Hola, mi nombre es Noorazzalea Gazali. Tengo 19 años de edad y estuve once meses compartiendo y aprendiendo de cultura en Argentina. Now let me translate, hello my name is Noorazzalea Gazali. I am 19 years old and I went to Argentina to learn and share their culture for 11 months in the Year Program of AFS. My first introduction was in Spanish which was the language that they speak there. I was placed in a small town called Rio Tercero in a province named Cordoba.
My biggest challenge was to explain my religion to people who only know of it from the media that they watch. Most of them were generally aware of ISIS and many strangers even called out slurs when they saw me in my hijab. I was also frequently asked about the culture of Islam in Malaysia as Turkish dramas are a huge craze there. Many of them thought that the culture practiced in the TV dramas were the same as what we practice here. I was even asked if the young Muslim girls here would be married off to old rich men like in the dramas.
To explain how Muslims and ISIS are different and expound on the Muslim culture in Malaysia, I was given the opportunity to talk in schools and participate in social gatherings of my friends and families. After I explained to them, I managed to help them understand that not everything on television is the truth and that just because we share the same religion does not mean we share the same culture.
My favorite moment of my exchange was when I went for a trip with my friends to a nearby neighborhood called Embalse to celebrate the First Day of Spring. The First Day of Spring is also considered Student’s Day or Dia Del Estudiante. On the weekend of this day, students would usually spend the weekend with friends at cabins or houses by a body of water. As Argentina is a very large country, to go to the beach was a difficult task; hence, they settled for lakes around nearby towns. Other than to enjoy the weekend with friends and breathe in the clean air, they also attend concerts held near the lake area. I had the opportunity to attend one such concert during my trip with my friends. It was a memorable time for me as I had never gone on a trip with my friends here in Malaysia, so to be able to experience it during my exchange year was incredible.
The AFS Program and experience has impacted my future in a sense that it gave me the means to discover myself. While I was outside of my comfort zone, I began learning and improving myself as a person. I realized how much I loved to travel, meet new people, and talking in front of crowds. I became more open-minded and I was taught that the term family does not only apply to those that share the same bloodline as you but also the people who have been with you through thick and thin. The friendships and relationships that I built throughout my exchange are some of the things that I cherish most. Upon my return from the program, I am able to speak a new language and also have a heightened curiosity to learn more about people and other cultures; a thirst that could be quenched here in Malaysia as we have a large diversity of people and cultures, and which I hope will help build bridges through greater understanding of one another.
This article was originally published in Budaya Beat E-magazine.