Any of you who have spent time in the Travellerspoint forums will probably already know Hien. For the past few years, Hien's been advising travellers visiting Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.
Late last year, he set out on an adventure of his own. As a Malaysian, Hien qualifies for the United Kingdom's Working Holidaymaker program, providing an ideal opportunity for him to experience life in the UK while planning side trips to the rest of Europe.
Hien: Enjoying a burger in Denmark
Why did you decide to go to the UK?
Ever since I caught the travel bug a few years ago, I've always wanted to see new places. UK was the last to colonise Malaysia and also the longest, so they have a lot of influence in my country. Somehow this has made me want to go to the UK even before the travel bug got me. The British Government runs a working holidaymaker (WHM) scheme for the youths of selected Commonwealth countries and this has given me extra motivation to go there. Apart from that, a serious medical condition I survived through almost two years ago made me want to go even more. Also not forgetting that the rest of Europe is so accessible from the UK. All these add up to my decision to go to the UK.
What appealed to you about taking a working holiday?
The two most important things for budget travellers like me who want to travel for a long time: a long-term visa and a permit to work to help finance the trip. And the WHM scheme has just that; a 2-year multiple entry visa plus a permit to work for up to 12 months. The British Pound (GBP) and the Euro (EUR) are amongst the strongest currencies in the world and the cost of living in the UK can be very high if you're not earning in pounds. So the permission to work with no restriction on the industry is definitely a big help here. Another plus point is that the UK WHM scheme allows you to work for up to 12 months. Of all the working holiday schemes I've seen, the one in the UK has the best terms and conditions. New Zealand also has a similar WHM scheme for Malaysians but with different conditions - a 6-month visa with permission to work for up to three months.
Is the work aspect a "necessary evil"? Or does working in a foreign place give you a deeper appreciation for it?
Everyone would want to have fun for as long as they like without having to worry about their bank account going empty. But then not everyone is born rich. Even though many of us dread going to work, I don't think of the work aspect in this case as evil. Travelling, for some people, means to experience the life in the place you are going to. I can't think of a better way to fully experience life in a place without going through what the locals there are going through. Apart from that, knowing that you have worked hard for the travels, or any other things, makes you appreciate it more.
Hien at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.
How hard was it for you to find work?
I found out that coming from a different country and having a work permit with limited validity can make things hard to get the job you want. Most employers want commitment from their employees. I think many of them have some reservations in hiring a working holidaymaker who would be here for only a relatively short period of time. But then, it also depends on the type of job you are looking for. Contractual jobs would be easier and employers usually don't mind about the WHM since the jobs are only for a limited period of time. Anyway, getting a job is very easy. Minimum-paying jobs are aplenty in cities, especially in fast-food restaurants, bars, supermarkets and similar establishments and they are hiring all the time. If you managed your expenses well, you could save quite a bit even with a minimum or low paying job.
You've already had time to take trips to Denmark, Sweden and Ireland. Do you have many more side trips like that planned?
Of course! Apart from the rest of the UK, I want to cover as much of Europe as I could and hopefully USA and Canada as well. But I'm taking things slowly, maybe a couple of places at a time. How much of it I can accomplish will depend on how much I could save up during my stay here in the UK.
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series: