The Kindness of Strangers: A Polish Woman’s Perspective on Living in Malaysia

When Aata moved from Poland to Malaysia 7 years ago, she was struck by the kindness and hospitality she received. As an entrepreneur and YouTuber living in nearby Singapore, I was fascinated to sit down with Aata and learn more about her experiences as a foreigner assimilating into Malaysian culture.

In our conversation, Aata shares valuable insights into the most confusing Malay words for foreigners, issues around women’s safety in Kuala Lumpur, the incredible kindness she has experienced, and her favorite places to live in Malaysia.

Learning the Basics as a Foreigner in Malaysia

Moving to any new country comes with a steep learning curve when it comes to the local language. For Aata, Bahasa Melayu (the Malay language) led to some confusion, but also some laughs.

One of the first phrases she learned was “Saya kenyang,” meaning “I’m full.” As Aata explains, “Because you know there was so much food that it’s just wouldn’t fit and because Malaysians are so hospitable and they express love with the food right they would be ‘have some more have some more’ and yeah I would be on that you know unconscious journey of just packing packing packing until there was just literally no space.”

Being able to politely decline more food was an important early lesson!

Another source of confusion came from false friends – words that look similar between languages, but have different meanings. For example, “Tak” means “No” in Malay, but looks very similar to the Polish word for “Yes.” Meanwhile, the Malay word for “like,” (“suka”), resembles an offensive word in Russian. This led to some hilarious miscommunications early on for Aata.

Over time, she has gotten more and more comfortable responding to the Malay language, both spoken and written. However, Aata notes that written Malay on social media often uses shortened slang words that become very difficult for language learners to decode. She’ll still occasionally have to ask Malaysian friends to translate comments for her when unfamiliar shorthand words crop up.

The Safety and Respect Shown to Women in Malaysia

As a woman living alone abroad, safety is always a concern when moving to a new country. On this front, Aata has felt very secure living in Kuala Lumpur and speaks highly of the respect shown to women in Malaysia.

While telling women travelers they have to remain vigilant about being out late at night applies universally across the globe, Aata emphasizes she has never felt directly threatened or targeted as a woman in Malaysia. She notes that men tend to be discreet and respectful, sharing, “I can’t remember…even a man, I don’t know, doing a sound on the street. It happened to me in other countries but not in Malaysia.”

The kindness locals show her also underscores why she feels so safe. For example, when coming home late, community members have offered to accompany her or drive her home to ensure she gets back safely. Their focus remains on her well-being, not pursuing any unwanted attention. This thoughtfulness creates an environment where women can feel relaxed navigating the city solo without fear of harassment.

Stories of Malaysian Kindness That Touch the Heart

Beyond making her feel safe, the kindness Malaysians have shown Aata on so many occasions has truly touched her heart. These thoughtful acts motivated her in the early days of assimilating and helped her form a tight bond with her adopted country.

One day, Aata found herself lost on her way to meet a friend. At a busy crossing, she asked a woman for directions, although it was in the opposite direction the woman needed to go. However, without hesitation, the woman walked Aata five minutes out of her way to get her pointed the right direction. As Aata notes, this level of inconvenience to help a stranger just doesn’t happen in many places around the world.

On another occasion, Aata arrived at a bus stop without any physical cash to pay for her ticket. Immediately seeing her dilemma, a stranger offered the exact change needed so Aata wouldn’t miss her bus. Although she insisted she had no way to pay the money back, the locals brushed it off telling her not to worry.

Yet the kindness flows both ways in Aata’s experience. Once at the airport, her payment card malfunctioned and she didn’t have any cash to buy a snack. With no second thoughts, she paid the kindness forward by offering the money to cover a fellow Malaysian traveler in the same predicament. However, the Malaysian woman felt so uncomfortable accepting the help. As Aata notes, this reaction actually reflects how kindhearted Malaysians are – so attuned to helping others that they have a hard time accepting help themselves!

These touching stories of strangers going out of their way to welcome her continued even as Aata looked for an apartment. Property agents themselves offered to drive her home to make sure she got home safe, not even considering the inconvenience to their own day.

After so many selfless acts of kindness, it’s easy to understand why Aata feels such a deep affection for Malaysian culture. Their caring support not only helped her adjust, but taught her beautiful lessons about empathy that have changed her outlook on life for the better.

The Best Places for Expats to Live in Malaysia

Given how perfectly Aata has adjusted to Malaysian life, I had to ask where she would choose to settle down if she couldn’t live in Kuala Lumpur anymore. While the islands and tropical rainforest offer an alluring backdrop, she feels most at home in Malaysia’s vibrant, fast-paced cities.

Topping her list is the foodie haven of Penang. Between the dynamic culture, incredible eats, and kind-hearted community, it reminds Aata of everything she loves about KL. Other draws are its reputation as an up-and-coming tech hub and its UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown. With spectacular street art and historic shop houses, it brings together old-world charm with modern urban excitement.

The Perfect Fit – Finding a New Home as an Expat

As we wound down our conversation, I remarked that Aata seems to have truly found herself at home in Malaysia in a way that connects deeply with her Polish upbringing and values. She agreed that unlike other countries she has lived in, her fit with Malaysian culture felt instantaneous and profound.

At her core, she identifies as Polish, but Malaysia has taught her a new way of being that she has wholeheartedly embraced. Specifically, it has taught her the ability to take life’s frustrations and delays in stride, not to sweat the small stuff, and focus on being present to appreciate all the small joys around her.

This outlook on centering gratitude and joy very much aligns with the cultural mindset she has absorbed from Malaysian friends and mentors over years in KL. When we find a new home that shapes us in such positive ways, it’s only natural to feel so passionately connected.

After speaking with Aata, it’s clear to see why Malaysia leaves such an imprint on the hearts of expats who settle there. Beyond the mesmerizing landscapes and dynamic cities, there is a spirit of kindness, community, and joy that makes newcomers from around the world quickly feel at home. Through welcoming expats like Aata with open arms, Malaysia continues to grow ever more diverse and vibrant.