Ibe’s 18th birthday was this week! A few of our school friends thought of having a surprise “birthday party” during school for her! They told me about it and pooled money together to buy a small cake, and we brought in balloons, cups, drinks, candy, cookies, and other snacks. It was so thoughtful of our classmates, and we all enjoyed it!
On Friday, I didn’t go to school (Fridays are always half-days anyway, since they are a Muslim holy day), and I participated in a hill run that was part of Hari Sukan Negara held for the local police station and other government service agencies.
I didn’t really know what I was going to be attending when Amma sent me to the run. I felt a bit underdressed (leggings, but everyone else was in sweatpants). I didn’t know that we would be running up a 3km hill until people started running, so I carried a tote bag containing extra clothes and a full 1L water bottle all the way up. Better still, the strap to the bag broke when I was near the top. Aside from the discomfort, it was very nice to run in such a beautiful place, and I had fun! Oh, and I won first place for women! I was very surprised (considering my plethora of obstacles) but happy and proud! The prize for winning was a lovely toaster oven from 2006, as well as a fancy handcrafted (and very heavy) Malaysian marble vase.
The next day was Hari Sukan Negara at the field next to our school. First we had a sinamrobik/ zumba warmup session with the hundreds of people who came from nearby schools and from the community, led by my friends the Tapah Fitness Team.
After that was a 2km run with all the school students. Apprently it was not a race, but I came in first place for girls, with only a few boys ahead of me. Unfortunately, my win did not come with a luxurious, sparkling new 2006 toaster oven. But I was so proud of my two-day winning streak!
I also won a bicycle! There was a Lucky Draw raffle contest, and the number I was holding was called for a bicycle! Right afterwards, Ibe’s number was called for another bicycle! This time period was one of great success for me in the field of Winning Things: at the Chinese Moon Festival/ lantern playing the week before, I won a phone, and before that I was crowned Floral Princess, and before that we won the kolam contest.
Later that day, we went to Gopeng for our AFS chapter delayed orientation, where we stayed at a jungle resort and went whitewater rafting! I’ll talk about it in my next post.
Even though I generally only mention the fun times I have and the amazing experiences I’ve been given, it’s definitely not always easy for me. I struggle with adjusting, missing home, being nostalgic for things I ordinarily wouldn’t even notice or places I’ve traveled with my US family. It’s sometimes hard for me to adjust to the lack of reliability in plans that are made or the frequently-changing busy schedule. (But I do like to be busy!) I had a really hard time not exercising often, but I’ve gotten more used to it; I don’t feel a burning need to exercise every single day, and I’ve managed to cut back to 2-3 days a week. I had a very tough time with the lack of vegetables in my diet at times, but I’ve also mostly adjusted to that. (I know, these sound like the opposite of problems most people face, but it’s been hard for me to let go of my super-healthy lifestyle in the US. But this was really hard for me, and I’ve definitely improved very much. It’s hard being an orang putih (white person)/ mat salleh (foreigner)/ everywhere I go. It seems like everyone notices me, almost everyone stares at me, and a lot of people ask me to take pictures with them (or just take photos of me, usually not even bothering to be discrete about it). My face muscles required for smiling have gotten really strong. It’s hard always wondering “Am I supposed to be here?” “What on earth is happening?” “Omg I hope they won’t be offended I just touched my shoe and then touched that” “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” “Oops I just accidentally touched a male’s arm to get their attention!” “Am I allowed here?” “I hope they don’t see how bad I am at eating with my hands” “Am I allowed to use the gym while men are there??” “Should I go over there and talk to those other people?” “Are those people saying hi to be nice or do they have bad intentions?” “Oops are these pants too tight?” “I should stop speaking english so much!” “I’m relaxing at home, am I supposed to be out having a Cultural Experience?” “How is this toilet supposed to work?” “Agh I can’t believe I just gestured to my shirt to show a Malay male the AFS logo!” “Is it bad that I always compare things to how they are in the US?” and the hundreds of other thoughts that have run through my head.
Being on exchange— without understanding conversations, listening to which can keep our brains occupied— means that we think a lot. About everything. And having so many cultural differences makes us question every little detail of things we do.
A lot of things are similar here— I’ve learned that humans are pretty much the same no matter where they are or what they look like!— but at the same time, everything is different. I get excited on the rare occasion I see Starbucks, Snickers, Pantene shampoo, even baking powder (“wow, they use that here too!”). Things that had no meaning to me at home in the US suddenly take on a lot of significance.
All that aside, it is amazing here, and I’m having an amazing time!
Exchange is definitely not easy, but it is amazing.