Going to study abroad was one of the best experiences of my life. Not only did I get to enjoy uni life with my boyfriend, it also taught me a lot about life.
1. Bring your own beer to house parties.
I’m not sure if this only extends to Melbourne, but I went to a house party empty handed once. It was so awkward because nobody knew what to do. The thing that broke the ice was someone asking, “are those your Asian neighbours here to complain about the noise?” Eventually they found some extra bottles for us and we ended up playing beer pong. In Malaysia, people generally show up to parties empty handed and pay the host after or not at all due to Chinese culture whereby people want to be thought of as wealthy and a few cans of beer is “nothing I cannot afford” kind of mentality. Goes to show that different cultures prioritize different things.
2. Don’t underestimate how heavy groceries are.
Cos I did, not just once, but especially during that first trip I took to the supermarket. Adam was running a high fever, it was our first night in the apartment and there was no food. So I ran out to buy groceries so I could make him homecooked food, thinking it would comfort him. It was horrible. Not only was that my first attempt at Chinese food (I still shudder thinking about how bad it tasted) but I bought big bottles of dark and light soya sauce (cos I didn’t know which to use), cooking oil, a small bag of rice and ingredients for stir fried vege, steamed egg with mince meat. Who knew everything could add up to be so heavy? And our apartment was 15 minutes away! I should’ve just stuck to fried luncheon meat and sweet corn soup. This taught me to think before I act. Back home, we drove everywhere and parked in front of shops. I forgot to factor in the fact that I didn’t have a car anymore.
3. It is amazing how far you can walk.
It really is. During a trip to the city, I was adamant about getting somewhere which resulted in blisters and newlost respect for me and my ability to follow directions from google maps. I kept saying it’s up ahead, for about half an hour. But at least we got there. The point is, little by little, one truly goes far.
4. It is perfectly okay to talk to strangers.
The first few times a stranger tried to strike up a conversation with me was weird. But after a while it started to be nice. These interactions range from simple idle talk to full out philosophical debates and it’s wonderful. You meet and click and then you leave each other to it. I guess in a way, that’s kinda beautiful. Back home, you would be considered crazy if you tried to talk to a stranger. This frustrates me now because I hate living in a community where there’s no sense of community. I want to feel welcomed in my home town, not judged. And it’s not just that strangers are friends we haven’t met, but I think it’s okay for people to talk to one another like civilized human beings. You don’t have to know each other to have a conversation. You don’t have to become friends after having a conversation. A conversation is just an exchange between two people.
5. Home is where you want it to be.
I raged about leaving Kuching when I was 13, swearing I would get out of this town and fly off somewhere, never to return. By the time I was 18, nothing could make me leave. But my dad convinced me that I should. When I was abroad, all I wanted was to come home. But when I did, my room was gone and the house I lived in for 20 over years felt different. It was then I realized that home is only where you want it to be and I unpacked and came home again.
6. You can drink tap water.
This blew my mind. I was so dubious. But then it became fun trying to convince the other International students that it’s safe to drink from the tap. And even convincing the locals that you have to boil or filter water in Malaysia took some effort. So really, we only believe what we know. Once you learn to accept that, you learn be a bit more empathetic and understanding. You become a bit less impatient and a little more kind. You can’t fault others for believing all that they know.
7. Don’t take things personally.
Then you learn that maybe the way a person acts could be culture, it could be upbringing, it could be just the way they are. But whatever it is, you realize you shouldn’t take things personally, that nobody is against you. People are far too selfish for that. They are for what they believe in, they are for themselves. Even when what they do seem to suggest otherwise, because how someone treats you, is a reflection of themselves… Not the other way around.