This article is written in partnership with Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council.
An outlook on how foreign nationals stuck in Malaysia have made a home away from their own.
Saudade, a Portuguese word, means a sentimental desire and constant yearning for something that is not available in the present.
And as the pandemic drags on, we all yearn. For the embrace of a loved one, far away. To escape to new places. To sit down for a leisurely meal at a favourite restaurant.
Some of us long to leave our countries, and some long to return home.
In this article, we speak to foreign nationals who have chosen to weather the pandemic in Malaysia.
Why did they choose Malaysia as their home away from home? How did Malaysia win their hearts?
This is a short snippet of perspectives from people not from but based in Kuala Lumpur during the Covid-19 pandemic.
They come from all over the world, from Iraq to Bulgaria to the United States of America.
Preston Johnson, is 39 and works with an international NGO. Originally from the United States, he has worked in five countries in the past 7 years. Initially, he was only in Malaysia for only a short rest before heading off to Indonesia, but multiple lockdowns have meant that he has been in the country since February 2020.
The homesickness he feels for his family and home is alleviated by the warm embrace of local friends who are more than happy to share Malaysian culture with him.
In addition, his confidence that his adopted country can be trusted to take care of him was bolstered by the robustness of the Malaysian healthcare system. As a recipient of the AstraZeneca vaccine, he commends how efficient and accessible the system was to everyone, local and foreign.
“I was very lucky to get a spot in the opt-in AstraZeneca vaccination program. I’m so happy to be fully vaccinated now! The way the vaccination program was conducted was impressive. I got my shots done at the Universiti Malaya Vaccination Centre and it was extremely well organized and efficient. The place was clean, the workers were friendly and they really helped to lighten the mood in a place where many people were probably feeling heavy anxiety. As many know, healthcare in the US is high quality but very expensive. With Malaysian healthcare, I would say the quality is near the same standards as what I have experienced in the US but at a much more affordable and equitable price.”
Marwah Ghazi is a 26-year-old filmmaker from Iraq. Having lived in Malaysia for 11 years, she considers Malaysia home.
“I love everything about KL, the weather is awesome, the people are great, and it’s a place of opportunities and growth. I love that you can experience the city life, but when it gets too overwhelming you can escape back to nature. The pandemic has changed how I lived, sure but overall I feel pretty at home here. I am vaccinated and I find the healthcare system highly organized. I also appreciate the growth in online consultation here which is so crucial in our current times.”
Vaccination is free for everyone who is currently in Malaysia.
The Malaysian government has so far leaned heavily on lockdowns as a strategy to combat the spread of the virus. However, this strategy has proven costly to the economy. Hence, a speedy vaccination campaign is seen as the silver bullet to restore the country to normal function.
The vaccination rates in the country are one of the fastest in the world. More than 500,000 doses are administered daily. As of 6 Oct, approximately 88% of adults in the country have been fully vaccinated.
Larissa Nelson from the USA came to Malaysia as a teacher for the International School of Kuala Lumpur. She tells us about suffering an emergency during the pandemic.
“I broke my arm! And it was right during a lockdown so I was pretty worried if I would be able to receive adequate care. There was nothing to worry about at all though. I went to the hospital and they fixed me up quickly and affordably. Now I’m pretty much on the road to recovery!”
Having lived here for 10 years, she has no plans to return home.
Her high opinions of healthcare in Malaysia were echoed by Toma Molerov, a product experience creator and life and business coach from Bulgaria. As a digital nomad, he has worked and lived in various countries in Europe and Asia, and currently works in Malaysia.
“Malaysia’s healthcare is really, really good, pretty much of the same standard as Europe. The education in terms of medical training seems to be super all-point. All doctors I’ve interacted with were exceptional. Malaysia has in my eyes, one of the best medical facilities and options one could have in Asia.”
Yet, however welcome foreigners have been made to feel in Malaysia, there is one thing that is irreplaceable – the warmth of family.
Which is why Taha Azam, a 29-year-old Product Designer from Pakistan is looking for a way for him and his wife and child to return home.
“I moved to KL with my wife in 2019 for a job and really enjoyed an improved quality of life. When the pandemic hit, that was a very dark and difficult time although we were privileged to have a job we could do remotely. My wife had a minor surgery in 2019 and a baby this year, both these situations were very delicate for us, having a baby during a pandemic with no family around was very scary but the staff and our amazing doctors have been so nice! The insurance process was very smooth as well, with the hospitals helping us deal with it. And even though pregnancy and delivery bills are not required to be covered by employers, I was extremely fortunate that my employer went out of their way and covered the bills for me. Overall Malaysian healthcare has been great. But the lockdowns have left us feeling so isolated; not being able to travel back to our home country for so long, even after our daughter’s birth, has been really harsh.”
Taha wants nothing more than for his parents to meet his child.
Yet the road is long for him. Travel remains difficult; many countries, including Malaysia mandate a quarantine period with fees borne by the individuals themselves. While closed borders mean containment, it still means that we have not yet found a way to live with the virus.
Two rounds of quarantine (one in the home country, and one when they return to Malaysia) is prohibitively expensive; not to mention that there’s no guarantee Malaysia will allow foreigners to return once they leave.
For Taha, every day is a symbol of new hope that he may travel there and back again.
For now, the care and warmth of his second home will have to suffice.
As Malaysia soldiers on in the long fight back to normalcy, glimmers of hope can be seen in the reopening of economic sectors and the country in stages. All initiatives are bolstered by the world-class efficacy of the national healthcare system which can always be trusted to provide the best care to everyone in the country, both local and international.