From Bristol with love


Mindy: My love for Malaysia isn’t diluted by my distance from it.

IN Bristol, where I study in the United Kingdom, there are over 600 Malaysian students and three Malaysian student societies across two universities.

Here, there is always an excuse to celebrate our Malaysian identity. If we are not clumsily learning how to make Malaysian food, we are willingly paying restaurants double the price for the taste of home.

The Jalur Gemilang is a default form of decoration proudly displayed in our living halls and the topic of our nationality always finds its way into our conversations.

Those of us seeking life away from Malaysia tend to be young adults still grappling with our identity.

For most of us, the struggle with our sense of self is magnified in a foreign country where our collective socio-cultural experiences are reduced to a minority background.

We are deeply aware of our “otherness”, and some of us may shed our Malaysian identity to assimilate.

But many of us take the opposite route, choosing to fully embrace our distinct Malaysian-ness instead.

We relish the freedom of being able to switch between our multiple languages when communicating in secrecy.

Our traditional costumes are a staple in our university closets. We perhaps feel an even greater sense of Malaysian-ness when abroad.

Maybe this could be boiled down to homesickness. Ultimately, people are more inclined to seek comfort in a community when feeling vulnerable in a new environment.

Our shared cultural upbringing is an easy point of unity after all. Who doesn’t immediately jump at the sound of a Malaysian accent from across the room?

As one faces the escalating demands of adulthood, there is no shame in admitting the desire to be surrounded by familiarity.

In the UK, Malaysian Societies (colloquially known as MSocs) form the backbone of the Malaysian international student experience.

Many MSocs organise regional or national sporting events called Malaysian Games (MGames), where hundreds of Malaysian athletes from across the country reunite to celebrate Malaysian sportsmanship.

Most MSocs also produce an annual theatre production centred around uniquely Malaysian storylines, aptly named Malaysian Night (MNight).

These large-scale events garner wide support and effort from Malaysian students, perhaps hinting at a greater collective desire to celebrate aspects of Malaysian culture that often go uncelebrated back home.

I find that it serves as a reflection of the hope we feel for the future of Malaysian arts and sports. It is also through these events that I feel the greatest sense of shared patriotism among young Malaysians.

However, I often find that this patriotism is selective.

As much as we yearn for home, there is always an unspoken competition for those studying abroad to continue our post-study lives outside of Malaysia. Having to return home for a job is perceived as “defeat”. We fear having to answer people’s questions about why we didn’t stay to work in the country where we studied.

Were we not good enough to stay abroad?

However, this should not be an issue used to diminish our connection with our national origins.

There is no threshold we must reach to qualify as an anak Malaysia.

Many of us perceive our home country through complicated lenses, but this sentiment is often shared by everyone who has travelled extensively beyond borders.

My love for Malaysia isn’t diluted by my distance from it.

I might even go so far as to suggest that this distance has strengthened my identity as an anak Malaysia.

In the end, we should be allowed to embrace the strengths of Malaysia while also criticising its shortcomings. It is, after all, through recognising the imperfections of our nation that those of us from the younger generations may be better equipped to improve our home.

Mindy, 20, a student in the United Kingdom, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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BRATs , patriotism , Malaysia

   

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