From Europe to the Tropics: Embracing Expat Life in Greater KL

Arne Graeber, CEO of Commerz Global Service Solutions Sdn. Bhd. (part of the global Commerzbank AG Group) has traded his European roots for the vibrant life of Greater Kuala Lumpur (Greater KL/KL).

In this interview, he shares his experience as an expat, highlighting the region's unique blend of cultures, sunny year-round weather, and welcoming atmosphere. From weekend beach getaways to the challenges of adjusting to new work culture, Arne offers a well-rounded perspective on life in this dynamic Malaysian metropolis.

Q1: How long have you been living in Greater KL? What aspects of life in Greater KL have surprised and delighted you the most? How has this experience enriched your family life? 

"I have been living in Malaysia for 2.5 years now, while my family moved 1.5 years ago. However, due to the pandemic, they had to stay in Singapore for a while before finally joining me in KL. During my career, I had the opportunity to experience various countries and cultures within Asia and Europe continents, such as Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. Malaysia is not my first job abroad, but certainly one that fills me with joy. 

My family and I truly appreciate the cultural diversity in Malaysia - with various ethnicities and religions co-existing harmoniously. The people are very generous, warm-hearted, and friendly, making our transition here smooth. Our son has thrived in his kindergarten. Being exposed to several languages in Malaysia has allowed him to pick up new languages easily."

Q2: Beyond the unique cultural diversity, what surprised you most about life in Greater KL and what stands out to you as the biggest perk of living in Greater KL as an expat?

"Firstly, the weekends feel like a beach holiday for a European, and you don’t experience extreme cold weather here in Malaysia. I personally have a very positive experience with Malaysia, but of course, it requires adapting to the local culture.

What really stands out is the can-do spirit of Malaysians. People are more likely to embrace changes and find solutions rather than see them as a threat. The country also offers great places for holidays and weekend spots with various types of local cuisine."

Q3: Coming from a more established economy, how did you adjust to the specific work and life environment in Malaysia? Were there any cultural or social differences that stood out to you?

"As Malaysia is an emerging country, there are challenges and things done differently compared to your home country. However, having worked in other countries in Asia before, I wasn't culturally shocked by what to expect upon arriving here.

From a professional perspective, I have noticed that the leadership style in this country is very different from that of my home country. I have been living here for 2.5 years, and I have observed that some processes are still inefficient and require great patience to deal with it. However, the country has made significant progress in its long-term vision towards digitalisation, with some areas being much more advanced than the approach taken in my home country."

Q4: What factors come into play for a company deciding to launch an overseas office, and what advantages do you think Greater KL offers over other regional cities?

"In evaluating potential business locations, there are a few key factors that must be met during the evaluation process for instance, cost, long-term cost outlook, inflation, availability and skillset of the workforce, business environment, political stability, competition, and flexibility of labour rules to name a few. 

As our company has grown significantly over the past 12 years, I see Malaysia and particularly KL as a country with huge potential. In fact, over the last two years, the gap between Malaysia and European hubs in Eastern Europe has widened, predominately on cost considerations driven by high inflation resulting from the Russian-Ukraine war. The flexibility that you get here is enormous with ample of talent graduating and many professionals are keen to work across different shifts. This flexibility benefits our company immensely whereby it enables us to extend service hours to clients in Europe by implementing both Asian and European shifts."

Q5: Living in a new place often comes with memorable experiences. Could you share some anecdote or unforgettable moment that encapsulates your time in Greater KL?

"There is no “one experience” but rather seen as an experience for life. It is very valuable for me to learn about so many different cultures in one country and simultaneously contribute to both the Malaysian and German economies, a responsibility I undertake proudly as a Board member of the Malaysian German Chamber of Commerce. The warmth and the hospitality of the people have made living here easy for us. Whether spending quality time with the family at some of the remote beach resorts on the East Coast or road trips with colleagues were certainly experiences I will never forget.

Q6: Describe a typical weekend in Greater Kuala Lumpur for you and your family.

"Given my wife and I both work, the weekend is usually a bit more relaxed and mostly towards spending quality time with the kids. I also try to do as many sports as I can on weekends with friends, such as futsal, tennis, or gym, to manage the during the office times. Often, we also go for short trips within Malaysia to states and places such as Penang, Malacca, Port Dickson, and Langkawi."

Q7: For fellow expats considering a move to Greater KL, what advice or insights would you offer to help them make a smooth transition and fully enjoy their experience living in this diverse and vibrant region?

"Before making any decisions about relocating to Malaysia, I would highly recommend that they take a trip to explore the country firsthand. Cultural differences, high humidity, or other weather-related factors may not suit some people

After deciding to move, it is crucial to connect with a community. Whether through work colleagues, German or international communities, or sports clubs, building a support network is the key to an easy and fulfilling life here. Once you find a good circle of friends, everything else will fall into place.

It is possible that after six months, it is normal for you to start missing certain things from your home country. However, maintaining a positive attitude and lifestyle is important for a fulfilling stay. As mentioned earlier, a positive attitude and openness to new experiences are key to making your stay enjoyable. In our case, we are thoroughly enjoying our time in Malaysia and are grateful for the opportunity."

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