Yaacob Harun



Malaysia is separated by about 8700 km from New Zealand. While Malaysia has a tropical climate with a consistent high temperature of between 28-34 degrees Celsius, New Zealand has a temperate climate with temperatures ranging from 8 to 17 degrees Celsius (except in the winter and in the summer when the temperatures go beyond those two extremes).

The two countries have a multi-ethnic society. However, the majority (80%) of New Zealand population is made up of the Pakehas (the orang putih) who were originally from Europe (particularly from United Kingdom). On the other hand, the majority of the population of Malaysia is made up of Asians (natives and non-natives). The Caucasian “mat salleh” group in Malaysia forms a very small percentage of the total population.

On the whole, we can say that Malaysia and New Zealand are two countries with two different cultures – on one hand eastern culture and on the other western culture. However, this is not to be construed that the two cultures exist in isolation from one another. Malaysia has been exposed to western cultural influences for more than six centuries, right from the time when the Portuguese (Benggali Putih) first conquered Malacca in 1511.

It was during the British colonial rule that western influences in the economy, politics, education, and culture were most widespread on the Malaysian soil. Most of these political, administrative, educational, economic, and other social infra-structures introduced by the British colonial government to Malaysia were similar to those found in New Zealand then, or even today. Because of this, we find that New Zealand provides a good attraction for people from the former British colonies to go to, including Malaysians.

Normally, people move from place to place for a reason or for a number of reasons. These include: economic, education, marriage, diplomatic missions, and other personal reasons. In migration theory, such movement of peoples is linked to the push and pull factors. Unfavourable situations found in the place or country of origin (poverty, unemployment, crisis, lack of opportunities, etc.), provide the push for people to move out from the area or country.  On the other hand, favourable situations found in other areas or countries with regard to the above factors provide the attraction, which pull people to migrate to seek better opportunities there.

The question which confronts us here is whether situations in Malaysia and in New Zealand operate on the basis of push-pull mechanism, which make Malaysians move out of their beloved country to settle in New Zealand either temporarily or permanently.  To a certain extent, and in certain aspects, the answer is yes. There are Malaysians who go to New Zealand because they feel that they could make a better living here, especially by involving in business enterprises, which are uniquely Malaysian in nature, most prominently in food business. 

In this global era, there are also those who were assigned jobs in New Zealand by their respective Malaysia-based Multi-National Corporations (MNCs), or because they are employees of Joint Malaysia-New Zealand Business enterprises. Not to mention, that there are Malaysians who just prefer to work overseas despite getting job offers in Malaysia. Lastly, there are people who choose to reside and to work in New Zealand for specific (personal) reasons, which are not based on economic considerations at all.

Besides work, education is an important factor that makes Malaysians go to New Zealand. Malaysia-New Zealand’s relationship in the field of education goes back since the Colombo Plan in the 50-s and 60-s. It has always been the policy of the Malaysian government to send students abroad, and also it has always been the aspirations of (the wealthy) Malaysian parents to have their children educated overseas. New Zealand seems to be one of popular countries for Malaysians to get a degree from – in the field of medicine, dentistry, accountancy, law, etc. The number of students enrolled in New Zealand universities has never been less (except in recent years, for government sponsored students). But now, with the twinning program going on between private institutions in Malaysia and Victoria University, the number of students from Malaysia studying in New Zealand is on the increase.

There is a growing trend among Malaysian students to stay back and to seek employment in New Zealand upon the completion of their studies. The reason probably is to gain working experience which they could use to bargain for better and for more rewarding jobs in Malaysia when they get back home. A matter of concern to the government and also to parents is the fact that there are among these students who prefer to work in New Zealand indefinitely rather than going back to Malaysia. This is probably because they feel New Zealand provides better working environment and better opportunities for career development, or probably because they like New Zealand or fall in love with the country and everything that it has to offer – thus decide to prolong their stay and not to go home just yet.

Another factor that makes some of our fellow Malaysians move out to settle in New Zealand is marriage – in this case it is marriage between Kiwis and a Malaysians. In such a marriage it involves the choice of residence and the place to set up a family. For  those involved, it seems the choice is New Zealand. This is probably because it is much easier for a Malaysian to acquire PR status in New Zealand if he/she marries a Kiwi, than a Kiwi to acquire PR status in Malaysia.

Nowadays, movement of peoples from country to country is much facilitated by easy means of communication. Modern transports (air transportation), telephones, e-mails, etc., make people more willing move out to seek better opportunities elsewhere, while at the same time maintain close contact with families and friends back home. Through these easy means of communication, a person would not feel totally detached from his/her family and friends in the home country, irrespective of where he stays. In the case of New Zealand and Malaysia, it is just about 10 hours journey away by air. I suppose, there are Malaysians in New Zealand who go back to their hometown in Malaysia more than once a year. Airfare is not a major problem if one were to earn a good income in New Zealand.


The following is a general description of the Malaysian community in New Zealand looking from the aspects of: population make-up, economic activities, student profiles, social organizations and activities, and family lives. Most of the data are collected from secondary sources including those from the Internet.

Population Structure and Size

Information on Malaysians living in New Zealand is limited. New Zealand Census on Population and Dwelling Report does not give a good account of the size of the community, the nature of occupations they are involved in, their income structure, and their distribution based on area of residence and housing types. Even the figure on Malaysian students studying in New Zealand is not documented. The figures, if there are any, are only derived from records from International Student Divisions of individual institutions.

On the whole, Malaysians in New Zealand can be categorized into the following categories: diplomats (government officers) and their families; private entrepreneurs and their families; students; Malaysians married to Kiwis and their families; and individual workers.

According to New Zealand Census of Population and Dwelling 2001, there were 11,463 people who said that they were born in Malaysia and now reside in New Zealand, either temporarily or permanently.  I presume the majority, if not all of these people are still keeping their Malaysian citizenships. During the time when this census was taken, they were staying in New Zealand either on permanent resident status (PR), work permits, temporary work visas, student visas, or on tourist visas.

 About 24% of them arrived in New Zealand in the last four years, 21% arrived between five to nine years ago, 36.5% arrived between 10 to 19 years ago, and another 13.6% arrived in New Zealand for more than 20 years ago. (Table 1)

The 2001 Census also states there are 2052 people who claim themselves belonging to Malay ethnic group. Nevertheless, we could not say for sure whether these 2052 people are all Malaysians due to the fact that, there are also Malays residing in New Zealand who came from other parts in the Malay world besides Malaysia. Those Malays who came from Sumatra, or even from Cambodia could also be included.

The number of Malaysian Chinese staying in New Zealand is more difficult to gauge. The Census of Population and Dwelling 2001 mentions there are 100,680 people belonging to Chinese ethnic group living in New Zealand in 2001. These people came from various countries in Asia including from China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The 2001 Census shows there are 38,949 people who came from People’s Republic of China alone, 12,486 who came from Taiwan, 11,301 who came from Hong Kong, and 3,912 who came from Singapore. I am not far from being right, if I say that there were about 8,000 Malaysian Chinese found to be residing in New Zealand in 2001.

Likewise, the number of Malaysian Indians staying in New Zealand is also difficult to determine. Those who claim themselves belonging to Indian ethnic group numbering 60,213 may have come from various countries in Asia and the Pacific, particularly from India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Fiji. I think, the number of Malaysian Indians residing in New Zealand in 2001 is between 1500 – 2000 people.

Table 1: Years of Arrival of Malaysians in New Zealand           

Years since Arrival Male Female Total    %
Lessthan 1 year 366 426 792 06.90
1 year 246 309 555 04.84
2 years 216 279 495 04.31
3 years 195 219 414 0.3.61
4 years 225 270 495 04.31
5-9 years 1107 1311 2418 21.09
10-19 years 2013 2175 4188 36.53
20 years + 780 789 1569 13.68
Not stated 267 270 537 04.68
Total 5415 6048 11463 99.95









Source:  The Census of Population and Dwelling 2001

Economic Activities of Malaysians in New Zealand

The New Zealand Census of Population and Dwelling 2001 does not give any indication of the types of occupation by ethnicity or by country of origin, as such, we could not state specifically the number of Malaysians involved in specific jobs in New Zealand. Generally, based on my observation and encounter with a few Malaysians in Wellington, Christchurch, and in Auckland, I come to know that, among the jobs undertaken by Malaysians in New Zealand include those in the diplomatic service, in the legal profession, managers of companies, chairman of companies, managing directors, business consultants, architects, doctors, university professors, supervisors, bank officers, administration assistants, freelance writers, food suppliers, waitresses, cooks, cashiers, salespersons, tour operators, and general workers.

The most visible types of occupation or business undertaking among Malaysians in New Zealand particularly in Wellington is the food business. In Wellington alone, there are more than 20 Malaysian restaurants. (Table 2) A walk along the streets in Courtney Place Wellington, for example, one notices at least four Malaysian restaurants, i.e. Satay Malaysia, Istana Malaysia, Satay Kampong, and Cinta Malaysian Restaurant. In Ghuznee Street, is the KK Malaysian Restaurant, and in Dixon Street is the Satay Kajang Restaurant.

A visitor from Malaysia who comes to New Zealand, particularly to Wellington for the first time would feel very much at home by noticing signboards of restaurants in Bahasa Melayu prominently displayed. (see Plate I and II).  Most of the menus of Malaysian cuisines served at these restaurants are also displayed in Bahasa Melayu. (Table 3).

If one is satisfied for not missing Malaysian foods while in New Zealand, he or she is taken aback for the pricing of the dishes, which is a lot higher than the pricing in Malaysia. For example, the price a person pays for a plate of mee goreng in Wellington is NZ$13.50, while for a similar plate he only pays about NZ$2.50 at an average Malaysian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. A piece of plain roti canai with gravy costs about NZ$5.00 in Wellington, whereas in Malaysia, we could get ten pieces of that for the same price. However, for those Malaysians who have stayed longer, particularly for those who have secured jobs and permanent residency status, the high pricing of Malaysian foods in New Zealand is taken to be something normal. They have to pay about the same amount or more for a plate of Indian or Western cuisines as they would have had paid for the Malaysian dishes.

Table 2:  Malaysian Restaurants in Wellington

No Name of Restaurant Address 
1 Asian Kitchen 138A Lambton Quay, City
2 Bandong Country Food 134 Cuba St, City
3 Bays Curry Cottage 28 Rimu St, Rona Bay
4 Cinta Restaurant Courtney Place, City
5 Givas Malaysian Cuisines 114,  Johnsonville Road
6 Istana Malaysia 1-5 Allen St, City
7 KK Malaysian Restaurant 54, Ghuznee Street, City
8 Kopi Malaysian Espresso Cafe 103 Willis St, City
9 Malacca Restaurant & Bar 41 Vivian St, City
10 Malaya Village Restaurant 17-19 Majoribanks St Mt Victoria, City
11 Malaysian Cafe 264 Jackson St, Petone
12 Malaysian Platter 501 Hutt Rd, Lower Hutt
13 Roti Chenai Cafe 120 Victoria St, City
14 Roti Cafe 149, Willis Street, City
15 Satay Kajang 39 Dixon St, City
16 Satay Kampong 262, Wakefield Street, City
17 Siows Malaysian Curry & Grill 41 Vivian St Central Wellington
18 Satay Malaysia Restaurant 18-24 Allen St Central Wellington
19 Satay Village 58 Ghuznee St, City
20 Sungai Wang Malaysian Cafe 68 Dixon St, City
21 Sungai Wang Malaysian Restaurant 18 Bunny St, Lower Hutt
22 Taste Of Malaysia 241 High St, Lower Hutt
23 The Long Bar On Brandon 22 Brandon St, City
24 The Malaysian Kitchen Restaurant 200 Cuba St Central Wellington

 Source: Telecom NZ 2002/03, Yellow Pages (Pg.896); see also


Student Profiles

Besides work, education is an important factor that makes Malaysians come to New Zealand. Malaysia-New Zealand’s relationship in the field of education goes back since the Colombo Plan in the 50-s and 60-s. It has always been the policy of the Malaysian government to send students abroad, and also it has always been the aspirations of (the wealthy) Malaysian parents to have their children educated overseas. New Zealand seems to be one of popular countries for Malaysians to get a degree from – in the field of  medicine, dentistry, accountancy, law, etc. The number of students enrolled in New Zealand universities has never been less (except in recent years, for government sponsored students). Based on July 2000 report by Trade New Zealand Malaysia (Table 3), there were 2063 Malaysian students studying in New Zealand in 1995, 2500 in 1997, and 2359 in 1999 (Table 3).

Compared to those studying in the UK, Australia, and USA, the number of Malaysian students studying in New Zealand is still very small. In 2001, there were only 1185 formal tertiary students from Malaysia in New Zealand (Table 4). But now, with the twinning program going on between private institutions in Malaysia and Victoria University, for instance, the number of Malaysian students in New Zealand is expected to be on the increase. Nevertheless, at Victoria University it never exceed 200, except for 2001 when the number was 210 (Table 5).  In University of Canterbury, Christchurch, there were 82 Malaysian students in 2002 pursuing courses in Science, Commerce, Engineering, and Law (Table 6). The total number of Malaysian students who have graduated from Canterbuty thus far was 2,266 (International Student Office, University of Canterbury)

Table 3: Number of Malaysian Students Studying Overseas

Country 1995 1997 1999
UK 12,000 8,500 17,800
Australia 11,121 12,500 15,700
USA 13,617 14,000 14,597
New Zealand 2,063 2,500 2,359
Canada 2,000 1,500 2,000
Total 40,801 39,000 52,456


Table 4:  Number of Malaysian Formal Tertiary Students in New Zealand in 2001

Institution Male Female Total
Polythechnics 169 113 282
Colleges of Education 02 02 04
Universities 389 481 870
Private Tertiary  Education Provider 11 18 29
Total 571 614 1185


 A glance at Table 5 and Table 6, we notice that a big proportion of Malaysian students studying at Victoria and at Canterbury were pursuing a degree in Commerce and Administration. In 2000 and 2001 for instance, Malaysian students enrolled for BCA degree was 80.45% and 74.28% respectively of the total number of Malaysian students at Victoria. This is mainly due to the twinning programs arranged by the faculty of Commerce and Administration, VUW with a few private institutions in Malaysia such as Nilai College, Sedaya College, and Inti College.

Table 5: Number of Malaysian Students at Victoria University of Wellington for the Years 1996 – 2002 by Degree

Year BA BCA BSC LLB BARCH P/Grd Others* Total
1996 14 62 04 02 02 07 15 106
1997 10 69 03 04 07 07 24 124
1998 13 52 03 06 09 07 21 111
1999 13 85 04 05 05 07 05 124
2000 10 140 01 09 04 02 08 174
2001 08 156 08 08 08 22 210
2002 09 78 10 09 05 17 128


B.A = Bachelor of Arts; BCA = Bachelor of Commerce & Administration; BSC= Bachelor of Science; LLB = Bachelor of Law; BARCH = Bachelor of Architecture; P/Grd = Post-Graduate.

* Others include: ACA = Accountancy Professionals; ARCINT = Architecture Intermediate; BBSC = bachelor of Building Science; BDES = Bachelor of Design; COP = Certificate of Proficiency; DPACCY = Diploma in Accountancy; DFMATH = Diploma in Financial Mathematics; and ENGINT = Engineering Intermediate

Source: System Support, Central Student Administration, Victoria University of Wellington

 Table 6: Number of Malaysian Students at University of Canterbury in 2002 by Degree

Degree Number
Science 15
Law 02
Engineering 20
Commerce 24
Arts      06
Special program (Engineering preparatory) 15
Total 82







Source: International Student Office, University of Canterbury


PETRONAS  also plans to send their students to New Zealand in the coming years. According to Les Brighton, International Manager, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, in 2002 there were 15 PETRONAS scholarship students who have enrolled in a special bridging program preparatory to enrolling in Bachelor of Engineering in 2003. He said, due to the aftermath of 9/11 it has become very difficult to get a visa for the US. The big sponsoring companies are looking elsewhere. Because of this, he said, Canterbury expects to get another 10-15 students from PETRONAS in 2003, and the university is also in negotiation with other companies in Malaysiaas well. Les Brighton stressed that because of the distressing situation of US visa, he was confident that students who come to Canterbury will not in any way be educationally disadvantaged. On the contrary, in virtually every discipline in the University they will receive a qualification fully the equal of any in the world. Student visas for New Zealand are much easier to obtain for bona fide students, and the fact that courses in Canterbury and living costs are half those of the US or the UK also makes the university an attractive destination.

Currently, most of the Malaysian students in New Zealand universities are private students. Very few are on scholarships, except for PETRONAS sponsored students in Canterbury. In terms of ethnicity, a majority of these private students, especially on twinning programs are Chinese. Less than 3 percent are Malays and Indians.

In Victoria, for example, there are a few government sponsored students that I know of, all of them are post-graduate students. They were sent by their respective universities in Malaysia, specifically by University of Malaya (UM), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), and Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI) under SLAB (Skim Latihan Akademik Bumiputera) to pursue either Masters or Doctorate programs. In the coming years we expect to have more government sponsored students in Victoria resulting from the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Education Malaysia with the School of Linguistics and Applied Languages, Victoria University of Wellington for the twinning program on TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language). The first batch of these TESL students will enrol in Victoria in 2004.

 Social Organization & Cultural Activities

In the beginning of this paper I listed a few of the symptoms of culture shock. One of these symptoms is “identifying with the old culture or idealizing the old country”. It is natural for people who come from the same country and practicing the same culture would feel “attached” to one another when they are in a foreign land. This feeling of belonging together (we-feeling) form the basis for them to get together, to organize activities, to form associations, and to help one another in times of need. 

In this regard, I feel, by getting together like this in this workshop, by forming associations like Malaysian-New Zealand Business Council, Malaysian-New Zealand Society, Malaysian Student Organization, etc., we in New Zealand are in fact expressing our feeling of belonging together and our deep sense of identity, of being Malaysians. Besides formal activities organized by these Malaysia-based associations and organizations, there are a number of other activities – cultural, sporting and religious activities that were informally organized by Malaysians in New Zealand (e.g. bowling tournament, fishing trips, etc.) – also of the frequent number of informal get-togethers, feasts, and open house that were held from time to time by Malaysians.

Malaysians like any other foreign nationals in New Zealand have a focal point – the Malaysian High Commission which is the place where they could refer to with regards to securing visas, passports, and other matters like emergencies, deaths etc. Malaysian High Commission in New Zealand not only provides the link between Malaysia and New Zealand in matters that involve relationships between the two countries, but also provides the meeting place for all Malaysians in New Zealand. It is through activities organized by the Malaysian High Commission such as Merdeka day celebration, Yang Di Pertuan Agong’s birthday celebration, Hari Raya celebration, etc., that Malaysians would be able to meet, to get to know one another and to establish relationships and contacts.


To conclude, let me relate a small experience of mine when I was in The Netherlands in 1991 spending my sabbatical leave for four months in that country. For the first month I was there, I had almost all the symptoms of culture shock – loneliness, boredom, extreme home-sickness, feeling of regret of going to a foreign country (in winter), frustration of not having a friend to talk to, loss of appetite, etc.  I almost came back home to Malaysia and was willing to pay back to University of Malaya for whatever expenses incurred if not until I met a few Indonesians who came to my rescue by inviting me to stay with them at their place. It was with them that I share my happiness and sorrows afterwards, and after the completion of four months in The Netherlands I began to like the country, and would like to go there again if I have the chance. 

Indeed, the chance did come in 1997 when I was appointed Chair of Malay Studies at the University of Leiden. I accepted it willingly. In 1997, my stay in The Netherlands became more interesting and enjoyable when I established frequent contacts with fellow Malaysians working at the Malaysian Embassy at The Hague (Den Haag), and participated in social and cultural activities organized by the Embassy.  These Malaysian friends from the Embassy are my family in The Netherlands then. Now I am here in Wellington surrounded by my beloved big family from Malaysia. The bitter symptoms of culture shock are almost gone. Upon realizing all these, I thought to myself, life is more meaningful, more enjoyable and fulfilling if we are surrounded by familiar peoples or peoples from the same country and culture and not be left alone a stranger, much worse a lonely stranger in a strange and foreign land.


  1.  Carmen Guanipa(1998). Culture Shock.
  2.  Dienke Hondius (2000). Mixed Marriage, Mixed Feelings.
  4.  Global Sources. Business Culture in Malaysia
  6.  Global sources. business culture in new zealand.
  8.  Henry Wai-chung Yeung, (2000). Business as Usual? Changing Business Network in Pacific Asia in a Globalising Era. National University of Singapore.
  9. Lalervo Oberg. Culture Shock & The Problem Of Adjustment To New Cultural Environments.
  10. Landis, J.T. (1975). Personal adjustment, marriage, and family (6th ed.). New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Yaacob Harun (2004)


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