How a Romanian Expat Built a Life in Malaysia

When Katie first arrived in Malaysia from Romania in 2012, she only planned to stay for a little while. But 11 years, two kids, and seven house moves later, Katie and her family are happily settled in Malaysia.

Katie’s experience provides an insightful look into the expat experience of adapting to Malaysian culture. In this article, we’ll explore:

  • How Katie learned to understand the local Malaysian English accent
  • Tips for foreigners on connecting with locals and building friendships
  • Cultural differences Katie noticed between Romania and Malaysia
  • Katie’s perspective on respecting Malay Muslim customs
  • Katie’s favorite Malaysian dishes and go-to local getaway spots

Learning to Understand Malaysian English

One of Katie’s first culture shocks was struggling to understand the Malaysian accent and slang when spoken in English. She shares:

“I remember this taxi driver when we landed the first time and he was trying to explain to us all the landmarks we were going through I was asking my husband is he speaking English I don’t understand what he’s saying but it was English but it was such a strong accent my ears were not set on the software yet.”

For foreigners new to Malaysia, the local Malaysian English accent can definitely take some getting used to. But Katie shares that over time, after being immersed in the culture, she can now easily understand the local English – even mimicking the Malaysian accent and slang when with her local friends!

Tips for Foreigners Making Local Friends

When asked for tips for foreigners looking to connect with locals in Malaysia, Katie emphasized the universal importance of food and hospitality:

“You always go around the table and it has to be food on the table just open the food discussion and everybody with hola let me tell you what we do at my house and come to my house let me show you where my mom cooked it’s so easy just to talk about food.”

Her advice aligns with the significance of food in Malaysian culture. By showing interest in Malaysian cuisine and an openness to try new dishes, expats can find an easy starting point to bond with locals.

Katie also highlighted the welcoming nature of Malaysians once you get to know them:

“Once you are in their Circle oh my God you know that okay I belong here they’re like me these are my people.”

She credits food as an easy gateway into meaningful friendships across races and cultures in Malaysia’s diverse society.

Key Cultural Differences Between Romania and Malaysia

While Katie emphasizes she finds herself very comfortable in Malaysia without much culture shock, she did point out some subtle differences:

  • Malaysians tend to be shyer and more reserved initially compared to the outgoing and “louder” Romanian culture
  • The service industry customer service skills could be improved with more training

She’s also very cognizant of respecting the different cultural and religious practices of Malay Muslims compared to the Chinese and Indian Malaysian communities:

“I have to be very respectful towards the the with you you don’t deal the same how you deal with Chinese and Malay for example.”

Navigating Malaysia’s Different Cultures

Katie shares an insightful example of respectfully navigating cultural and religious differences between foreigners and locals.

Once while managing a Ramadan buka puasa buffet, she had some non-Malay customers separately request alcohol. While explaining they could not have alcohol in the restaurant, she arranged for it to be served in a private area instead.

She reflects:

“You have to be respectful and even if you you can imagine the people that asked for alcohol were not Malay so they understood and like okay I understand no problem we’ll continue in another bottle after this.”

By anticipating potential issues in advance and offering thoughtful compromises, Katie was able to find an acceptable solution that respected both sides.

Katie’s Favorite Malaysian Foods

While it took some time to appreciate the complexity of Malaysian cuisine, Katie wholeheartedly embraced local dishes over time. She now even craves quintessential Malaysian street food when traveling abroad!

Some of her family’s favorite Malaysian foods include:

  • Nasi lemak
  • Roti canai
  • Char kuey teow

And despite having access to Malaysian food at home, dining out remains a special experience:

“Every time I go back home after two three days I’m looking at my husband like I really want to have a truck right now right now and the kids they wake up in the morning can we have Rosie Chennai it’s like that it’s like that we really assimilated this the Malaysian culture so much that even when we go abroad we miss it.”

Top Local Getaway Spots

Over their decade living as expats in Malaysia, Katie and her family have discovered some favorite local getaway destinations:

Kota Kinabalu

Katie cites Kota Kinabalu in Sabah as a top favorite, visiting the city and nearby beaches every two to three months. She even invested in a vacation home on one of Kota Kinabalu’s beaches.


Having previously lived in Penang, Katie returns periodically to visit old friends and enjoy the food scene.


While popular with both domestic and foreign tourists, Katie notes that Langkawi remains a special vacation spot after spending her honeymoon there.

Kapas Island

For a peaceful island escape perfect for disconnecting, Katie recommends Kapas Island located off the coast of Terengganu. With few small resorts and a major fish habitat drawing snorkelers, it makes for an underrated beach destination.

Katie’s Life in Malaysia: From Serendipitous Job to Parenthood

Much of Katie’s life in Malaysia was unplanned yet filled with fortuitous connections. Just two weeks after arriving, Katie found herself pregnant with her first child.

She also credits an unlikely job opportunity at a friend’s boutique hotel with kickstarting her hospitality career. Later when the owners went abroad on vacation, they entrusted her to housesit – an immense gesture of trust from virtual strangers.

While motherhood and career achievements may have turned out differently back home in Romania, Katie expresses gratitude that her expatriate life unfolded in Malaysia:

“Everything happened here in Malaysia you know they’re conceived born and raised here they they don’t know anything about Malaysia and I’m really happy that they are here and not in another country.”

Over 11 years since first arriving without specific plans, Katie and her family have truly made Malaysia home. Her experience highlights the welcoming nature of Malaysian culture through food, friendship, and serendipitous community.