In 2012, I quit my job and moved to Australia. It was a heady time. I did so many things I thought I never would. I experienced a new culture, made new friends. Achieved many of my dreams.
Then, in 2015, in a move so sudden I didn't even have time to tell everyone in Oz, I moved home to Malaysia.
For many Malaysians, having the chance to live in Australia is the ultimate dream. Therefore, when I returned after three years as an experimental Aussie, they wanted to know why I'd ditch such a 'good thing'.
I did expect to be asked questions about my return, but I was taken aback by how negative some Malaysians were about my decision.
"What a waste", "You should've stayed there!", "You're so stupid-lah."
Because the reasons for my return were very personal, I stubbornly refused to share, just giving a pat, "I came back for my family" reason (it wasn't a lie).
Also, back then, I wasn't even sure how to articulate the storm of feelings in me beyond "I had to do it".
After two years thinking about, I now have more clarity about why I did what I did, and I believe my move back home was the right one.
So, why am I finally writing this?
A) Because people kept asking me why I returned. I'd like to direct them to this post instead of explaining it again and again! (Hey, get some hits in return, why not)
B) Because many people had their own ideas about why I moved back, and a lot of them were wrong.
I would also like to encourage expats chose to return home home, and are questioning why they didn't "stay". I want to tell them that it's not the end of the world if they decided to move from some "heavenly" Western nation back to Malaysia. In fact, the move could be the best thing you could do for yourself.
So, why did I return to Malaysia?
I was in the midst of a career shift. Again.
When I applied for an Australian visa, I was looking for change, any change. It turned out I was eager to try out different careers. I was fortunate to be a digital content strategist at a start-up digital agency, and then, to see if nursing suited me, I studied to be an aged care worker with the intention of eventually studying up to be an Enrolled nurse and then a Registered nurse. But by my second year as a carer, I realised that nursing wasn't really for me. It was time to move on. But where? How?
But surely you could have continued changing careers Australia?
Yes, but I wouldn't be as nimble as I'd like. Shifting careers is difficult enough in Malaysia. Being an immigrant while shifting careers at the same time complicated things hugely.
Often, the effort to maintain my life in Australia took a lot of energy and money out of me, leaving me with very little strength or time to engage in the necessary networking to secure a new job.
Migrants can't be choosy with the jobs they get - that's just the reality.
I decided I needed stability and space to think about my next step
During my last year in Australia, I faced a host of annoying demands imposed on me by the visa. It was one stressful event after another. I began to ask myself, "Really, why am I doing this?"
My work, although I loved it, didn't help me in the space and stability department either - my hours fluctuated wildly, which meant my pay fluctuated as well. On top of that, I was also on the road constantly. Worse, because there were gaps in my schedule, I could end up being "on" for 12 hours but paid a mere 5 hours. There wasn't enough time to rest, let alone think.
I was offered a job back in Malaysia
Ultimately, if it wasn't for this, I wouldn't have returned to Malaysia when I did. The quick offer shocked me - I had expected at least a year of poking around before getting a bite. This job felt like a rare opportunity, a blessing. In the end, I jumped because...
Malaysia was the best place to have a "lifeline career" and be an independent author
This was my career shift after my attempt at nursing, that of an indie author with a day job.
In the fascinating book, Career Solutions for Creatives, Ronda Ormont introduced the concept of a "lifeline career". This was a job that served as an anchor to the artist. The world of arts is a turbulent one, often without any stable income, therefore the lifeline career is supposed to provide the artist some measure of stability by giving him enough money for "food, shelter, money in the bank, a stable schedule, security and ideally a retirement plan".
I was out of balance as my day job was as turbulent as my fledgling artistic career.
The job I accepted in Malaysia became that lifeline career I needed as an anchor as I pecked away at my novels and worked at launching my indie publishing enterprise. So far, while not perfect, it's working better than my jobs in Australia.
My health was not the best
I have talked about my health challenges before. And to be honest, I'm pretty reluctant to talk about my health in general. But here's the thing, I had to decide: "Which one's more important - my health or that Australian dream?"
I chose myself.
And that should be the way.
But I've seen many immigrants putting the Australian dream before their well-being and happiness. A lot of them say they did it for their children, though sometimes I wondered if that sacrifice was even necessary.
I missed my family and friends dearly
I was hit by homesickness hard. I realised that without friends or family around you, the Australian dream can be an empty one. Now I have rekindled many of the relationships I've neglected before and I'm happier for it.
I also realised that the Australian dream may not be my dream
It was the hopes and dreams of my relatives, friends and perhaps even the whole of Malaysia. But mine? I wasn't so sure. When I found myself wishing that I'd FAIL to get the Permanent Resident visa I knew my heart was trying to tell me something.
So, do you regret moving to Australia?
Never! I learned so much in those three years. I'm the person I am today thanks to my time there.
Will you return to Australia?
Being a nomad at heart, I'll never say never.
Your reasons for coming home are yours. There's no right or wrong decision. Don't let ANYONE shame you or belittle you for making that move. You have made the best decision you could at that time and it's not wrong to put your health, sanity and happiness first. Yes, you can find happiness in Malaysia! If there's one thing my jaunt overseas (for work and as an expat) taught me is that Malaysia isn't as bad as the negative nellies paint it. Malaysians need to open their eyes and be grateful for the blessings that they have.
In the end, don't let your happiness be tied to a place! :)