I’ve Been a Foreigner in Malaysia for a Decade — Here’s Why I’m Leaving

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‘Home’ is a term I’ve spent quite a large amount of time pondering over. Is it the color your passport indicates, or where your family resides?

Perhaps it’s where you currently are. Regardless of what it means in the literal sense, what feels most like home to you?

I get mistaken quite often for being Malaysian Indian. However, I’m originally from Pakistan.

I left my hometown of Karachi, Pakistan when I was nearly sixteen years old, when my father was employed by the International Medical University (IMU) in Kuala Lumpur.

I’ve lived in Malaysia for more than half my life.

[Image courtesy of Ingrid Wong]

That was 2009. Today, it’s 2020. I’ve spent the better part of my teenage years and young adulthood living in Malaysia.

I’ve gone to school, college, and university here. After graduation, I’ve been working in Malaysia – apart from a brief six-month period where I lived in Brunei.

After my first few years in Malaysia, I stopped visiting Pakistan for what seemed like a very long period.

Five years, in fact. I never felt the need to keep visiting, apart from the delicious cuisine.

Why? Because I just don’t feel at home there anymore.

Yes, I recognize the streets, the smells, the culture when I’m there. It brings a sense of nostalgia.

But I feel like a foreigner there, now – as much as I do so in Malaysia, maybe more.

Malaysia is where I’m actually a foreigner, and I always will be, regardless of having lived here for ten or fifty years.

I always feel like a foreigner in Malaysia.

As a working adult, a local friend of mine once told me I was making her a ‘punching bag’ for all my problems as a foreigner in Malaysia.

“I’m tired of hearing about it!” she snapped.

She claimed her other non-local friends and significant others used to talk about these problems with her. The problems they were facing.

What kind of problems are these, exactly?

Let’s use my life in Malaysia as an example.

I’ve been here since 2009. I’ve always loved the fact that Malaysia’s racial landscape is so diverse, both in terms of locals and foreigners.

I make it a point to mention this whenever speaking to someone about my life in Malaysia.  Hence, I’ve made friends from all around the country and world here, ever since high-school.

Now, however, I find myself lacking when it comes to friends.

My foreign friends eventually left Malaysia for either back home or elsewhere, while the majority of my local friends drifted back to their local counterparts.

Everyone I became acquainted with in Malaysia, then, eventually left.

[Johnny Cash quoting a Nine Inch Nails song]

[Johnny Cash quoting a Nine Inch Nails song]

All my friends left, but I stayed.

I continued staying here, clinging to the familiarity and the vague definition of home.

It hasn’t felt nice seeing others come and go, while I’ve stayed.

They’ve all cited the same reason for leaving: that Malaysia is nothing but a dead-end, both personally and professionally.

I’ve always known that, but refused to accept it. This year, however, I seem to have gotten closure.

Professionally, I’m a content writer – an unfortunate field to be in in Malaysia, to be entirely honest.

The majority of agencies and SMEs are not allowed to hire foreigners, while others don’t meet the salary scale for you to be able to switch jobs easily.

So, I’ve always found myself working at tech startups in the country. By now, though, I’ve reached a level where I’m stagnant in my career.

Due to the familiarity and hesitance of change, I would like to continue staying here, and I have been trying.

But it’s just not possible, due to my requirement of a work visa, salary scale and field.

[ Image via Unsplash]

Getting a PR in Malaysia is next-to impossible.

Before you interject – no, it’s not possible to get a PR in Malaysia.

It’s intensely difficult; I know foreigners who’ve been here going on twenty years now and still having to rely on their next work or business visa’s renewal.

Let me tell you this: it’s inherently frustrating having to constantly rely on some sort of visa just to be able to continue residing in the country which has now become home to you.

To have the recurring thought at the back of your mind, day in and day out, that this just might be your last month here.

To be unable to make plans six months ahead, to lay down any roots just in case they’re torn away at a moment’s notice. Incomplete, is the word.

There have been many times I’ve wished that I had the privilege of quitting a job without any repercussions (apart from the obvious rent and food costs, of course).

I’ve found myself used and taken advantage of, facing distress every single day in a toxic work environment – suffering, but having no way out. Eventually, it begins weighing on you.

You see everyone around you settling down and moving further in life; a family, a car, a house; and you feel envious.

[Image courtesy of Ingrid Wong]

My apartment’s balcony overlooks the city’s skyline, the KL Tower and KLCC shining bright every single night.

I used to enjoy the view during my first few months in this apartment. Now, I look at it with remorse, my life here weighing down on my shoulders.

As if the city is buried with memories and ghosts of people I used to know and yearn for.

A veil drops over the city, and I know it’s time to leave. 

It’s time to stop allowing myself to be a victim of temporary residence, of acquaintances who will just leave, of a certain loneliness apart from family and a halt to my life.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Malaysia. If I had a choice, I would settle down here for the long-run. It’s the perfect mix of religion, culture and advancement for me.

There’s so much more I want to do here; laze on the beaches in Langkawi, snorkel in the waters of Terengganu, walk along the cool, lush green plantations of Cameron Highlands.

Or even just have hot teh tarik and roti canai at a mamak in the middle of the night, after a night of drinks as the Petronas Towers stood next to me, in all their beauty.

I’m not ready to leave; but I must.

I’m a foreigner here, and I always will be.

For more stories like this, read: 5 Things Non-KL People Learn After Moving to KL.

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