Kuala Lumpur is a smorgasboard of different cultures so being aware of your actions and their implications is something to keep in mind. Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures form a large part of the population and with a strong Muslim community you are likely to hear the call to prayer at some point of your stay. Before coming to Malaysia, I was extremely worried I would accidentally offend people because I wasn’t aware of cultural expectations but everybody I encountered was always very nice and with English being widely spoken leaving little language barrier. I also researched beforehand to minimise the chances of an offense happening.
Dressing wasn’t as big of a concern as first thought. While having your shoulders to knees covered was the more appropriate attire, wearing clothes that are modest is fine, if it is just on or above your knee or shoulders. I had brought office wear from Australia and found no problems in wearing that for work. The air conditioners are always on everywhere you go so finding the thinnest material possible isn’t as big of a problem unless you are spending a lot of time outside.
While I was in Kuala Lumpur a few of the students and myself decided to go to Penang for the long weekend. This happened to cross over with the AFL grand final weekend in Australia so when I was going for a quick swim in the pool and heard cheering I quickly realised what it was. I found the hotel bar was broadcasting the football to a room full of Australians, this was very comforting and eased the home sickness.
Being able to interact with a multitude of cultures is important in the workplace, with more cultural prejudices coming to light ensuring we are culturally sensitive means that harmony stays in the workplace. This is also a great asset for future employment as having proven experience and a reference shows that you are going to value any team member regardless of race or religious morals.
Reflecting on situations that are unfamiliar to those in Australia is something that is important while you are away. The culture is different and it is good to look at situations from an objective view. While we see something as being wrong from a Western view it might not actually be seen that way by others. An example is that dogs aren’t as highly regarded as they are in Australia. We can’t force our culture on others as we wouldn’t like the same happening to us, so the best way is – to just realise that it is the way it is done there and try to accept that.
Written by GEORGIA COACH