"So You Guys Live On Trees?" & 11 Other Questions Malaysians Studying Abroad Always Hear
Leaving home is never easy…
It is especially the case if you decide to study in a different country where the environment may be unfamiliar and you're not there for long enough to necessarily make sense of it all.
The people you meet are themselves often unsure of Malaysia and its culture, prompting many questions and interesting remarks.
We asked Malaysian students about their experiences abroad and compiled a list of 12 common questions they get asked:
1. "Where is Malaysia?
It can be disheartening to be recognised only by way of other countries or even being mistaken for them.
However, this question has made a few students realise just how important it is to actively share their experiences of home and push for greater representation in the media.
2. "You all live on trees right?" followed by "Wow! I didn't know Malaysia was that advanced"
This is occasionally what follows the first question. It isn't so much the question as it is the tone that is used to ask it that has bugged Malaysian students.
3. "How far did you have to travel?"
Though this varies depending on the country the student has chosen to go to, it is safe to say that they have travelled quite the distance.
The Internet may have made it easier to connect with family and friends back home, but it is just not the same as actually being there.
4. "Why did you come all the way just for your education?"
There could be many answers to this. Here are some potential reasons:
- "To experience new cultures and meet people from around the world."
- "They have more opportunities for the path I am pursuing."
- "I got a scholarship!"
5. "You speak such good English. Why is that?" or "How is English your first language?"
And to that we say:
6. "Do you speak Malaysian?"
We do speak Bahasa Rojak, does that count?
7. "What accent is that?", "Why don't you have an accent?", or "Are you sure you're an international student?"
TBH, Malaysians can't pinpoint it either, but that's the beauty of living in a multicultural society.
Other students might have grown up attending private or international schools, making their accent more British- or American-sounding. This, however, does not make them any less Malaysian.
8. "So you're all Malay?"
A common misconception.
After explaining that you can be of a certain ethnicity AND Malaysian, the follow-up question will always be: "So you're (insert ethnicity) but you're not from that country of origin?"
Students have also relayed experiences where people have started talking to them in a specific language simply because they look a certain way.
In an extreme case, a Malaysian Chinese student living in Canada was asked, "Do you have the coronavirus?"
9. "Why do you call everyone aunty and uncle?"
No matter how hard they try to convince us, calling aunties and uncles by their first names will always feel strange.
10. "How do you cope with winter?"
Simple! We don't.
Jokes aside, here is how some students tahan the cold:
- Layers. Lots of layers. Don't be afraid to look like the 'Michelin Man'.
- Those tiny heat packs you can get from convenience stores.
- Use your precious supply of Milo powder to make a hot beverage.
- Eat spicy food, if you can find it.
Several students even got asked, "Does it snow in Malaysia?"
11. "Do you need any Malaysian snacks?" or "Do you miss home?"
Because food = home.
These are questions students typically hear from concerned family members.
Some examples of essential food products students love to bring along with them are:
- Instant noodles: Maggi and Indomie, just to name a few.
- Milo or local kopi because the Malaysian kind just "hits different".
- Chilli and spices for when the food is just not pedas enough.
- Nasi lemak, roti canai, and durian - haha you wish!
12. "You're not coming back to Malaysia after you graduate are you?"
The answer: It depends!
There are so many factors to consider.
Some seize career opportunities they otherwise wouldn't get offered back home. Others find love and decide to settle down where they are.
At the same time, graduates might want to move back to be close to their families. While others would simply prefer to live in a country where it's the norm to say, "Jom, mamak!" and proceed to go eat supper on any given day.
These days, things move so quickly that decisions aren't necessarily for forever.
If you ever find yourself craving for Malaysian food in London, Amsterdam, New York City, or Vancouver, give these restaurants a try:
Speaking of food, many Malaysians living abroad missed 'ketupat bachok' so much that they ordered it to be sent overseas: