What an exchange student has learned in M’sia
THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 2013 – 16:21
(Above) Our report on Monday, (right) RARE: An American boy carrying paal kudam ( milk pot) for Lord Murugan during Thaipusam Celebration in Batu Caves
THE experience of studying in a foreign country is one that requires acceptance, yet rewards you with priceless cultural knowledge.
It was probably my parents, those two people in everyone’s life, to whom I owe my open-minded approach.
From an early age, I was raised to accept other people’s personalities and ideas. This lesson was no doubt aided by living abroad with my family: in London for four months and in Hamilton, New Zealand, for six months. These experiences motivated me to go in search of more opportunities to live and study internationally.
The opportunity I discovered came in the form of YES-Abroad, a US Department of State funded study abroad scholarship to countries with significant Muslim populations.
What originally enticed me was the focus on Islam due to my fascination with the religion and its history.
My interests quickly evolved when I learned that I was to stay with a Hindu family. I had assumed that because the programme was focused on countries with Muslim populations, we were to stay in Islamic households, too.
The news about staying with a Hindu family only bolstered my interest, because that meant I had more chances to learn about both Hinduism and Islam, in addition to the other faiths I would encounter in Malaysia.
Due to the religious dimension of the scholarship and my own interest, I have striven to learn much about Malaysia’s religions.
Three weeks after my arrival, my first hands-on experience with Islam came in the form of my fasting for Ramadan.
In this time, I met two Muslim families who were associated with the YES programme.
The first family invited me to break fast with them, observe their prayers and learn about the five pillars of Islam.
The second family took me with them to celebrate Hari Raya in their kampung of Mersing.
Because of my host family’s continued support and knowledge, I also find myself with a better understanding of Hinduism. Everything I have learned about the Buddhist, Sikh and the Bahai faiths has come from the explanations by my classmates of their respective beliefs.
I have been fortunate to participate in numerous festivals and to see many unique Malaysian locales, giving me further insight into Malaysian culture.
I fasted for Ramadan, Navarathiri and Kanda Sashti and celebrated both Hari Raya and Deepavali. In addition to visiting Mersing, Johor, I have also visited Malacca, Seremban, Cameron Highlands and Penang.
The colonial remnants of Malacca and George Town are something to admire, as are the tea fields of Cameron Highlands, and the architecture in Seremban. My future plans include fasting for Thaipusam and celebrating Christmas and Chinese New Year, in addition to visiting Kota Kinabalu and Johor Baru.
I have taken advantage of every opportunity put before me, all in the name of experiencing Malaysia to its utmost.
The true worth of studying abroad and all of the other wonderful opportunities I have had is gaining cultural knowledge.
A few individuals I have met have compared my stay to a vacation. I am taking a year-long break from domestic schooling. It is important for me to be in Malaysia because culture is not purely an idea, culture is the lifestyle of a people.
At home I researched online for many details.
However, that approach would prevent a rich understanding of Malaysia. Malaysia may be a combination of Malay, Indian and Chinese traditions. Malaysia is the home of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists; but Malaysia is also being able to eat with your hands and pluck rambutan from a tree. Malaysian life is an enriching experience, one that I am proud to be having. So, thank you Malaysia, for all the knowledge — the wonderful experience — that you are sharing with me.
I encourage Malaysian students to consider the YES-In Bound scholarship that sends Malaysian students to study and live abroad in the United States for a semester. You may be surprised by the value of the cultural knowledge that you will gain; that has certainly been true for me.