Sunday, 14 August 2011

LIFE OVERSEAS : At home on Emerald Isle

My second article written in the New Sunday Times, Malaysia as of below :

While living abroad took some adjustments, AUDREY CHEW ERNERN is thankful
that she can now call Ireland and Malaysia home
MANY Malaysian students aspire to study abroad — Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States to name a few. I have been studying in Ireland for a year now. The adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is true indeed now that I am 10,940km away from Malaysia where I have been living for the past 16 years of my life. Ireland with all its rustic charm is different indeed.

Firstly, I was transported from a bustling city with skyscrapers and congested streets to a heritage town in the countryside filled with verdant greens, lowing Friesian cows, neighing horses and bleating lambs.

Then culture shock came. When I first arrived, I had a stereotyped image of the people in Ireland and its culture, which was greatly influenced by the media and the books that I had read.

Malaysia is known for its friendly people. Hospitality comes naturally to Malaysians as we are brought up in a multicultural society. Malaysians can just click in an instant. For me, it takes a mere five minutes to be engaged in an interesting conversation, once the introductions are over, especially when it involves the same age group.

Hanging out with friends at any time after school was a norm. One of our favourite haunts was the mamak eatery where food and drinks are sold twenty-four seven at reasonable prices in an open environment.

Not so in the town where I live in Ireland. Although strangers on the street greet each other “Hello” or “How are ya?”, Asians are as scarce as hen’s teeth.

When I first arrived, I wanted to build bridges but it was only after endless attempts that a friendship was formed followed by a deeper bond. I felt that I had to put a lot of effort and thought into a conversation. Shopping malls and eateries close by 6pm. Only smoke-free bars and pubs open for longer hours. It is therefore difficult for students to find suitable places to meet their peers. But the scenery in Ireland is breathtaking. The fresh air and the green belt are amazing.

But when the summer holidays came, I could not wait to return to my hometown, Subang Jaya. As the national carrier touched down at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, my heart missed a beat as I heard the words, “And to all Malaysians, welcome home”.

Expectations were already set on the number of days which would be spent at home. Images of wolfing down nasi lemak, chee cheong fan and roti canai topped my list — a break from boiled cabbage, mashed potatoes and mushy peas typical of Irish menu.

The anticipation of seeing familiar faces at the arrival gate was high. The first day was emotional as I had not told many of my friends about my return and there were screams and tears in every direction as we hugged each other. It struck me there and then that home is irreplaceable. I might have been absent for the past year but it was as if I had never left. Days were packed with fun-filled activities. My motto was to make the best of it and be on the go throughout the six-week holiday.

It is said that the grass is greener on the other side but that is not necessarily true. After being in Ireland for a year, I can say that it is all a matter of perception. It is what we want to make of our environment that matters most. We should stop looking at the world through a negative lens. It is about a change in focus to realise that there is so much to be thankful for.

Initially, I felt that Ireland would never become a place that I could call home. Now I can say that I am rich in my experiences and I am thankful that I can call both Malaysia and Ireland home.
All it took was time.

The writer is studying at a high school in Ireland. She loves to try all things but is a Malaysian at heart. Email her at

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