What Living Abroad Taught Me


It’s been 3 years since I left Malaysia. 

It’s been almost 3 years since I made Cambodia my home, where I have grown to love and live like the locals do. This is possible given that we look similar and people would assume that I’m Khmer, just like them. It took some getting used to, especially in the beginning when I was not used to this laid back lifestyle. Now, whenever I go back to Kuala Lumpur, I feel that city overwhelms me with its big highways, fast cars and traffic jams.

Over here I could get a few chores done under 2 hours, while back home, I’ll need half a day or more to get from one place to another. Nevertheless, Malaysia is still my home and I miss it’s glorious food and people often. There are plenty of lessons I’ve learned through the years here, that made me change my lifestyle and prioritize on the important things in life. It’s also made me wiser and more alert in making decisions.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and adapted since I’ve lived abroad:

The true meaning of being independent.

When it came to searching for a house, fixing things around the house, I had to learn to rely on myself in solving these domestic issues. I was used to having parents living close by, and asking them for advice or a favor if there was any problems. Being here only gave me the luxury of talking to them on the phone while the actual solving had to be done on my own.

We did some research online before choosing this apartment, asked the locals the number of the local gas man for the kitchen stove and searched for the cheapest places to get our groceries. I adopted a healthier lifestyle by quitting instant noodles and sleeping early. It left me feeling less bloated and more energetic until today.

Being resourceful. 

There are a few ways to solve a problem especially when it has monetary value to it. Being impatient in nature, I often want to get things done quickly and sometimes this resulted in spending way too much when there were other ways to do it. I learned that by asking around, especially my local colleagues, neighbors, tuk tuk drivers even, I managed to save time and money when it came to fixing the internet connection or the kitchen sink.

Being resourceful meaning knowing the cheapest transportation to take in Phnom Penh.


Spending wisely. 

I began to understand why my mother would harp on us to start saving now for the future since living here in Cambodia. When I was younger, I would use the extra money I have for traveling immediately, not caring about saving it for later use.

Last year, I started to map out my finances calling it “Project Freedom”. This meant freedom from any debt, and having enough to do the things I love. I wrote down in detail what I owed back home, what I needed to spend on mandatorily each month here, and putting 10% into savings before using the rest of it wisely. I would make sure that I completed paying for a plan before I started a new one. I also sold some of my belongings here, did a few online freelance work to save up for a trip and planned my other spending wisely.

Living in private. 

This is one of my top favorite reason of living in a country where you can live privately. Here in Cambodia, if you speak and write in Khmer, you are considered their brother or sister. They understand that we’re foreigners and that we have different culture. They let us go about with our lives and very rarely ask personal questions like “When are you getting married?” or “Why you don’t have children?”.

Being part of a community. 

I joined the Malaysians in Cambodia Facebook group which gives me information related to businesses opened here, Halal butcher shops and events in the city. Although being independent is a priority, it’s also good to forge relationship with the community who will be there to help in an emergency situation. Recently a Malaysian opened up a clinic in Phnom Penh which is a big relief to us because of the scarcity of reliable practitioners. If we fall sick, we won’t need to take the flight back to Malaysia to see a Doctor.

Keeping a close knit of friends who matter. 

I’ve come to accept that people come and go in different phases of life. Keeping a few friends whom you can count on to laugh together during good times and be there for you the going gets tough, is key to a good life. A few years back, I would spend my time meeting different sets of friends every night, and family on the weekend. It was good for networking purposes but other than that, it ended up being just a touch-and-go relationship.

Nowadays whenever I go back to Kuala Lumpur, I spend more time with my family before catching up with my close friends. There’s no point in trying to please everyone who won’t be there for you when you need them the most.

Being part of a community and having close friens who matter, is important.


So this is what being a grown-up is all about. 

Yes that’s right. I feel that I’ve finally grown into an adult (well it’s about time anyways!) where I think throughly before making a decision. Here’s more proof of how things have changed since I lived here.

  • I’d rather stay at my parents than my own place whenever I’m back in Kuala Lumpur because I get to spend time with them.
  • I think about my bank book more than I think about buying new clothes.
  • My priority is now about how I’ll be able to retire comfortably, without being a burden to my siblings or family.
  • I plan my travels 6 months-1 year ahead.
  • I’m less angry and frustrated than when I was years ago.
  • I put a list of things that I want to purchase, instead of going on a spending spree.
  • I look up for simple recipes so that I can cook food instead of eating out.
  • The weekends are for cleaning and visits to the wet market (sounds so domesticated yes?)

It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses on in 2 years, based on the 5 year plan I have in mind. What I know for sure is that achieving small goals and taking a step forward is always better than a step back.

Has there been any big changes in your life recently? What are you goals for 2017? 

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

2 Responses to What Living Abroad Taught Me

  1. fienuts says:

    You’re welcome Linda! It’s always nice to learn new things even if it’s about ourselves or the things around us when we travel.

  2. Linda says:

    I’ve learned a lot while I travel, and I totally agree with your opinion about “What Living Abroad Taught Me”. Thank for sharing

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