Just Landed: Gemma McDowall

Newly arrived from Kenya, Gemma jumped onto the culture train with visits to a Chinese New Year open house and a Muslim wedding in her first five months here.

by / Published: 28 May 2017

Just Landed: Gemma McDowall

Nationality: British
Occupation: Teacher
In Malaysia since: January 2017

What brought you to Malaysia?

I decided to leave my job in Kenya to move to a more developed country. My options were either the Americas or Southeast Asia, but after not finding the right job, I decided to travel around Southeast Asia for a few months. A month before I was due to leave, a job came up at Taylor’s International School KL. It was what I was looking for and friends said KL was a great city to live in. I applied and after a few Skype interviews, I was offered the job a few weeks later.

What was your first reaction when learning you’d be moving?

After the initial excitement of knowing I had the job, it was a panic to get all my things packed for shipping and my paperwork completed as I literally had 10 days between being offered the job and leaving for three months of travelling. I rearranged my travel plans to spend 10 days in KL to meet my new head, visit the school and get acquainted with my new home.

How is Malaysia different from other countries you’ve been to?

The heat is so different. The UK is just cold and Kenya was never very sweaty, but here at work I find I’m changing my top two to three times a day! I’m a PE teacher so I’m quite active and spend quite a lot of time outside.

What do you now know about Malaysia that you didn’t before?

It is the number two country in the world for death by lightning and the lightning here is scary!

Have you noticed any interesting/unique Malaysian cultural practices?

Rice can be eaten for any and every meal of the day. Also there are not just three set meal times: the first time I was offered a second breakfast (which was nasi lemak), I did laugh at my colleagues.

How did you integrate into the community and keep from feeling homesick?

In my first weekend living in KL, I went for netball trials with MK Tigers and luckily, I was selected for the team. So I immediately had a group of great girls to play netball and socialise with. At work, I have tried to accept as many invites as possible, so I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year down in Malacca with a Chinese colleague’s family and attended a Muslim wedding party for the first time with another colleague. I also enjoy running and am looking forward to signing up to some of the running events around the city.

Any tips for expats about to move here?

Everybody is immensely friendly and wants to invite you places and show you things, so take up as many invites as your social calendar allows. Also if you have a job which is predominantly outside, you are going to sweat more than you ever thought it was physically possible to. If you are working inside, constant air-con is cold!

New to Malaysia and want to say hi to the community?
Drop us a line at!
Participants must be able to provide high-resolution images (1MB and above).