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Got a Fulbright scholarship to Malaysia!

Torn about the decision to spend a year there because of safety concerns
9 years ago, June 1st 2011 No: 1 Msg: #137604  
Hello everyone,

I am posting on behalf of a friend.
My friend applied for a Fulbright Scholarship (the Teaching Assistantship one). She was very excited when she found out that she got into this very prestigious program, but overwhelmed because she had applied for Korea, but got Malaysia (a place that she hasn't researched).

She has a very short time to make the decision on whether to accept or not, and is torn about her decision mostly because of safety concerns. She heard about the terrorist activities in the east of the country, and the statement on the US travel site "Violent crime against travelers and expatriates is relatively rare" is quite vague, and not reassuring. She is also afraid of standing out and attracting unwanted attention - she is tall and blond.

Because Malaysia is a new participant in this program, not very many details have been worked out. She would be placed in Jahor, Terenngannu, or Pajang. She would be living in a residential school in a remote town/village and teaching English for 20 hours a week for a year. There would not be any sort of overseeing body that she'd report to nearby (Fulbright has a center in Kuala Lumpur).

Does anyone have any information regarding safety issues in those three states? First hand knowledge, especially from long term stays, would be especially helpful.

What are the living conditions in remote towns in that region of the country? Are there parts in those areas that are very difficult to access and travel to and from?

I appreciate any information you may have! Reply to this

9 years ago, June 2nd 2011 No: 2 Msg: #137627  
Hi Katerina. Welcome to Travelblog.

I have never thought of Malaysia as being a dangerous country. I have been there several times and traveled all over. It is a very easy country to get about in and nowhere is really far from anywhere else.

I have also stayed in Korea, though only for a few months, and found it less hospitable than Malaysia.

While there is some terrorism in the southern part of Thailand, it is rare for it to creep south into Malaysia. I don't think your friend needs to be concerned on that count.

Having said that, Malaysia has its own values and it is only commonsense to respect those values while there. While there are some Muslim women who wear the scarf, it is not as strict as middle eastern countries and many do not cover up at all. There are also many Indian and Chinese who have their own cultures. Malaysia is a really interesting blend.

English is commonly spoken, even in the country, although it is sometimes difficult to understand the Malay accent. As long as she stays away from politics and religion, your friend will be made most welcome and shouldn't have any troubles.

I suggest you get her to log on to Travelblog and read some of the stories of those who have traveled in the areas she might go to. I think that would ease her worries.

John Reply to this

9 years ago, June 2nd 2011 No: 3 Msg: #137677  

Welcome to Travel blog.

I'm sure your friend must be experiencing some disappointment because she wanted to go to Korea. As you have mentioned the Fulbright Scholarship is a very prestigious program. Logic tells me that this organization would not put your friend any location that would put her in harm. They are looking to her for her abilities but in turn they want to provide her with an enriching life experience.

My personal experience traveling in Malaysia has been pleasant. I felt very safe. The people I met were kind, friendly and wanted to get to know me. They are kind people. With that said you can find crime in any country so she will need to use common sense and not go out alone at night. etc. I live in the United States and it has one of the highest crime rates of any country in the world.

My philosophy and beliefs are that one ends up where they are supposed to be. This sounds like an exciting adventure and I would go given the opportunity.

Reply to this

9 years ago, June 2nd 2011 No: 4 Msg: #137681  
Ali, you live there and run Travelblog from your office in KL. How about telling her that there is absolutely nothing to fear.

I lived in Malaysia for two and a half years, but not recently. However, I have three nephews living in Penang. One just graduated from high school. So although I don't live there now, I am very acquainted with the current situation in the country. She will love living in Malaysia!!! Of course the above advice applies.

In Korea some people have an unfounded concern that the lunatics who govern North Korea will all of a sudden decide to attack South Korea. Kind of like a mouse attacking an elephant. In both cases the dominant party has nothing to fear, but sometimes overreacts. Reply to this

9 years ago, June 3rd 2011 No: 5 Msg: #137707  
Hello Katerina 😊

Congratulations to your friend! 😊

If I were your friend, I would have no problem with going to Malaysia. I was there for around 5 weeks last year. I found the north east conservative, compared with the other parts of Malaysia I was in, but I didnt notice any real danger in any part.

I made a few blogs about my visit to Malaysia of last year. You can find them on my Profile Page, if you want to read about what I thought about Malaysia while I was there.

Mel Reply to this

9 years ago, June 5th 2011 No: 6 Msg: #137819  

Please let us know what the final decision is....eagerly awaiting. Reply to this

8 years ago, June 6th 2011 No: 7 Msg: #137857  
Like Mel, I traveled around Malaysia for about 5 weeks last year. It's a very safe and friendly country. Your friend should be excited about the opportunity to live and work there for a year.

That being said, she should take the same common sense precautions as she would traveling to and living in any new place. KL actually might be more dangerous than the countryside. Don't walk too close to the streets, and keep her bags opposite the street. There is a problem with moto-bikers snatching bags from pedestrians.

Quick story about the country-side in the conservative Northeast:

Was looking for a certain guesthouse in a small town where we had made reservations through a friend. Taxi driver immediately offered his services. You should generally be skeptical of drivers soliciting you. Always solicit them (wave them down while they're driving). I thanked him, but walked away to ask other people for help.

Went into a 7-11 and asked the worker there for directions. He didn't know, but he was willing to call the guesthouse for us because the worker at the GH didn't speak English well. No less than 10 people stopped to pay attention to us in the 7-11. After telling us how to get there, one customer (older gentleman) who had stopped to listen to our situation, told us to come with him. I had seen him drive up before us. I was again skeptical, but the people in the 7-11 laughed at our hesitation and encouraged us to go with him.

Trusting my gut, we actually went with the man. His wife was in the front seat wearing a head wrap (they were both Muslim). He helped put our backpacks in his trunk, and we squeezed into his small car. I had paid attention to the 7-11 guy's directions so I knew the general direction we were supposed to go. The man drove in the correct direction, so I was happy about that.

He didn't speak English, so it was a quiet ride. After 3 mins, he pulled over in front of our small GH. He got out, walked up the stairs and asked the lady if it was the correct place (in Malay). It was, so he nodded to us that it was correct. We gathered all our bags from his trunk and were set. My friend and I were very grateful, so we offered him just a little money for his generosity. He refused. We thanked him, smiled and offered again. He smiled and refused. Then waved good-bye as he drove off. That was it.

That was my experience in a small town in Malaysia. A Muslim stranger who didn't speak English gave two 6'1 American travelers a ride to a guesthouse and made sure it was the correct place before leaving. Wanted nothing more than to help us.

Smile, think positive, take precautions, and always be grateful.

Kuno Reply to this

8 years ago, June 6th 2011 No: 8 Msg: #137874  

Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. Around the world so many more people are good and kind. Sadly, it is the others that we hear about.
Reply to this

8 years ago, June 7th 2011 No: 9 Msg: #137899  
Here's some observations comparing Malaysia and South Korea having lived in both ~6 months or more (note: Kuala Lumpur and Incheon/Seoul respectively, other cities will certainly have different characteristics):

South Korea is definitely more homogenous in terms of local community because it was very xenophobic for a long time after its history of being ravaged by various neighboring countries, and only in the past decade has the international scene really exploded--considering the many expats who go to teach English and the country's high demand for such teachers. Malaysia on the other hand was colonized a few times over by the Portuguese, British, and Dutch centuries ago.

An expat can live in either country without learning the local language(s), but there is a noticeable difference. In Malaysia your friend would find a bigger population of fluent English speakers (which can be a huge relief in the face of culture shock) while, in Korea, people may be more reluctant and shy to speak in English. Malaysia just has the longer history and incorporation of English vs Korea where English is truly a second language.

Granted, the further your friend gets from KL and the main cities, the less prevalent English may become (like Kuno describes his Northeastern experience).

In terms of safety:

I confess that as a female, I rarely walk alone at night, even back in the States. In this regard, Korea and Japan were the few exceptions because there really is so little crime. Still, I think your friend will be perfectly fine in Malaysia.

Again, Kuno pretty much nailed it on the dot. The main safety concern in Malaysia is getting a purse or phone stolen. I always walk with my bag facing the wall (or away from traffic) and have never run into any problems. However, I witnessed a friend have her purse (and passport, credit cards, everything) stolen from her chair while chatting over a drink in Changkat, literally from under our noses. Everybody knows somebody this has happened to, and the stories spread to encourage common sense when walking/traveling in Malaysia.

Let me rephrase that (b/c common sense is not so common) to say one needs to be pragmatic. It's good to have a copy of one's passport and perhaps even a second wallet, so that if one's purse does get stolen, it's a shame, but there's always a back-up. And, even in my friend's case, the situation was invasive, frustrating, and a hassle, but she ended up canceling her cards, getting a replacement passport from the embassy, and working with her bank (HSBC was awesome in this situation) to get replacement cards shipped within a week.

There's also different cultural standards.

...such as wearing revealing clothes. Both Koreans and Malays tend to look down on low cleavage or bared arms or short shorts/skirts, but you'll see it in both places. In Korea, there's a funny cartoon with a Western girl and a Korean girl glaring at each other; the Korean girl comments on the Western girl's shocking low cleavage, while the Western girl comments on the Korean girl's patch of a mini-skirt. In Malaysia, there's a whole diversity of clothes: Muslim women wearing tudongs, non-Muslims wearing skirts, shorts, or revealing shirts, and everybody in between. If a girl wears something revealing, let's be honest, people will stare regardless of the country.

I've yet to be afraid any more than I would be in the States. If anything, living in S Korea and Malaysia have led to two very different, interesting experiences--and an amazing education on international diversity.

I'd 100% encourage your friend to experience Malaysia, if for any reason, to break any preconceptions/misconceptions in exchange for a "wow" factor. She may love it or hate it, but I guarantee that she will be a changed person by the end of her scholarship.

As for the specific states, I can't provide much, but have heard good things about Johor. And the plus side about the Eastern states may be that she can escape to the stunning islands off the Eastern mainland for weekend getaways, too. I have briefly traveled through the Northeastern states, and though more conservative, as everyone else is saying on this forum, people were incredibly friendly. ;]

If she still prefers to go to S Korea, there are many opportunities (perhaps minus the Fulbright backing) that she can find a recruiter to place her in a good Korean school.

Hope this helps~~ ^^ Reply to this

8 years ago, June 9th 2011 No: 10 Msg: #138035  
Ive been all over a couple of times and really is one of the safest countries I have visited. Easier in many respects as english is widely spoken, people are friendly and helpful and its wealthier than some of its neighbours. My boyfriend had to see adoctor there and everything was to a high standard.
The biggest thing you need to watch out for is the traffic.
I think your friend may well have a more relaxing friendly time in malaysia as its more laid back. Reply to this

8 years ago, June 10th 2011 No: 11 Msg: #138089  
I have been travelling in Malaysia all over for nearly 2 month. It was a great time. I always felt safe - well, nearly always. Some busrides are quite an experience as a lot of busdrivers espacially in Eastern Malaysia drive like crazy (on moste buses they give you sickness bags). I even travelled alone on trains at night. People in Malaysia are extremly friendly and open. They are really keen on learning from you. English is widely spoken (but not always in remote areas). There are few countries where a felt welcome like in Malaysia. The standard of living is much higher as in other countries in Southeast Asia. I had to go to hospital once - it was simply perfect, better than in most of Western European countries.
Your friend will finally be very happy to spend a year in this country and should not forget to travel around if possible. Reply to this

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