Ellie and I have been in Malaysia for the last four weeks and are finishing up our time in Bali.  It’s actually been a scouting trip since we (along with Tom) will be moving to Malaysia in the spring.  I’m often asked why we are moving and why Malaysia. The short answer is that Tom and I have always dreamed of living abroad. Ellie is 100% on board with this plan, but Sam wanted to finished high school in the US, so  we waited for him to get off to college and then sold our house this past spring and started the process!

Malaysia has an incredible 10 year visa, low cost of living, great health care, no taxes on global income, and Kuala Lumpur is an exciting, modern, food filled city. It’s also a great jumping off place to explore other parts of Asia with short and cheap flights to amazing places. The long answer goes back to Tom’s brain hemorrhage in 2017, our experiences around that (both with healthcare and the insights that come from a near death experience), job insecurity he has experienced when he returned to work (despite his full recovery), my learning about various ways to experience location independence after being interviewed for the EPOP podcast, and a deep desire to experience more of the world on a longer term basis.

Batu cavesThe reaction from friends, some family, and even strangers has been really interesting. Some people are genuinely curious and I’m always happy to answer their questions.  Many people aren’t familiar with Malaysia (I wasn’t until fairly recently), but know of Singapore, due to  the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”. To them, I’m able to explain that Kuala Lumpur is like Singapore, but more affordable! Other people make assumptions and seem to want us to defend our decision. My mother questioned what we would do about healthcare-though Malaysia is medical tourism hot spot with affordable and high quality care.  Some question why we wouldn’t choose another better known place, without consideration to the fact that you can’t live long term on a tourist visa. They (including my mom) questioned safety, though  Malaysia is ranked the 15th safest country in the world-far ahead of the US ranking of 128th place. Others (ok, my mom again-but others too…) questioned the educational impact this will have on Ellie, without realizing the learning opportunities that living abroad naturally provides and that there are options for international high schools.

This all relates to the myth of American exceptionalism. We’ve addressed this concept previously, but it bears repeating. Why do we assume our health care is the best? Why do we assume our universities are the only good ones in the world? Why do we assume that our way of life is only one worth emulating?  Why do we even have to think in terms of “best”? A good university, doctor, way of life for one person may not be for another. Things can be different without one having to be defined as better than the other.

Ellie is doing 10th grade through a virtual school, since we are moving before the end of the school year.  This also gives her the opportunity to travel with me this year.  We are in Bali to attend a conference about World Schooling. I first read about this a few years ago and found it fascinating.  Basically, these are families who take less conventional approaches to education in order to allow their children to learn from the world.  Though Ellie’s education is more traditional (accredited online school and likely international school for the rest of high school), I thought this would be a great way for her to meet other teens and for us both to learn from families who make a conscious point to learn from the world.

Already I’ve seen the natural learning and curiosity that occurs through these experiences.  You can imagine our surprise when we saw a swastika on a building on our way in from the airport! I had no idea that the swastika is actually a Sanskrit symbol used for over 5000 years by many ancient cultures around the world. It is still used on some Hindu and Buddhist temples and organizations in Asia-not as a symbol of hate but as it’s original pre-Hitler meaning of peace, luck, well being, and prosperity.  We learned about world religions and can’t even count how many Ganesh statues we have seen! We learned thought provoking information about cultural identity; how many people are just learning that they are Japanese because their families took on a Chinese identity for fear of  retaliation after WWII; how Tamil is the common language among Indians in Malaysia; how the British colonization still has effects though independence was granted in 1957; and how ethnic Malays/Malaysian Malays (not sure if one term is more PC than the other) are all held to sharia law, while all others in the country have a secular justice system. We had first hand experience with haze in Malaysia, caused by the intentionally set forest fires in Indonesia. Ellie was able to use this information for a paper she had to write in Earth Science about deforestation. I can tell you that NONE of these things would have been of interest to Ellie  (and -full disclose- some would not have interested me either…) if we weren’t here having these first hand experiences.

So why am I telling you all this?

I recently read a sentence that really stuck with me from Sam’s Introduction to International Studies syllabus. It noted that one of the course objectives was to “foster global positioning sensitivity based on an awareness that there is no single objective position from which to observe the world.” This really gives me goosebumps!  Wouldn’t it be great if we all had this? The very same day, I read an article that quoted a woman who was at a political rally in North Carolina. She said, “This is like college — it’s like a pep rally of like-minded people and we feel safe here,”

I don’t want my kids to solely be around like-minded people. I want them to learn from the experiences of others.  I want them to feel a little uncomfortable as their views and perspectives are challenged by their experiences and the views of others.  This type of education occurs when studying in Europe. Their classmates and friends are from all around the world so they will meet and learn-in the classroom and socially- from students who have had vastly different life experiences than them. They will also learn about the history and culture of the country they are studying in, just through day to day life and the natural learning experiences that take place.

I recognize that our choice to move abroad isn’t possible or desirable for many people.  There may be jobs, family responsibilities, and many other reasons to stay in the states. You may prefer to experience the world through travel and enjoy a supportive community in the US.  I totally get that!  This is an example of differences that aren’t better or worse than the other. That said, almost every person I have met through Beyond the States has wished that they had these opportunities to get a degree abroad when they were in college. Our kids don’t have a mortgage yet. They aren’t responsible for taking care of us.  They don’t have a career to leave behind.  This is the prime time for them to take advantage of the opportunities to learn and grow in tremendous life changing ways, by getting their degree in Europe.

Beyond the States helps families access and navigate the information about the English-taught bachelor’s degree programs in Europe. This free webinar is a great starting point and provides answers to many of the questions you may have.

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  • Hey Vie (Tom) & Jennifer, such a bold and exciting move! My wife and I have talked many times about moving abroad, but we are waiting until our kiddos are all off to college (oldest just started this year and youngest is 9, so it is going to be a while), but whole-heartedly believe that the choice to get out from the “bubble” of our “like-minded” lives is both invigorating and prudent. When you get settled in, we’d love to be put on your Guest List and come visit at some point sooner than later. When we have discussed moving out of the states, Panama has been an interesting option. I’d be curious to hear what other countries / destinations were part of your decision set. I applaud you for your willingness to embrace change and growth. Cheers to you both!!

  • Jennifer, I love reading about your move, I totally get you and if my husband was a bit more adventurous I’d do the same. Enjoy KL!

  • Hi Jennifer,

    I stumbled on your website when I was looking for opportunities for my soon-to-graduate high school daughter. My husband and I moved to Germany when our children were 6 and 9 years old. I am a Tarheel too, and lived here most of my life. I was TERRIFIED to leave my beloved NC…my only “cultural” experience before this move was to the Caribbean. Initially, we were going to work at an International School for two years…but that turned into 6. It was an AMAZING experience that many viewed as crazy…but one that I will NEVER regret. Yes, there were many challenges along the way but the adventures we had as a family will not be quickly forgotten. I truly believe this has shaped both of my children and their views on a global community. I appreciate your posting this article. You are spot on. If we, as Americans, got out of our comfort zone and the mentality that “US is the best” and explored different countries, we would all quickly realize the WORLD has so much to offer. Blessings on your adventure…enjoy EVERY moment!