You know how you never really spoke to that particular senior when you were at STF, because you both moved in different circles? And then you bump into them in a city somewhere and suddenly there exists a bond beyond just seeing a fellow Malaysian in a foreign land - here's a face you actually know and share something beyond nationality, ethnicity and an equal love for nasi lemak! I think being abroad does that to you; and funnily enough, there are more Srikandis that I went to STF with doing the expat thing abroad than I initially expected. (The Class of 93 seems to have dibs on Britain, for some reason... )
Deciding to move abroad isn't as easy as the idea of wanting to move abroad makes it seem to be. There are perks - better pay is almost a given, but you actually do reach a point where money can't make all the other things that nag on go away. A friend of mine once happened to sit next to a Malaysian businessman on the bus in London - he moved to London for business reasons, but went home every month for a few days to see to his family. Best of both worlds, thought my friend and proceeded to tell him so; Not quite, he replied. You will reach a point where you've been abroad for so long, you pine for your roots. If you're lucky, they might still be there if you decide to go back. If not, you may have lost them forever. Whenever I reflect on this I think I get his point more and more.
But however well you speak the language, however embedded their dry wit and obsession of the weather is within you, for every minute that you live abroad, you are always on the outside looking in. There are constant reminders everywhere that you are not one of them even though as a Malaysian you can vote in the British local and general elections. And that as a non-permanent resident your taxes goes back into a benefit system you have no right to claim; and therefore, irony of ironies, it is your hand that feeds the mouths of the unemployed yobs who give you grief on the streets and tell you to go home.
So if you miss home (which I do), why move and pursue a career abroad? The old adage, hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri, lebih baik negeri sendiri, must have some truth in it or it would not have endured the years; although part of me thinks it was really coined by a trader in the olden days who was miffed that he had to return to the Malay Peninsular while his mates were living it up in Portugal, Goa, the Arabs or wherever.
But back to the question, and while I refuse to speak for everyone, for me my move abroad was a culmination of many circumstances and many events. I suppose deep down inside I had always wanted to return to the country where I grew up, but that was mostly a nostalgic element, not unlike wishing I was young enough to do STF all over again. It doesn't take long to realise that Britain in the 1980's is nothing like what it is today. [For starters Liverpool are useless and Man United are actually winning!]
It was the small, small things that made me decide to move here. Things like, having personal space. Being able to come in to work in my jeans and t-shirt. Having options, making choices. Responsibility for myself coming first before responsibility for others, however selfish that may seem. The fact that I had limited roots and committments, save a car, back home helped. It's easier when you have nothing tying you down like that. No mortgage, no man, no kids.
I get accusations of selfishness and arrogance from certain parties when they find out I work abroad; they tell me that I am sombong and I think I am too good for Malaysia, and that I am not contributing to building the country. I admit I am selfish, because I put my own personal needs first. But I think it's unfair to say that I don't contribute. At the barest minimum there is foreign currency flowing in from my pockets into the Malaysian economy. But on top of that I still engage with Malaysia and Malaysians back home. Perhaps not exactly in the same way that some people would like, but I think I chip in a tolerable amount into the collective nation-building pot.
Contribution, after all, is an all-encompassing concept. Coming from a school like STF, I've always believed that collectively as a group, we Srikandis were meant to affect change. That the buck does not stop after you graduate, get married and have kids (preferably in that order). Sure, not every one of us will be the Zeti Akhtars of the world, but you don't need to pitch in at the macro level to make a difference. We were all born with roles; and even at the micro level, as a mother, sister or aunt there is always positive change to be made.
Or so I think. But what do I know, right? I haven't even hit 30 yet.
Idlan Rabihah Zakaria, SPM '94