The other day, a friend on Facebook sent me this message:
And I decided to share my response to this question with all of you in the hope that you find something useful and constructive. So here we go...
Unfortunately, I have never been to Malaysia so I cannot speak for living there but I will try to supply some helpful advice. I would recommend preparing yourself as much as possible. If you decide to settle in a foreign country, often you'll find someone else (be it an expat or tourist) has been there before you and experienced the same difficulties of assimilation. It is a really good idea to search the web for any blogs written by Western people living in the country you are heading to and try to find out what you should expect and prepare for. For me, I found out small helpful things (like that shoes in Japan were unlikely to fit me so bring a healthy supply) from reading blogs.
Blogs are also a great source of support and friendship during a time when you are likely to be lonely and experiencing culture shock. This is another thing to prepare for mentally; the emotional strain of geographical relocation. Culture shocks affects even the best of us. Understand that your experience is probably going have lots of highs and lows. Accept and anticipate them. Learn to go with the flow and accept that you can't control everything in life and you'll find this period passes much more easily for you.
Learn the Language
In Asian countries I have found that locals really appreciate attempts to speak the local language. Even if you can't speak it well, the fact that you are trying speaks volumes. Check out your local bookstore and see if you can pick up some guides on language acquisition (and while you are there, it may be a good idea to pick up some travel guides too!). Again, blogs are another helpful source on this topic.
At the very least, you should learn the basics of greetings and how to order food in a restaurant.
Look the Part
Observe local dress codes. This can be a big one in Asia, whether you are a tourist passing through or planning to stay long term. Especially in places like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, women are expected to cover their legs and arms more than Westerners will probably expect or be used to. Even in Japan, I have had to adapt my wardrobe. I find lately I am dressing less flamboyantly and more conservatively both at work and on the weekends. I was used to dressing lightly, coming from Australia, and have had to learn to cover up more.
Understand the climate you are heading to; is it going to be humid and hot most of the time? Or dry and cold? How cold is it going to be when winter time rolls around? And are you going to be able to purchase cold weather attire that fits when you get there? Then its time to hit the shops!
Don't forget to bring any favourite foods or ingredients that you are unlikely to get in your destination country (provided of course they pass quarantine control). Bring any clothing you will need and are unable to purchase in your destination country and bring any medication/contraceptives you require. Surviving in Japan did a great post on how to pack for Japan and I suggest you check in out if you are heading for Japan.
I hope you find my advice helpful! What would be your best tip for a Westerner moving to an Asian country?