The question of serving my nation is one I have grappled with again and again and again, especially when overseas. Others have as well.

I must admit, as I’ve grown more appreciative of the challenges and dilemmas of living in Malaysia, I’ve found it increasingly unfruitful to toss the question about. I looked at what I wrote in 2011 on the cusp of graduation and cringed at my naïveté!

I know now that one will always be torn and there is no easy resolution, but I’ve grown slightly tired of reading articles like this one, yesterday: Malaysians abroad – two sides of the coin. Bit of a waste of time to dwell on the obvious. In that way, my post too is a waste of time.

But my appreciation for those quietly labouring in Malaysia has grown, especially those who have given up bright futures abroad to live and work with the mess here. I am more convinced now than I was a few years ago, that the mess is growing, basic infrastructures are breaking, and Malaysians should be prepared for difficult times.

I don’t know if those who committed to come back to Malaysia made their decisions fully aware of what they were committing to, but I quietly admire their fortitude and perseverance. I am grateful to them. I think what they have done is very good, very Christian (I hate to use this word here but I find no alternative), bearing witness to hopeful redemption that is present in our world.

I do believe things are bad. But I also believe in hope in a real unwishful way — a hope grounded in a suffering reality. I don’t identify with and don’t have too much time for rants brimming with fatalistic disappointment. I believe in working in the mess and through the mess, and am very appreciative of a great number of Malaysians doing exactly that.

Embarrassingly, however, I find myself now caught out. My life contradicts my emotions or my hopes. I don’t agree with Marina Mahathir, that you can “go but don’t give up” on Malaysia. It sounds nice, but how does that play out in reality?

I had to throw all my energies into learning Australia. That was an all-consuming challenge. I learnt Australian ways, grappled with Australian problems. How could I stay equally invested and engaged in Malaysia? I could keep up with some news on the internet, but not at a level sufficient to affect meaningful change.

I also believe that if you live in a foreign nation which has graciously accepted you and extended its hospitality to you, your duty is now to that country, to assimilate and contribute and build that nation. I think that if people took that more seriously there would be fewer assimilation problems.

I tend to be sceptical when people tell me, “you can do both”. Like images of successful career women carrying their smiling babies, advertising the “women can have it all” catch cry — prod beneath the surface and you’ll usually find hollows.

Nobody can have it all; nobody. I believe there are creative ways to navigate life and make the best of things. I applaud those who excel in this.

But anyone attempting to entice Malaysians to return would have a difficult job. Can the sacrifice, difficulties and costs be hidden? If presented fully, how many would accept?

Should the (2 million and counting) emigrants who have left Malaysia be commended? Do Malaysians have a moral duty to the country, or not? If so, how can it be acceptable that one leaves for a “better life”?