The last few days have been some of the most exciting, eventful, and memorable days of my time in Malaysia. They've also been some of the saddest and most evocative. Last Thursday, I set out for KL to attend the AFS Malaysia 2013-14 End of Stay Camp from May 22-25 along with the rest of the exchange students set to leave Malaysia in June or July. Most of these students are going to be returning to their home countries for the first time in nearly a year, and the rest have not seen their homes in almost six months. Although we have had many cultural activities and trips throughout the year, I had not seen a couple of my friends since the first orientation back in July 2013 due to the sheer distance between our locations in Malaysia.
After arriving in KL and the hotel at which our orientation was to be held, we discussed our feelings regarding the year and our experiences in Malaysia. In addition, we had many activities that helped us reflect on our year and prepare for our return to our home countries in a few weeks. I learned about the difficulties I would face when I returned home after eleven months in another country with a different set of cultures. Moreover, I came to see just how much I would miss Malaysia, the friends I have made here, and the manifold festivals and celebrations Malaysians participate in and enjoy so much. My favorite part of the reflection process was on the second day of the camp, when all of the students sat hand in hand in a candlelit room and listened to a general description of the course of our year while reflecting on our individual experiences and memories. Although it was a very poignant
experience, I truly appreciate the time given for all of us to meditate on our time in Malaysia, as we came to understand the magnitude of our year and the memories we had made.
The first two days of the camp were taken up by sessions of preparation, organization, and reflection and free time for the students to socialize. Saturday, the third day of the camp, was devoted to preparation for the annual End of Stay Dinner, which was later that night. We ran through the Bollywood-themed dinner and practiced the student performances earlier in the day to prepare ourselves for the real dinner at 7:30. To kick off the event, Dato' Mahadzir Lokman, the chairman of AFS Malaysia, gave a short speech and cut the commemorative cake for the occasion. Next came the actual dinner, which was accompanied by the student performances. Considering that several of our performances were planned during the camp, the practices were very helpful, as we managed to perform with relatively few errors during the actual dinner. From Indian, Chinese, and Malay dances to Malay and modern songs, the performances were lively and demonstrated all that we had learned and absorbed during the course of our stay in this culturally vivid country. Between performances, each of the exchange students and volunteers in Malaysia received a certificate recognizing his or her completion of the program. As I walked up to the stage to receive my certificate from Dato' Lokman, a sense of pride, happiness, and sadness filled me and made my night so much more special and unique. I experienced a feeling of accomplishment and fulfilment, as I was walking toward the culmination of my year spent celebrating Malaysian festivals such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, and Deepavali, eating tasty Malay, Chinese, and Indian dishes, and meeting and befriending so many wonderful people in an entirely new country and environment. I saw that I had learned so much from people in Malaysia about their cultures, religions, languages, and lifestyles while teaching them about the U.S., its various cultures, and my life as an American. The feeling I got in that moment was simply magnificent.
Cutting the AFS Malaysia cake
Walking up to the stage to collect my certificate
Me with my certificate!
Even with all of the celebration and commemoration, the best part of the camp was certainly the times I spent with my friends. We spent most of our free time talking with each other and forming great memories. The last day of the camp was definitely bittersweet; apart from my American friends, with whom I will travel back to the U.S. in two weeks, I will probably not see the other exchange students again before I leave Malaysia. That notion led to many sad and emotional farewells and promises to meet up again in the future. I really do feel sad about saying goodbye, but I am so glad that I had the chance to create such good memories with all my friends and hope that we get the chance to catch up in person in the future.
Not only will I miss my friends; when I leave the country 14 days from now, I will miss Malaysia and its people so much. I cannot imagine the thought of bidding Malaysia farewell after 10 months in this beautiful country, but I am sure I will visit this land again and remember my days as an exchange student here. My ambivalent emotions about leaving Malaysia can be somewhat confusing at times, but I know that while I miss my family, friends, and life back home in the U.S., I have come to love those parts of my life here in Malaysia. Malaysia has served as a home, classroom, and paradise for me, and I can happily and confidently say that I will never forget this vivid country halfway across the world or the memories, friends, and family I have made here.
Terima kasih banyak, Malaysia!