Who are you?
Hello, I’m Jocelyn from Malaysia. I believe a little leap of faith can unlock your pathway beyond your expectations!This is the beginning of my expat journey in a foreign land without knowing anybody and it’s me all by myself. (I feel like singing Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” most of the time.)
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I’m currently working in a 5-star resort in the Algarve as the business development manager; I started in 2017. Before this, I enrolled in a master’s degree course in Spain, back in 2016 when I decided I would no longer wait to fulfill my dream.
The reason why I took this huge step moving from my comfort zone to an unknown foreign land is because I was tired of repeating the same routine. It doesn’t change anything if I switch jobs from one company to another, it doesn’t solve the core desire. It’s really not easy to find a job in Europe as a non-European citizen without any network. Thank God my lecturer was helpful enough to refer me to this company.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The adaptation process. I was homesick for Malaysia’s food paradise, and was trying to make the things I craved myself. It’s almost impossible to get good Asian products outside of Lisbon. A few can be found at the supermarket but they are very expensive.
Cosmetic availability can be challenging too, because western produced cosmetics are not always suitable for Asian skin. There aren’t face masks available like we had in Malaysia. Here, a single face mask is the same price as a box of 10 in Malaysia.
How did you find somewhere to live?
It’s a legal requirement for companies who hire foreign workers to provide support with accommodation. Thank God, this has saved me so much on monthly expenses. The real estate market in Portugal is seriously occupied by tourism rentals instead of long-term rentals. Rental prices are much higher than minimum wages. Looking for a long-term rental can be very challenging in Portugal.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Well, I would say there are many colleagues who come from Europe or the UK. Other than my company owner, who comes from Singapore and married a Swiss husband, there aren’t any Asian expats except me. Most of them are seasonal workers and migrated Chinese people who operate stores or restaurants locally.
Once a Chinese lady’s dead body was found without any identity documents. I was back in Malaysia processing my visa during that period. My two local police neighbors suspected it was me as they had not seen me in the apartment for quite a while. This is how small and isolated it is where I am: everybody recognized the only Chinese lady in this town.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Portuguese people are always proud of their ability to speak English and they are friendly to the tourists. Algarve is one of the tourists’ favorite destinations in Portugal. I have met a few kind local people who genuinely give me helping hands in daily life. For instance, my colleagues will give me rides to work or bring me to the supermarket for grocery shopping, and they even threw me a surprise birthday party knowing I’m alone without anybody here.
What do you like about life where you are?
I think for people like me who have been working in the bustling city for years, our daily dream is to live as close to nature as we can.
Yes, I did it! A small village right next to the beach is where I am now. Working in a 5-star resort by the beach sounds so great to most of us. A peaceful life which is suitable for “retirees”.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Nothing is perfect, and the part which I dislike the most is the isolation. I live in a place even the locals will not choose to stay in, because it’s too far away from everything. The public transport is not well connected and frequency is limited. Going anywhere further simply takes too many hours. Not having a car prevents me from getting around.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Bustling big city versus small village where the whole municipality has fewer than 5,000 people. Modern busy lifestyle versus retired lifestyle. Doesn’t everyone want to have a retired lifestyle, especially those from the big city? Trust me! You’ll enjoy the life for the first few months because everything is fresh and new. But I’m not someone who likes to sit still and I find it hard to find things to do.
Dining out versus home cooked meals. Dining out once is almost equal to a week of my grocery expenses. Unlike in Malaysia, where dining out every meal is cheap and it doesn’t make much difference for a single person who cooks at home.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
It’s completely healthy versus unhealthy. Imagine, you can’t have fish & chips in Portugal because they never serve two fried items on the same plate. There is no way in my region to get fried chicken. The whole Algarve has only 3 KFC outlets. The pork has no fat layers and my homemade Chinese roasted pork is not as fattening as we had back in Malaysia. The only junk food option I have is potato chips, and instant noodles are expensive.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Support from family and trusted friends is really important, especially for Asians. I suffered quite a lot with a few life events which happened at the same time at the beginning of my expat life. I was completely struck down and gave up on God. It is impossible for me to stand up and continue the journey without good support from my mum and a trusted friend of many years. The emotional battle is something you need to fight more than the physical struggles when you’re in a foreign land by yourself.
What are your plans for the future?
Going where where God leads me to my future husband? *chuckles*
You can keep up to date with Jocelyn's adventures on her blog, Jocey Avenue.
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