We all know the numbers: 1 million Malaysians live abroad, of which roughly a third have tertiary degrees. They are the swooshing sound of Malaysia’s brain drain, and they’ve washed up as close as Singapore and as far away as Santiago.
But who are they?
Well, I was one. Up until recently, I lived with my American husband and our two young children in the US Midwest. We had a very nice life. The kids routinely introduced themselves as “half-Minnesotan, half-Malaysian.”
We moved back to Kuala Lumpur in 2011. Our American friends thought it was very cool that the kids would experience life in a faraway country. From our Malaysian friends, the reactions ranged from “Why, ah?” to “Are you stupid/crazy?”
The fact is we moved back for the most pedestrian of reasons – my parents were getting older, my brother had just married – and after almost half a lifetime of being away, it felt like time to be around for a while.
Moving home – with its joys and frustrations – got me thinking about the diaspora. A million Malaysians. Who are we? What are our lives like? What do we want? And why aren’t we talking to each other?
A little over a year ago, I started a website to try to kick-start that conversation. The name – www.Outstation.my – came over a brainstorming cup of coffee with Jahabar Sadiq, a Malaysian journalist who moved home from Jakarta to edit the themalaysianinsider.com , and Poh Si Teng, a Malaysian multi-media journalist now with the New York Times.
The tagline: For Malaysians Abroad, Returnees and Everyone In-Between.
Why Outstation? Because a Malaysian in Milan or Melbourne is still a Malaysian at heart. They’re just, you know….outstation.
Malaysia’s anti-brain drain agency, TalentCorp, kicked in some advertising dollars, with no strings attached. To their credit, I never heard a complaint, not even when we launched Outstation with beautiful pictures of Bersih protests around the world.
Outstation’s first year has been a blast.
Malaysians Choy Leow in Minneapolis and Meera Feldberg in Washington, D.C. wrote about what it felt like to vote for the first time in the US presidential elections. K., a Malaysian who moved home with his English husband, told us how he found a new generation of gay-friendly Malaysians, yet struggles to tell his own mother.
Ahead of this year’s Malaysian election, Ai Leen Lim in London wrote a popular, irreverent postal voting blog, “Going Postal.”
What’s this all for?
The goal is not to persuade people to move back. Or away. They’re going to do it anyway.
It’s to get people talking about their experiences, motivations, hopes and dreams, for themselves and for Malaysia. So we can see new possibilities for our own lives and for the country we love.
And we’ll see where that leads us.
Chen May Yee is a journalist and founder of www.Outstation.my. Write to her at [email protected]. Join the Outstation community and get updates by clicking “Like” on https://www.facebook.com/