Living as an expat in Malaysia

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It’s been 8 years since the last time I worked abroad and it’s not the easiest story to share but it’s not too late. Working in Malaysia at a newspaper in Kuala Lumpur was quite an experience for me where I was new to the country with a different culture from where I came from, so it was an adjustment for me.

After Colombia, it was my second time to work abroad and it felt right to also share about my experiences there. I was a bright eyed young professional back then, excited to embark on a new adventure in media as a sub-editor for the local newspaper where I had the chance to do investigative journalism.

But things weren’t as I expected when I learned that I’ll have a different boss since they hired a new guy from another company. I was supposed to work under one of the great investigative editors but nonetheless upon learning the news, I was ready to learn and be challenged. After all, the investigative beat was what I wanted to do but never did back him since it’s risky.

So the first few months, I was renting a new place near the company at a factory area and I commuted to our office. I met my colleagues, locals and foreigners, as well as new friends from my organization, AIESEC. I had to learn the ropes but I had the leverage of working for a newspaper and magazine in my country. I adjusted with the new culture and work environment, where I gained friends, mentors and learned a bit of Malay. I also had to learn how to write in British English and the style of writing.

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I still remember the first interview I did was with the Philippine ambassador to Malaysia and I was scared yet proud of it. I also reminisced about the great conversation over coffee with a local music producer who handled Filipino artists in Kuala Lumpur. He shared with me how it was to work with Filipinos and bring talent to Sabah and the mainland. I was also brought to presscons with my fellow journalists so I can meet other reporters, politicians and celebrities.

The best thing that happened to me there was working for the other editor, who’s part Filipino, she took me under her wing to do an investigative interview on drugs, along with other foreigners and local journalists. I was excited to explore a whole new yet dangerous story and we did our research but sadly it was put to a stop since it was risky for a team, if ever something happens that will put us on the line. But at least I was able to write other stories under her and she became my mentor, not just my boss, on child safety and animal welfare.

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It started great but things took a twist and I never really shared my experiences to everyone, only to people I trusted. I had to deal with the new executive editor who didn’t like me, whenever we discussed my stories, he had a way to put me down or made me feel that I wasn’t good enough. But that didn’t stop me from doing what I love to do and I was lucky enough that there were other editors who led their own departments who took me under their wings. My colleagues and some of the close friends I gained from my organization also became my support system, telling me to not give up and I was good enough to be there as a journalist from another country. So the stories that weren’t published under him went out because my fellow Filipino editor who believed in me made sure they were still used online and in other sections of the newspaper.

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I was questioning myself, why am I not passing when it comes to the other guy, but with the others I was a good journalist. I probably may not be such a great or top reporter but I was competent because if not I wouldn’t have worked with the top media companies back home and passed the interviews with AIESEC and the foreign newspaper. It saddened me to know that I dropped everything here in Manila, every opportunity for this. That discrimination back then broke me and led to my longest writer’s block for a year or I think even longer to the point I left the industry when I came home. But looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way because the bad experience taught me a lot and I knew myself more.

So to continue the story, my contract was cancelled in the middle of my stint, we tried to fix it but to no avail. It was a hell of a scary time when I had no family and old friends in a new city. At the same time, I didn’t want to disappoint my family back home, after all the paperwork and money we spent so they could send me abroad. I had dreams to play in the bigger field, given that the company is under one of the biggest petroleum giants in the world.

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I had dreams to be that journalist from the Philippines who can represent my country and meet well-known icons in a foreign country. I wanted to prove to myself too that I can live independently and stay there for years. I wanted to make my family, my professors and my previous bosses in the first newspaper I worked for proud but things didn’t happen according to plan.

I cried my eyes out, did my best to stay in the company, tried to find other jobs in Malaysia and Singapore but everything was pointing to going back home. I didn’t want to, so I stayed a bit longer as long as I’m allowed to by the government, but I guess this is the moment when you’ll realize that what’s not meant for you will not happen and I had the major decision to come home.

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My family visited me and they saw a different Rem. It was the most painful thing for them to see me at my worst and to disappoint them. We went on vacation for a week in Malaysia and Singapore, and asked me to come home with them. Stubborn as I am, I said no because I wasn’t giving up yet and hell, I was scared to hear what people would say if I came home sooner than expected.

Now I imagine the pain and the struggles of OFWs and expats working in other countries, away from their families, who had their jobs terminated. I’m still lucky as I was single and back then, my parents were still working, but it was frustrating for me because all I wanted was to pursue my dream abroad and at the same time give back to them for everything they have invested in me from my education to after college and sending me abroad.

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I don’t regret going there because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t toughen up, know myself more and realize that I really love writing and what I do as a journalist. I also wouldn’t have met all the wonderful people along the way, who supported me, believed in me and taught me life lessons.

I came home with a terrible writer’s block and I lost myself. I was depressed and didn’t want to pursue a career in media. I said to myself it wasn’t for me anymore and I stopped for a year or so, working in marketing and doing freelance work. But I didn’t want to lose my writing skills so I started writing here again on my blog to practice and as a hobby.

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So if I told my 27 year old self one thing back then? It’s to believe in yourself and don’t ever let other people bring you down, but also stay humble and face head on any hurdles life throws at you. It’s also a time when I saw who will fight for me and who will leave me during tough times, and it’s fine, I knew who to keep in my circle, who to trust and also have faith that God will show me the path and bring to me people who are meant to be in my life.

Now that I’m 35 years old, I finally have the closure that I needed. Some may say that is so long ago and why are you only having a closure now, well time heals and some have different ways of getting it. I also covered it up over the years with good memories that I just simply moved on but in reality I was avoiding dealing with my emotions because it was too painful to bear. Do I wish I had closure sooner? I used to but not anymore, because it happened at the right time. There will always be a purpose why things happen and hopefully if you’re reading this I was able to inspire you in any way that I can. So here’s to the future, hoping, learning and yearning for great things to come in our lives!