Having caught the wanderlust bug, Zuzanna Chmielewska decided to let blind faith lead the way on where her next job posting would be, after a stint in India and Turkey. The 28-year-old Polish, from the city of Poznań, said that her only preference for the job was that it be in Asia.
Chmielewska, whose previous jobs were connected to digital marketing and branding, recalled, “I wanted to explore more of eastern cultures, so I thought that I should look for an internship position in Asia. I applied to various companies in many countries, telling myself that the first company that granted me an internship would be the one I go for. After numerous online interviews, tests and hundreds of emails with companies in Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, et cetera, I received a positive response from Malaysia. I signed the internship agreement without knowing much about Malaysia, except for her iconic PETRONAS Twin Towers! It was only after putting down my signature and emailing the agreement back to my new employer that I started reading about Malaysia and getting to know my destination.”
Like Chmielewska, who is now based in Petaling Jaya, most Polish had no idea about Malaysia back then. It was not surprising that many thought of Malaysia as ‘just another Muslim country in Asia’. Naturally, when Chmielewska broke the news to her parents about her impending move, they were worried. Luckily, she had a friend who did a volunteering internship in Malaysia two years earlier. Chmielewska roped her in to help explain about Malaysia to her parents. “She came to my house and regaled us with stories of warm Malaysian hospitality, delicious cuisines and beautiful nature. She was an amazing source of information and did great in alleviating whatever anxiety my parents had. Listening to her first-hand experience, I couldn’t wait to board my flight to Kuala Lumpur,” Chmielewska gushed.
Although the internship lasted all of six months only, Chmielewska fell in love with the country and decided to stay put. “I did not plan to stay longer than my contract but the Malaysian people touched my heart so much in my first few months in the country, I felt that this is where I want to be in the long term. To think that I was alone when I arrived and always by myself at first but my new colleagues and newly made friends welcomed me with open arms, even though they had trouble pronouncing my name,” laughed Chmielewska.
In the blink of an eye, 2017 marks the sixth year in Malaysia for Chmielewska, and she has no regrets of her relocation despite having to quit her master’s degree course in Poland and starting life from scratch in a new country. “I feel as though Malaysia is my second home. Friends treat me as part of their family and I get invited to open houses, weddings and family gatherings. I have never experienced something similar before in other countries,” she wondered aloud.
In fact, Chmielewska’s love for Malaysia is so deep that she shares as much as she can about her new country in her blog www.zuinasia.com, the biggest Polish blog about Malaysia. To this end, weekends see her explore lesser known places of interest such as the elephant conservation centre in Kuala Gandah, paddy fields of Sekinchan and villages in Balik Bukit, or try new local dishes, inevitably putting herself on a one-woman mission to promote Malaysia to the Polish people.
Besides via social media, Chmielewska acts as an unofficial ‘tour guide’ to Polish visitors as word spreads around of her voluntary services. Moreover, Chmielewska published a guide book about Malaysia in the Polish language in 2015. Despite all these efforts, she still felt there is much to do to promote Malaysia to her countrymen and women. “Malaysia is still not as well known in Poland as I would like her to be. I have so many ideas on how to promote Malaysia, I feel that if I were to leave the country now, it would be difficult for me to continue my project. In the meantime, those who have ideas on promoting Malaysia or local tourism in Poland can share them with me. Also, anyone who wishes to join my project, please get in touch with me,” invited Chmielewska, who is reachable via Facebook as well at fb.com/zuinasia
Note: An edited version of this article [Mad about Malaysia] was published on 10th June, 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.