Looking (and living) abroad

Looking (and living) abroad
Do you want out? Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

By Sophia Goh

Admit it – at one point or another, many of us have wondered what it would be like to work and live overseas. We hear stories of people migrating abroad and we must surely have thought: Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? Well, I was soon to find out when, in July 2006, my husband and I packed our bags and left for Melbourne, Australia.

Do you have a support system?

Moving abroad is no walk in the park. Four handbags, six pairs of shoes, some photo albums all didn’t seem like a lot, but where would we store them?

The two of us were incredibly lucky in that we had the most supportive group of friends waiting for us in Melbourne. They looked after us in every way possible – from picking us up at the airport to offering us a place to live while we settled into our new lives – and I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been if they were not there.

Having lived in Melbourne previously, we had already developed a strong support system and it was immensely helpful when we returned that year. Thank goodness for these friends.

Have you done your research?

Navigating the job market on home ground is easy, but not if you are overseas. Even though we had gone to school in Melbourne, looking for a job was a whole new ballgame. We had to get used to the market place and the culture of the new city.

While in Malaysia we had enjoyed a relatively privileged status, being foreign university graduates, over there, we were just a couple more applicants with qualifications that were pretty much the same as everyone else’s. Not all jobs are created equal, especially if you’re a foreigner. If you’re a medical professional, accountant, engineer, scientist, or hold a similar professional qualification, you should be fine. If you’re capable and enterprising enough to start your own business, you may want to explore that option.

But if you’re neither and looking to get into non-technical fields like marketing, advertising and public relations, or even journalism and creative arts like acting and music, then be prepared to face stiff competition. These industries are usually pretty saturated to begin with, and you’ll find yourself competing with hundreds of others, each just as talented and qualified as you are, many with more experience and a better understanding of the local culture and scene.

In other words, understand why you’re migrating. If you’re after a better quality of life and are willing to do whatever it takes, including maybe starting at a lower position or exploring different career paths, then go for it. If you think moving overseas will instantly give you a better career and better pay, think again. It really depends on where you go and what you do, so don’t skimp on the research.

Many people talk about living overseas and how wonderful life would be if they simply upped sticks and left. Life in Melbourne is great but it took some getting used to. We had to adapt to a whole new way of life. Activities like hanging out late at mamak stalls, shopping after office hours or enjoying a bowl of Maggi mee goreng and limau ais had to wait till we returned to Malaysia.

Is Malaysia really all that bad?

We loved living in Melbourne, but after a year, my husband and I decided to return to Kuala Lumpur. He’d been offered a great opportunity here while I missed writing full-time – I’d joined a consultancy firm while doing freelance writing on the side – and besides, he missed his family and those we’d left behind, not to mention his favourite mamak stall.

Our friends were disappointed to see us go, but they understood. A few of them had been thinking about moving back to Malaysia as well – for family, mostly – but decided to stay on. We have a better quality of life here, said one. The education system here is better for our kids, said another. It’s safer and the political situation here is more stable, said a third.

I won’t lie. I was devastated to leave, but I was also glad to be back in the country of never-ending summers and the best food in the world. Malaysia really is a wonderful place to live, weather, culture, food and people point of view. It’s just a shame all the great stuff is constantly marred by politicking and bad leadership.

As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, I can honestly say, yes, the grass on the other side is greener in many ways, but the question is: What do you want in life? A successful career? Family? A higher standard of living? A country to call your own? At the end of the day, Malaysia is home, and that’s something we should never take for granted.

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