‘We want to go home for Merdeka!’ cry Malaysian students overseas

‘We want to go home for Merdeka!’ cry Malaysian students overseas
Malaysian students overseas (from left) Nabeel Kamarul Bahren, Irsyad Fahmi Arizal, Daniel Lai and Isaac Sharvin David.

We want to go home for Merdeka!’ cry Malaysian students overseas

PETALING JAYA: When you are a student far from home, the festival days of your childhood, not so long gone, can evoke deep memories of joyful family gatherings and the sublime taste of your favourite home-cooked food.

This is especially true of Merdeka Day, a purely Malaysian celebration which is just another day for the rest of the world, when everyone goes about their business as usual, unaware of your nagging heartache.

You may have vivid memories of the Jalur Gemilang flying proudly across the neighbourhoods where you grew up, and patriotic songs blasting from car radios, and indulging in the special food that nobody cooked just like your mother and aunts.

But to everybody around you, it is just another Tuesday.

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Malaysia’s students abroad, of all ethnicities and religions, agree that nothing beats celebrating Merdeka back home.

This year, Covid-19 restrictions made the Merdeka Day celebrations decidedly muted affairs in Malaysia, and get-togethers for Malaysian communities even smaller than usual in other countries.

Nabeel Kamarul Bahren, a 22-year-old studying chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, said the celebrations were “more contemplative”.

“Here in Scotland, we are able to more or less go around freely, but we know many people are still struggling with lockdowns back home,” said Nabeel, from Kuala Lumpur.

“So, to show sympathy, Edinburgh-based Malaysians will just meet up in a local park.”

Irsyad Fahmi Arizal, another University of Edinburgh student, said he was hopeful that all overseas Malaysians would take the time to reflect on the special day.

Now in his second year, the engineering student remembers spending last year’s Merdeka watching patriotic movies and chatting on Zoom while kitted out in traditional Malaysian clothes.


“I know that back home it’s currently in a tough situation when it comes to Covid-19, but I hope everyone can still celebrate our independence and the spirit we have held on to for so long, even if it’s just in a small way,” said Irsyad, from Kelantan.

Daniel Lai is set to start his masters degree course in Smart Energy and the Built Environment at University College London in September, and like most Malaysians, has fond memories of large Merdeka gatherings filled with love, laughter and good food.

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The 22-year-old from Petaling Jaya, who recently graduated from Scotland’s University of Glasgow, said: “We usually have a Merdeka celebration here with as many Malaysians as we can fit in. We sing, eat too much and socialise, of course!

“But this year, I’ll probably meet up with just a few friends for a meal and a chat about how times have changed.”

Down under in Perth, Australia, 20-year-old Isaac Sharvin David said Merdeka events organised by local community clubs and the consulate-general were still up in the air due to Covid-19 and Australia’s ultra-strict pandemic rules.

A Public Health masters student at the University of Western Australia, Isaac is enjoying Australia but said that Merdeka should really be spent with family and friends back home in Ipoh.

“Sure, there’ll be a few small-scale activities to celebrate Merdeka here, but it’s a totally different vibe to Merdeka in Malaysia as nobody else is celebrating,” he said.

“To get the most out of a true Merdeka Day, you need to be where it’s an eagerly anticipated holiday for the whole nation.”

It seems that Malaysians all across the world, however they are celebrating the day this year, are in agreement about one thing.

As Isaac puts it, “Outside of Malaysia, the feeling just isn’t the same. Regardless of the problems, nothing beats being home for Merdeka.”

We want to go home for Merdeka!’ cry Malaysian students overseas

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