I’m nervously shaking my leg under the table, it’s soon my turn in the introduction round. And yes, there it comes: How about you? Where are you from? they ask. Me? Oh, that’s a good question! I reply in my corporate voice to buy me some time to think about the question. Really, where am I from? Seemingly a simple question. I was born and raised in Slovakia, so I guess I could say I’m from there. But I’m a native Hungarian, and I spent my last years in Budapest. I still consider the city my home, so probably I have to go with this option. Yet, last minute I decide for: I’m from here. I live here. In Kuala Lumpur.
It was my childhood dream to move to Asia. Growing up in a small Eastern European town, I was often picturing myself walking on the busy streets under the skyscrapers; crossing the road with my fellow citizens while hurrying to work with a fancy to-go latte in my hand. Back then, it really seemed beyond my reach. Later, after I started earning my own money, I spent every spare penny on travelling.
Fast-forward to March 2020. As the world was about to fall apart, I was mentally preparing for my new job. My first day at Roche was Monday, 16 March. You might remember the date as the first day of “the two weeks of preventive quarantine”. Online onboarding, countless Zoom calls, remote team building activities going on for months and months. With the weeks turning to months and then years, I started to miss travelling, but this time it was different. I no longer wanted just to go somewhere and see the surface. I wanted to discover new places and cultures in depth. To have the whole experience. I was flirting with the idea of moving abroad more and more often, so I tried, I succeeded, and got a job within the Malaysian affiliate of the company. Since May, I live in Kuala Lumpur (and also since May I know nobody calls the city by its full name, we just call it KL. Casually.)
For a first-time expat, Malaysia is the perfect place. It’s just as different as familiar. You can have the best of both worlds. You don’t even have to step outside your comfort zone if you don’t want to, you can go on with your western lifestyle. (But honestly, is it what you moved to the other side of the world for? I don’t think so.)
Stress and doubts and anxiety are common emotions, but feeling welcome helps to battle the difficulties. Also, I’m very lucky to work within the same broader organization as back in Budapest: having familiar faces in meetings and continuity in the scope of my work is priceless!
slide 1 of 2 I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou
KL is considered the New York of the East. The bustling streets of the city really remind me of NY sometimes, but with kind, smiling people. A huge plus is that in Malaysia everyone speaks decent English, which makes settling down so much easier for foreigners. Everyone is very accommodating, the local people really help you a lot in making a new home in their country. For the first days, I gained a lot of strength from my environment’s kindness, as—of course—moving 10,000 km from your family and friends is just not easy.
My first cultural impressions are revolving around two big topics: the first one is how much we could learn from the local people. Malaysia is a multicultural and multiracial country where people from different backgrounds and religions are living peacefully together. The second topic is much lower on the Maslow pyramid: yes, you guessed it: food. KL is food heaven. The national dish is called nasi lemak (a rice dish with various toppings, most commonly chicken), but you can find delicious Chinese, Indian, Thai or Japanese options as well. For a foodie like me, it means endless visits to night markets and food courts.
Typing this from my new home, the 40th floor of a gorgeous building with a view of the city’s most famous landmarks, I still can’t believe this is my life now. I guess the clichés like: “hard work pays off” or “dreams come true” must be right. My heart still belongs with Budapest, it always will, but I’m here to make the most out of this wonderful adventure! Please, KL, be good to me, I already admire you!
My personal tips for your visit to KL:
try the famous Malaysian-style mochi and the refreshing soy drink in Chinatown;
there are countless expat events in KL where you can meet people from all over the globe;
grab your picnic basket and have a break in KLCC park overlooking the twin towers;
traffic in KL can be crazy, be aware of bikes on sidewalks!
REMARKS: The author can be absolutely biased by food!