sound tedious, don’t worry, once you hear your flight’s boarding call, your exciting journey begins.
Full disclosure, Malaysia isn’t the first time I’ve moved to another country and my previous experience was a nightmare, which made me extra nervous leaving my home country, Kenya, a second time. So when I arrived in Malaysia, I felt a rush of excitement and nervousness for this fresh start and new phase of life.
To all of you in the same boat as I was, this article might give you the needed reality check of what to expect and prepare for when you finally make your move. So, here are 5 realities that I’ve experienced when moving to Malaysia:
You’re in a new country — there’ll be new sights to see, new places to visit, new food to try. But this isn’t a family holiday. It's important to realise as soon as possible that you’re moving to Malaysia to study. You’d have responsibilities with no one to look over you and tell you what to do so you’d need to be responsible enough to manage your time and resources well.
When I first came to Malaysia, I was so pleasantly shocked by how much food there was to experience. Being a foodie, I spent my first two weeks trying different food every meal. Not only did this distract me from the key first weeks of my university life, it also affected the allowance I'd in the first month of living here.
But that’s not to say you shouldn't enjoy the place and have a good time. For me, in order to experience the food culture as much as I could, I joined the Taylor’s Wine & Dine club! By joining different clubs and societies, you’d be able to do the things you’re passionate about while being wise about spending your time and money. Plus, at Taylor’s, there’s a variety of different clubs that’d definitely suit your interests but we'll touch on that a little later.
The importance of the term ‘BEFORE YOU ARRIVE’ can’t be overstated. You don't want to land in Malaysia and not have a place to stay. While you can Google a place to rent, remember that it’s the Internet guys — you don't want to land yourself in a situation where you’ve booked and paid for an accommodation that doesn't actually exist. As much as that sounds far-fetched, believe me, it has happened to people (more on this next time!).
Instead, when you're booking your accommodation, especially the one’s off-campus, make sure you’ve a reliable and trustworthy contact for an agent. Otherwise, there are a lot of options for you to choose whether it’s Taylor’s on-campus accommodation, or close-by off-campus accommodation that's just a few minutes walk away from campus.
I recommend either getting contacts through trusted friends or connections already in Malaysia. If you don't have any, try reaching out to our friendly Unibuddy Ambassadors and ask us about our experiences living on or off campus. This would give you a clearer idea of the real situation of the various accommodations and the opportunity to make a more informed decision that best suits you.
Trust me when I say that there'll be times when you think “I should treat myself a little today” and that's completely okay! As someone who's experienced this thought every month for the past three years, it's the kind of thing you should definitely factor into your allowance from the get go.
Before I left for Malaysia, I remember having ‘The Talk’ with my parents about my allowance. I remember calculating my potential food expenses in a day and multiplying by 30 to get the month's allowance. By the end of my first week in Malaysia, I realised how stupid I was to have not factored in any other expenses.
Having said that, don’t go telling your parents, “Ali told me I should factor in spoiling myself every week with gifts so I'll need money for that!” Instead, be as practical as possible when calculating your potential allowance and budget and to be equally responsible in knowing where your limit is — again referring to point No.1 that you're not on vacation.
“I’m already leaving home. How much more does he want me to get out?”
There’s no easy way to say this, you're moving away from your family and all the friends you’ve known your whole life. It's going to suck, and while you may be used to making and staying friends with your high school classmates, it won’t be as easy anymore. Why?
Depending on the course you've enrolled into, you might not have the same classmates for each module so it could be difficult to really get to know them especially when you’ve just moved here. Though it may be difficult, that doesn’t mean you should lead your life as a loner.
Here are some easy ways to make friends as a newbie which I’ve personally tried when I first joined Taylor’s:
Try your best to be as friendly and approachable as possible. If you're trying to make friends but sit quietly in a corner, chances are people aren't going to approach you.
Don't limit yourself to the classroom. Join extracurricular activities and meet people with similar interests. That’s how I met some of my best friends in university!
If you’ve friends or family already in Malaysia prior to your arrival, it’ll be tempting to depend on their company.
As a Kenyan, I tried making friends with all the Kenyans I could find in Malaysia for that comfort. As much as they’re still close friends of mine, I realised that if I’d wanted to be surrounded by ONLY Kenyans, I probably shouldn't have left Kenya.
It’s only after making this decision that I took interest in becoming a student leader and taking part in various extracurricular activities to meet and connect with other people. This experience literally changed my life and I'm forever grateful for this realisation.
But, you’ll undoubtedly get homesick at some point so remember to make time for your family. Keeping in touch with my family back home, along with these tips on dealing with homesickness, really kept me going especially in the first few weeks when I hadn't made friends yet. On the flip side, be wary of getting too attached to that comfort and learn to be more independent in your new space.
Eating with your hands and drinking out of a plastic packet might result in awkward stares from the aunties back home but in Malaysia that’s absolutely normal!
It's these little things that’ll allow you to feel at home in a foreign country which played a big and important part in my journey to adapting to life in Malaysia. As you try to adjust to life like a local, in no time, you’d blend in like a local and, subsequently, feel at home.
In your journey of adapting to the local culture, keep the following tips in mind:
Adapting to the culture is definitely something that’ll come over time over the course of your stay in Malaysia. The faster you adjust, the faster you’ll feel comfortable and at home here.
And that’s 5 reality checks when moving to a new country for your studies!
I hope you’re not traumatised by the reality of what it takes to move abroad. As much as it’s all true and definitely comes with its own challenges, when you look back in retrospect at your decision to move, you'll see how much you've grown and the amazing memories and friends you've made along the way. This is what makes it worth it.
Your decision to move to another country is already a big step and probably the hardest part of the whole process — the first step to the rest of your life. As someone who moved to Malaysia with absolutely no idea of what was in store to now feeling the love I do for this country and its people and feeling the sense of belonging, all I say to you — the person who has decided to embark on this crazy journey to Malaysia, is… “Welcome home!”
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