Selamat sejahtera kepada semua! I am currently living in Tapah under the Perak state chapter. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly why I chose Malaysia for my exchange year… but I’m so glad I did!
Before I applied to come to Malaysia, I didn’t know much about the country beyond its general location, the big towers in Kuala Lumpur, and the missing airplanes. Among the five countries I could select for the BP scholarship I applied to, I chose Malaysia because Google Images told me it had the most beautiful beaches. Almost a year later, I haven’t spent much time on the beach, but I still love living in Malaysia!
I attend SMK Dato’ Panglima Perang Kiri, Tapah Road, and the school has been amazingly welcoming to me and the Belgian student who also attends SMKDPPK. As AFS students, we seem to get a lot of privileges, which sometimes bothers me since I don’t like getting special treatment that separates us from our classmates— but I really appreciate how the teachers and friends are so welcoming and treat us very well. I attend English, mathematics, additional mathematics, biology, physics, and chemistry classes, and I enjoy learning on my own by following along in a bilingual textbook. I don’t do homework, which is an amazing break in stress compared to my life in the U.S, but I still learn. I also spend time in my host mom’s English classroom, reading, writing, working on a school newsletter, and doing other work.
My host family is very loving and they treat me like their own daughter. Life with them isn’t always seamless, and sometimes I get annoyed with them. But at the end of the day, I know I am so lucky to have a family like them. I am their fifth host daughter, but I have never felt like just another temporary inhabitant of their home; they are truly my family, and I can’t imagine life without ever meeting them!
Homesickness was a huge challenge for me. Realizing I was at physically at the farthest place I could go from home was scary. There were days I wanted nothing more than to fly back to America and hug my mom. But now, more than halfway through, I wish time would slow down; I’m not ready to go back to the U.S!
Another challenge has been the tendency for plans to be cancelled and changed; this is difficult for me to get used to, but I have learned to be a much more relaxed person. I also had trouble feeling like an outsider; being an orang putih, I feel like people are always staring at me, and it’s difficult to fit in. Still, this is just a minor obstacle compared to all the amazing things I’ve participated in.
It’s impossible to choose a single favorite moment from my experience in Malaysia. I have made so many memories that will stick with me for a lifetime, and the experiences that make this year incredible are a million small memories— having a full conversation in Malay, learning to cook with my host aunt, going for a run through Melaka one beautiful morning, cooking Thanksgiving dinner and eating it off banana leaves, spending 30 minutes in Thailand, having lunch with some Buddhist monks, playing hockey and badminton with fifteen family members for our own family Olympics, and so many other things!
I recently competed in the state level cross country meet, followed by the district track and field competition with my school. I had a great time with friends from all over the district, and it was so exciting to realize that I had made these friends almost entirely by speaking to them in Malay.
One of my favorite things about Malaysia is that there are so many gorgeous temples. I’ve been to more Hindu and Buddhist temples this year than the entire rest of my life— well, before this year, I had never been to any. I love attending prayers in our town with my host family and also visiting the huge gorgeous temples throughout other parts of the country.
A particularly unique part of my year came when I got to participate in the funeral prayers for my host uncle. His passing was extremely sad, and of course I would prefer that the family did not have to go through this, but this was an incredible experience. The entire extended family came from throughout Malaysia and stayed with us. For sixteen days, we prayed and sang before each meal, and on certain days had major prayers at the temple or with the priest in our home. I learned so much in this time about Indian culture and realized the immense value that comes from immersion and living with a host family. I really enjoyed the time spent with fifteen family members in our home and realized how much I love this family.
I have changed in so many ways, but at the same time realize traits about myself that have always been true. I have become more confident, less stressed, and more aware of the things that truly matter in life.
I would absolutely recommend Malaysia to future AFS students. I would never have considered Malaysia without the scholarship I am on; I was set on doing AFS in Italy since I was 12 years old. But I am infinitely grateful that I ended up in Malaysia. The country is so rich in culture and beauty, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. In one day, I can feel like I am in India, China, the Middle East, Britain, or the Pacific Islands. It is such a gift to be able to wake up hearing the Muslim call to prayer, later go visit a Chinese temple with a friend’s family, go to evening prayers in a Hindu temple with a family you love, and to watch the gorgeous sunset surrounded by mountains and palm trees. Malaysia is an extremely diverse country, and this diversity is beautiful.
Of course there is culture shock, and being so far from home can be scary, but living in Malaysia can be such a wonderful, beautiful, colorful experience that it is absolutely worth it.
This article was originally published in Budaya Beat E-magazine.