Studied: Early Modern History
Working as: Senior Lecturer and research fellow in Malaysia
My name is Fiona and I come from Norwich. I studied early-modern History at the UEA from undergraduate to PhD level. I also took a masters in Higher Education. During, and after I finished my PhD, I worked as Lecturer in History at the UEA’s School of History, and also as a Researcher for the University of Sunderland and the UK Meteorological Office. My main areas of interest are British history and the history of the climate and environment.
Tell us a little about the global opportunity that you took
In early 2011, I made a decision to leave the UK and travel. I had never been on a gap-year after A levels and had wanted to do something different for a long time. As I already had a career however, the normal travelling or volunteering options were less appealing. I decided that my best option was to find a career job overseas. I choose Malaysia because I had family connections there and had already visited several times. On a previous visit I had been to the campus of the National University and met some of the staff. When I made an application there, already knowing people really helped. The campus is just outside of the capital city Kuala Lumpur.
What was the biggest barrier to taking this opportunity and how did you overcome it?
My field (17th century British History) was not very sellable in Asia! However, I had also worked for several years with the UK Meteorological Office’s ACRE project (www.met-acre.org) on a series of research projects concerning the historic climate. I had to use this angle of my work in order to market my CV. Moving overseas means that you have to be adaptable but this has actually worked in my favour. Four years on, I am now doing a lot of work in this field and really enjoying it. I am now leading the regional arm of the ACRE project, a role that entails travel across Southeast Asia.
Was it difficult to fit in with a new culture?
Yes, and no. Living in a capital city means that it is very multi-cultural and westernised. It’s not like living in some small town. There is a big expat community and, with so many people in the same boat, it is easy to make friends. Meeting locals is more difficult but I have met many people through sports. You have to put yourself out there and join groups, take part in activities and so on. You can’t wait for people to come to you.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working abroad?
The sense of achievement that you gain from establishing yourself so far from your comfort zone and making it work for you. I have also met many wonderful people and been exposed to many new experiences. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s a real eye-opener moving somewhere like Asia, after growing up in a developed country like the UK. I strongly believe that these experiences make us better and more rounded people.
Having now worked here for almost 4 years, I have been able to build a good network and expand my career interests. I travel extensively for work and have had amazing opportunities to visit almost every country in Southeast and East Asia.
Did you know the language before going and how did you deal with the language barrier?
Malaysia is a country made up of three main racial groups: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Each of these groups speaks a variety of different dialects of their native tongue. I realised early on that, even if I choose one of these dialects and learned it, it wouldn’t actually get me very far! Luckily, the common uniting languages are English and Malay. Many people actually speak a bastardised form of English known locally as Manglish. It’s a combination of Malay, English, and some Chinese. I have learned some basic Malay (and Manglish) since I arrived here. Most people speak English but knowing some Malay can be useful at work. It also helps you to integrate if you can speak like a local!
How did you fund your trip?
I had some savings to cover me for an interim period until my job started. Luckily, the British pound goes much further in Asia.
Have you got any advice for people considering a global opportunity?
Do it! It’s been the best experience of my life and I don’t regret it at all. My main tips would be:
- Don’t move overseas without any money in the bank. Living abroad can be cheap but if you have an emergency (medical/travel etc) you won’t have the NHS or your family as a back-up.
- Put yourself out there to make friends. Join expat groups, sports/hobbies groups. Feeling lonely can be depressing so far from home and, friends act as a support network for advice.
- Make the most of it whilst you are overseas. Travel and explore the local area.
- Be aware of local cultures/customs. Be respectful.
What is your favourite expression from your host country?
Manglish/Singlish for, well, pretty much anything! It adds stress to a word e.g. Ok lah … can lah … I don’t have it lah!!!! Used universally, regardless of racial background and language.