Okay, I’ll admit I basically made that the post title because it sounds like a good album name 😛 Technically I’m not halfway done with my rotation in Kuala Lumpur yet, but it’s getting close. I’ve been in KL for a bit over 5 months and will remain for a bit less than 7. I wanted to write a more personal post talking about some things that I’ve learned while living as an expat here. My parents just visited, so after showing them around KL, I feel like I have a new appreciation. Read on for a breakdown 😀
I think I can split this into two categories:
I’m one of about 8 expats working at this site. I have no idea how many people work here in total and I’m bad at estimating – but it’s quite a lot. So I really stick out as one of few non-locals. At first this was a little odd both at work and in Malaysia in general. As a pale blonde girl I get plenty of stares here, but obviously I blended in pretty well in Indiana and Texas. Overall, everyone’s really nice and friendly, and especially in the beginning, would ask me how I like Malaysia and offer me suggestions for stuff to do. Definitely more friendly than when I first started l last year in Texas. But – management and general work here is much more disorganized and communication can be really hard. Email chains become really long and nonsensical, instructions are more vague and indirect, and progress is slow. There is sometimes a language barrier with operators but not usually with everyone else. It’s a manual factory as opposed to the automated one I used to be at, so that contributes to some differences too. I don’t have very much work to do nowadays and I don’t like what I do, but I can handle (and appreciate) self-directing my learning, especially considering my plans for when I return to the US…but more on that later 🙂
Social life as an expat is interesting. Besides a few people through work, I’ve met people through an expat club called internations that has meetups (hiking, getting drinks, etc) other random meetups, and on tinder. It’s hard because I’m always traveling, but there ar,e a couple people who I think I can call a friend. There are tons and tons of expats here so I always have new people to meet. It’s hard to meet locals because many live far away from the city and drive in for work. There are a few main bar areas in KL (pretty Western, really), and for food I’ll get something delivery (Foodpanda is life), very occasionally cook, or just walk to get food. Overall food is super convenient and cheap and delicious. Friendships are pretty transient because of people moving and traveling, but usually if I want to hang out with someone I can find someone out there who wants to also.
Airasia is headquartered near KL, so there are so many super cheap flights to everywhere from here. It’s actually a bit stressful in some ways because I’m aware of the endless cheap, fun possibilities for travel. But sometimes I don’t have the time, or I just don’t feel like it. I think I’m doing a good amount of traveling, though. I also feel like there are different ‘types’ of travel that I’ve pinpointed – vacationing, backpacking, and then some weird hybrid that I (and plenty of others) do. Some people like to do the sort of American way of booking a resort, going on holiday just to lay around (nothing wrong with that!). Then there are your long term budget travelers aka backpackers, often who have quit their jobs to travel indefinitely. I’m jealous of them to be honest. Side note, I almost made a plan to do the same after this rotation…but I think I’ll be a bit burnt out. In a few years I will do it! Anyway, so my travel style tends to be traveling to a city/area and staying at hostels with backpackers – but I’m just going to one destination instead of many, like them. Hence, a sort of hybrid type of travel. It’s nice because it gives me company when I travel solo, and it’s cheap, but then I get to go home to my nice quiet bed.
I’ll be honest. The election of Trump destroyed me. I know, I know, I sound like a dramatic white girl (especially to Trump-ers). I’m lucky and privileged and I’m really not going to be directly affected by his being president – but so, so many people are. And, the day he got elected was one of the hardest I’ve ever had. I didn’t realize that my deep seated belief in American democracy and in the good of people was able to be destroyed so readily. And obviously having the prospect of a female president pulled out from under me made it worse. Being alone on the other side of the world, with no one to talk to about the chaos that was happening was really difficult. Definitely spent a lot of time in the bathroom crying that day at work. But I’ll reiterate that I know that I’m not the true victim of this election (well, besides the fact that my reproductive rights may be taken away) – the real victim is minorities, refugees, immigrants, low income families, the environment, etc. I wish I were there to march for what is right, but I can’t be. I’ve mailed some postcards and made some calls and will remain fired up enough to continue. And when I get back I plan to engage even harder. It makes me so so mad. And I’ve never felt so helpless, especially seeing all the marchers on TV and wishing I were there for some sense of solidarity. America as a dying democratic power is something I never thought I’d see. I’m sort of hopeful, yet fully aware these next 4 years could ruin a lot of shit. Here’s to not going down without a fight….
Plan for my return
Just before I left Texas for Malaysia, I contacted a couple of professors from my undergrad about applying to grad school this fall. My work tasks are just too nontechnical, and there is no mobility towards the kind of autonomy I want in my career without a graduate degree. Well fast forward to now, and I’ve been accepted to four of the five mechanical engineering PhD programs I applied to – with the fifth being promising too 🙂 It’s a super tough decision because I cannot go to the visit weekends (so much money and jet lag and not enough time off wahhh), but my gut feeling right now (and for a while) has been that I’ll attend UC Santa Barbara. I do tend to change my mind a lot and I have 2 months left still to decide, so we’ll see – but I think it’s a great fit. So excited to restart my learning all while being on the beach/mountains. I mean, just look at it:
A question I get a lot – what do I miss about home? The people. Family and friends, namely. KL is quite a modern city and has all the conveniences I could want. Sometimes I wish I had amazon prime or my own car, but overall the food is better, cost of living is way cheaper (also awesome healthcare), and there are zillions of places to travel to from here. So it’s a great place to live, but it can be lonely. I don’t have any close friendships here, and it gets tiring explaining your ‘story’ over and over. I’ve made a few friends so it could be worse, plus I always have my coworkers. And it’s great meeting people from all over the world and learning about their lives. But I’m looking forward to getting home and making longer lasting relationships (and spending time with the A+ ones I have already :p )
Bucket list is usually before you die..but this is just where I want to travel before returning to the US! And also I’ve added what I’ve checked off the list.
- Baguio to see Denice! (already planned)
- Climb Mt Kinabalu (already planned)
- Trekking in Nepal
- Australia – probably Perth & Melbourne – & skydiving!
- Mulu National Park, Borneo
- Krabi and/or Bali to see what all the hype’s about
- Perhentian Islands
- KL (counts, right? lol)
- Hong Kong
- Cameron Highlands
- Kuching, Borneo
- Chiang Mai
- Japan (Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo)
It’s been hard, it’s been fun, it’s gone slowly – but I’m sure will all be a blur at the end. I’m looking forward to savoring the rest of my time here. I’ve learned a lot and fallen in love with KL, and also I have missed America for reasons I didn’t realize I would. If I’ve painted a negative picture of living as an expat here – that’s just because for me it’s easier/more interesting to nitpick than to just brag about my life all day, haha. I really do love KL life 🙂