It’s easier to stick to your kind abroad

It has been two years since I arrived in the United Kingdom (UK) as part of higher education and professional training in law.

It is now summer, with the sun at around 20°C where I am in Leeds. Malaysians may scoff at the temperature, but for locals, it means T-shirts and shorts season.

At noon, when the sun is at its strongest, the locals will gather on any patch of grass and sit in the open.

What amuses a Malaysian like me, who begs for every shade and cover from the sun in my home country, is the sight of the locals doing the opposite.

The locals would shun shelter and sit in the sun’s direct beams, sometimes shifting as the shadows crept closer.

But is it the culture of sunbathing that sets us Malaysians, and in a slightly broader context – Asians – apart from Western societies?

Society is essentially a systematic collection of social groups formed upon the interaction between people, and groups are often readily identifiable in the sense that there are demarcations in the forms of interests.

Interest is a wide word and an intriguing concept. It may well be deserving content for a book, which was a topic I have written about – Altruism: Out the Window (it is available for purchase in MPH Malaysia).

Cheeky plugs for my book aside, for this article, it would suffice to take interest to mean either an emotional interest (e.g., enjoying someone’s company) or material interest (e.g., a relationship held together based upon gains and losses).

As students in our early 20s, material interest is generally far from our minds when socialising. That is not what sustains a relationship at this point in our lives.

So, the question becomes, are there any demarcations or barriers to cultural differences that inhibit the formation of friendships with the locals in the UK as a Malaysian?

If this were a scholarly article, my first qualification would be that the question is far too wide, and fails to discriminate personal characteristics unique to individuals.

This isn’t the type of article where I have the luxury of mass data and statistics, but one of personal experience and asking my Malaysian friends who have come to the UK for their education and training.

To express in a phrase, I mean take what I say with a generous heap of salt – your experiences may differ.

It is interesting to observe that while there is no conscious discrimination of race or nationality, there is what appears to be a reluctance, or as I have more comfortably concluded: a lack of motivation to socialise with international students.

I observe so, as Malaysians abroad tend to have a tighter sense of camaraderie. The fact that you are a fellow Malaysian in a foreign land itself becomes the motivation to form a friendship.

There is no such motivation emanating from the locals in the UK.

My undergraduate degree days were very different experiences from my professional training at the Bar Practice Course.

During my undergraduate days, as well as keeping in mind that we were amid the Covid-19 pandemic, physical lectures were more or less a ‘cinematic’ experience.

Cinematic in the sense of walking in, taking a seat for two hours in a dim room, in front of projected PowerPoint slides, and making your way out immediately afterwards.

The professional training course was a different experience.

It was training to be a lawyer who could advocate their client’s case in a court of law.

By the very nature of the module, students had to interact with each other. We would play the role of the client or witness for other students who would be lawyers, then switch roles.

It is easy to know one another as the locals are friendly and polite.

However, in the absence of common topics, friendship was unattainable in the experience of my own and other Malaysian friends in the UK.

My friend studying in Liverpool expressed that he could befriend the locals, but when I asked him the content of their conversations, he replied it never went beyond small talk. In my view, this is mere acquaintanceship.

I have the utmost confidence in my friend’s sociability, as he is a person who walks from desk to desk, speaking to everyone he possibly can.

Yet, despite the towering difference in our social prowess, the results were similar.

It is easier to befriend fellow Malaysians abroad as we are the minority in a foreign land.

Because there is a lack of attraction from the locals who largely adopt a neutral position, establishing a friendship in a new environment evolves into what resembles a clique.

It further diminishes the likelihood of friendship with those outside the clique for the rest of the year.

Arif Imran, 20, is a law graduate and authored the book ‘Altruism Out the Window’.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.