Budaya Beat January - February 2018

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A Word from National Director Recently, AFS Malaysia held its first Board Meeting of the new year 2018. Focusing on the New AFS Strategy with the tagline ‘Working Together for Maximum Impact’ and with the Board leadership eager to drive AFS Malaysia forward, the National Office followed the beat of new drums and streamlined all work tasks and procedures. With the current political and economic uncertainties, we anticipate a big challenge in our participant recruitment, both for hosting and sending programs. This year, we plan to reinforce our program support and content, improve our branding and visibility and develop our talents to manage with the changes that are fast enfolding. As the division among nations become wider, AFS around the world led numerous initiatives in 2017 to create a more just and peaceful world. 2018 will see more changes as we go forward in realizing our goals and missions. Thank you for an amazing year of changemaking and let’s spread the #AFSeffect in the 365 days to come!




Here & There


Prominent AFS Returnees


Social Media Highlights

Our volunteers are at the forefront of helping us accomplish our mission and expand our impact. Thank you for always being there to support, inspire and lead! Your commitment to global citizenship and intercultural understanding multiplies the power of #AFSeffect worldwide. Atty Sulaiman AFS Naaonal Director



A Day in My Life By: Marvin Bertenrath


am usually awakened by the clinking of breakfast utensils and the noisy chatter of male residents having their morning bath. I live in the male hostel of Eden Handicap Service Centre and I can vouch that some of the residents can fill the whole hostel with their energy and enthusiasm very early in the morning! In spite of that, I would usually just turn around and close my eyes again since my daily work only begins at noon. That is the time when I would grab my bag and start my 5 minute-walk to the children’s hostel where the centre’s van driver is waiting for me. The children are still at school and


we have to pick them up every school day but not before I grab their daily medicine and dive into the frenetic traffic of Georgetown. We head to the school just as the sun reaches its highest point and shines mercilessly onto the busy streets of the city. We are happy to sit inside the vehicle and have the aircon blast cool air at us as we navigate through city traffic. Sometimes we stop by one of the food hawkers and grab some pisang goreng (fried banana) or kopi ais (iced coffee) to sustain us on the ride. At the school for mentally challenged children, I pick up

the students, and then grab recycle bags which are usually donated by parents and haul them back with us to the hostel, where Eden’s recycling unit will pick them up afterwards. By the time we arrive at the hostel my co-workers and the older residents would have arrived as well and already prepared food for everyone. After lunch, which can be both pleasurable and frustrating at times, I watch over the boys after their school-washing routine. Once the boys are all cleaned, we open up a study hall where the children can play with a variety of toys, do their homework or learn about rules,

communication and behaviour. The goal is to teach them to lead a self-sufficient life. The journey is long and takes a lot of patience, but it is a high priority at Eden to distribute tasks to the kids and making them do the work on their own. The effort pays off as soon as we see them making progress and becoming more independent. The tables in the study hall are perfectly cleaned and rearranged again by the children at 3pm to make room for their beloved tea time, which is prepared by the kids themselves. We get the trolley with biscuit and beverages, hand out a cup and plate to everyone, pray together before enthusiastically enjoying our afternoon snacks. Sometimes there are one or two who look sad because they did not finish their lunch and as a result, cannot enjoy their biscuits until they have done so. After the empty plates and cups are washed and put away, we get the toys out again and spend the rest of the day playing while the day-care children are picked up by their parents one by one. When it is close to 6pm we clean up the study hall and have dinner together. That signals the end of my working day at Eden although sometimes there is a break in the routine when I have to accompany a sick child to the doctor’s or regular check-ups.



Hope Springs Eternal in Eden


he Eden Handicap Service Center is a non-profit organization, providing work, shelter and love to over 160 disabled people. Budaya Beat recently spoke with Madelene Tye, the Administrator of the centre. BB: The name Eden refers to the garden Adam and Eve lived in, was it deliberate to name the centre as such? Indeed, the garden Eden was meant to be a paradise for Adam and Eve. Similarly, we want to make our version of Eden a paradise for humans with disabilities, where they can find love, joy and shelter and receive the training they need in order to unleash their potential. BB: The website states “Eden wants to give the disabled the dignity to lead a self-sufficient life in the sight of God”. How does Eden include God in the daily life of its people? First of all, it is important to mention that no one is forced to believe in God and follow the Christian values and, although we are a Christian organization, everyone is accepted regardless of their religion. Nevertheless, we try to include God in the daily lives of the disabled to strengthen the community and provide them a way to find true love, acceptance and hope in God. To achieve this goal we have an hour of devotion every morning to sing, read and pray together. BB: How does Eden enable the disabled to lead a “self-sufficient life”? Eden tries to teach basic values and behaviour in order to fit into the rules of society. Once they have graduated, we try to find a job for them or hire them in a suitable position at one of Eden’s units, to give them the opportunity to develop their skills and lead a self-sufficient life as far as it is possible. BB: You just mentioned the Eden units, could you list these? They are: admin unit dealing with administration work, Children’s hostel, Male hostel, Female hostel, Training workshop where the disabled 6

can develop their skills and receive training, Craft workshop where the disabled produce handcrafted goods, Recycling unit, Cleaning service from people with disabilities, Community service, Counselling for the disabled, Handy cab (free for the disabled in need of transportation), Loan and rent a wheelchair

like Eden that work hard to care for them and make them self-sufficient.

Unfortunately, there is not much government support or financial aid, apart from reducing the import tax of our special vehicles from Japan. But we remain thankful for every little bit of help we get and continue to be hopeful that circumstances will change for the better I should mention that units like cleaning in future. services struggled to find customers at first but eventually it all worked out once there BB: Is volunteer work recognised and appreciated by was enough awareness and trust. society? Yes, our work is valued, and I even received BB: How does an organization like Eden cover its a golden service award in 2012 from the cost? Governor of Penang. Around 30 percent is covered by the profits of the above listed units, while the remaining BB: Anything else you wish to share with our readers? costs are covered by donations and projects Disabled people need to be given an such as food fairs, charity concerts and selling opportunity. Sometimes they have the products for charity. qualities, skills, commitment and energy that are needed by organisations but not giving BB: We talked a lot about Eden itself now but them opportunities to unlock their potential what about the environment. How would you rate and denying them from coming out and the attitude of society towards disabled people in proving themselves is very debilitating and Malaysia? frustrating. Just like every other human, There are people who look down on them, they need to be accepted, appreciated and don’t accept them into society or even respected. I hope more employers will come discriminate against them. But awareness forward and give them a chance to be useful campaigns have helped. The main challenge members of society. is to accept them and support organisations



Say PEACE! By: Sophie Ismail & Farah Niza Zulkifli


y now, Farah and I are sure that many of you have heard about the PEACE program. You may have read references to it on our Facebook page, Instagram, & Twitter. But it is not quite a “Program Keamanan� as the name suggests! It actually stands for Peace in Europe and Asia through Global Citizenship Education. This is a new trimester program and a collaboration between EFIL and AAI, involving a rather big group of people, consisting of national office staff and key volunteers. The countries involved in the pilot phase of the program are India, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Slovakia, Iceland and Austria.

This is the working group for the PEACE Program 8

Cracking our minds on the project developments What the PEACE trimester program aims for is to aid participants in becoming active global citizens. It is an inclusive intercultural schoolbased program with a host family stay and students will be encouraged to engage in social, environmental and communal service and develop competences in the field of Global Citizenship. It distinguishes itself from other AFS programs with its focus on Global Citizenship and active engagement in the hosting community. As co-content developers, we are excited to see how this program will grow and how it will impact participants and everyone involved in this bold initiative slated to be launched in 2018.


afspeaceprogram Katharina (AFS Germany) explaining about the European Federation for Intercultural Learning (EFIL)



To Know Malaysia Is to Love Malaysia By: Martina Albrecht


eing an AFSer and Hosting Coordinator in my chapter for several years, I have met several students from Malaysia. I was impressed with their intercultural competence and their language skills and became interested in this country with so many ethnic and language groups. Thus, the offer to participate in a volunteer exchange program seemed to be a good opportunity to know more about Malaysia. It was my first travel to Asia, and only my second time leaving the continent of Europe – I am not a long-distance traveler by

Visiting Putra Mosque 10

passion. But I was optimistic that everything would go smoothly, as I normally get along well with very different people. But what happened exceeded all expectations. Of course, KL is a very interesting and impressive city, I did see and learn a lot (I made a sort of museum-marathon), and it was pretty hot – not a surprise. What really will make this journey unforgettable, are the people. The first person I met was the outstanding, nice and diligent Chapter President of Ampang

Chapter, Nuriah, who kindly entertained me for more than an entire week (driving around many kilometers and always inviting me for meals, entrance fees, etc.) My host family, Nonee and Ally Kosnan, not only agreed to host an elderly German volunteer without hesitation, but also showed me the beautiful city of Melaka. I will never forget all the excellent meals we had in different restaurants – yes, we share a passion for good food. Furthermore, they always had time to discuss and share all topics that can be imagined

Eating banana leaf rice for the very first time

(political, cultural, geographical), and they taught me some essential phrases in Malay language (“saya sudah kenyang!”). Please give them a medal for being “outstanding host parents”! The volunteers and exchange students of Ampang Chapter shared their activities with me, never giving me the impression that it was a burden to take “mom” with them – I really had a lot of fun. And again, we had some very good food. And Durian. To be honest, it was only a small cheesecake with durian, but that was enough, and I will never forget the taste. Finally, the Volunteer Congress. Brian beforehand did ask the Malaysian volunteers to mingle with the internationals. He should have known better. There was not a single person that did not at least gave me a smile, mostly some kind words. I met so many outstanding and lovely people that I did not have a minute to feel lonely or foreign.

With Ampang Chapter President, Nuriah at the Volunteer Congress

I received a chapter T-Shirt (fitting my size!) from a Gallati award winner (Siti Khatijah Hassan). Several other volunteers had a present for me (e.g. excellent tea and delicious vegetable chips). I met people knowing people that I know. I made more selfies than I ever had in my entire life! Wherever I was, the AFS volunteers of all age groups talked to me, discussed with me, and I really did learn a lot. I very much hope to stay in contact with some of them, in order to better understand the students of other countries and their behavior (e.g.: Why German students find it boring to stay at home in the afternoon and why Malaysian students are not able to organize themselves with afternoon activities). The gala dinner with the seventies theme party was awesome, especially the outstanding performance by the board and office staff – unexpected and excellent!

Paying a visit to Malaysia’s National Monument

Thanks to all of you who welcomed me so kindly, I really enjoyed my time with you. In case any of you come to Germany, you are always welcome in my home and there will be what every AFSer needs: “A bed, a seat at the table and an open heart”. Terima kasih, AFS Malaysia! Martina Albrecht Volunteer Exchange 2017 Germany to Malaysia

With host student, Chiharu from Japan at Batu Caves 11


Northern Region Perlis Chapter

Perlis Chapter received two new students, Thomas Garside and Alessia Garbo from Italy and a small handing-over ceremony was held with Perlis Chapter President, Dr. Hari Ram Ramayya and Perak Chapter Adviser, Madam Siti Halijah Hassan being present. Both students celebrated Thaipusam and the Pongal Festival in Perlis with their host families.

Penang Chapter

Penang Chapter President, Datin Teo Hwee Ai was selected as a chaperon for 39 lucky high school Malaysians who were selected to represent Malaysia on the Kennedy Lugar–Youth Exchange Study (YES) program this year. She did her assignment professionally and bonded with her young charges on the long journey to the States. Penang Chapter also celebrated Thaipusam with the help of an Indian host family. The hosted participant learned a lot about the religious celebration and the reasons behind it.

Kedah Chapter

YES Abroad students Emily Gethen, Stephanie Mastinggal, and Chase Matula, who are hosted in Kedah were invited to meet US Ambassador, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir during her visit to American Corner, Kedah State Library Alor Setar on Jan 17 to share about their experience in Malaysia. At a media conference, the ambassador clarified that Malaysians who apply for a student visa to the US stood a “99 per cent (according to last year’s statistics) chance of success, and for travel and official purposes, the chances are 97 per cent”.


Perak Chapter

The Pongal Festival has always been a major highlight for students to experience in the Perak chapter. Hosted participants have the opportunity to celebrate the festival and contribute as volunteers during this event. The most recent celebration was graced by the presence of Annie Yap from AFS National Office.

Southern Region Negeri Sembilan Chapter

Negeri Sembilan Chapter conducted a Chapter Volunteer Gathering to get to know the new volunteers and to welcome back former and inactive volunteers back into the fold. In appreciation of the work done by its team, the Chapter also celebrated volunteer Sobanna’s birthday at the same event.

Johor Chapter

In January, Johor Chapter with the collaboration of Damansara Chapter, brought their host students together to celebrate Thaipusam. They helped with preparations of the festival too for an up-close-andpersonal experience. All Johor Chapter host students were also invited to participate in a Johor International Student Leaders Conference with the theme ‘Youth Leaders: Infinite Ideas & Possibilities’. The conference was held on 7 February at KSL Hotel & Resort, Johor Bahru.



Eastern Region Pahang Chapter

A visit to Gua Charas, home of the Sleeping Buddha and a Hindu temple, was organised by Pahang Chapter for its students. The cave is a holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists and their symbols and statues are dotted around the interior of this vast cavern. They also visited the Sungai Lembing Museum, which features the celebrated history of tin mining in Sg Lembing. In its heyday, it was the world’s largest subterranean mine, as well as the richest town and a major producer of tin ore in the state of Pahang. A potluck session with Pahang Chapter volunteers, host families and host students was also held to bring the community together in a spirit of fun, camaraderie and team bonding.

Terengganu Chapter

Terengganu Chapter held an AFS Roadshow to promote AFS Programs to the local communities in the State. This roadshow was conducted during the Karnival Jom Sihat organized at Paya Bunga Square, Kuala Terengganu. In addition, Terengganu Chapter also participated in Karnival Balik Kampung which was held in Kuala Terengganu. The high-profile event raised the visibility of AFS and helped promote its programmes to the general public.

Kelantan Chapter


Kelantan Chapter had its host student Thomas Garside from Italy try out his hand at Batik Canting. Batik Canting Craft is about making a decorative beaded jacket with exquisite batik details and each work is different and one-of-a-kind. AFS Kelantan also hosted a visit by Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur volunteers. The Japan Foundation was established in 1972 as a special legal entity supervised by the Foreign Ministry to undertake international cultural exchanges and was subsequently reorganized as an independent administrative institution in October 2003. AFS Kelantan hopes to collaborate more with the Foundation in the near future.

Central Region Ampang Chapter

Ampang Chapter President, Nuriah Manap conducted a hand-over ceremony of Hanon Notsu to Mr. Rezuan’s family for YPscSH18 recently. With the help of its volunteers, Ampang Chapter also introduced the unique Thaipusam celebration to its participants.

Bangi Chapter

Although a new kid on the block, Bangi Chapter has been active in engaging volunteers and participants alike. From rejoicing the New Year, celebrating Thaipusam with host families, volunteering to teach at Children’s Homes to attending a Malay wedding. More fun and meaningful activities have been planned for 2018.

Damansara Chapter

Damansara Chapter took the opportunity to celebrate Thaipusam by getting all its host students to volunteer at a temple. The students helped peel potatoes for the devotees’ dinner and later enjoyed a delicious vegetarian banana leaf lunch at the Divine Life Society before heading home.

Klang Chapter

Klang Chapter host students participated in and won at the 6th International Friendship and Cultural Camp. The students also took part in an International Traditional Games Telematch Competition 2018 and emerged winners in games such as Pelikat Kembar, Bowling Kelapa, Water Rocket and Pelikat Helikopter. Hosted participants, Isabelle (Denmark), Florine (Italy) and Camilla (France) celebrated the Pongal Festival and Thaipusam. This helped broaden their experience in cultures and gain better understanding of the differences between them and their host community. 15


Malaysia: ICL In Real Life By: Stephanie Mastinggal


am from the United States of America and I am part of the YES Abroad program, which is a program that sends American high school students to countries with significant Muslim populations. I had no preferences as to where I wanted to be placed, so Malaysia was actually chosen for me by the program, and it was a very good choice indeed! I am extremely grateful to have been placed in this chapter and to be living in this state of Malaysia. Here, I am able to immerse myself in an authentic and genuine lifestyle that is reflective of the main cultures in Malaysia, and it has been extremely humbling. I absolutely love my life here, for lack of better words! Living in an area that is not highly influenced by western media has really enlightened me on the simplicities of life and the elements that bring life palpable meaning. My life at school and the relationships I’ve created with other students and classmates is possibly one of the top reasons as to why I am enjoying my life so much. I came into SMK Sultanah Bahiyah with the expectation that it was not going to be easy for me to make friends. I had this pre-assumed idea of myself that I was not a friendly person, nor was I skilled in the act of making new friends. However, once I stepped into my classroom and sat down at my desk, I was surrounded by my classmates who were thrilled to finally meet me and see who I was. From the first day of school and onwards, I have been continuing on fortifying already established friendships whilst also developing new ones. For me personally, learning the language has been quite a challenge for me. A lot of my friends and family members 16

traditional food with host family members

are actually very conversable in English, so it is difficult for me to break the habit of speaking in English since so many people in my daily life are able to converse with me. I am a person who loses motivation very easily, so I have been going through lots of fluctuations with my Bahasa Melayu language skill. But as of right now, my current host family has been helping me tremendously with the language, and I have been learning faster than any other month that I have been here in Malaysia. All the hardships and battles that I have faced so far on my exchange have all been internal struggles. Whether it be pushing myself to study a couple

more minutes of Bahasa Melayu, reminding myself that I must follow the Malaysian style of life rather than my home country’s, or motivating myself to sit and talk with my host family rather than isolate myself in my room; I have definitely grown so much these past six months thanks to the challenges that I have come across. An unforgettable memory for me was when I experienced a flooding in my school. It was not a life-threatening flood, but it the water level was probably around our mid-calf. SMK Sultanah Bahiyah had not flooded in over four years, but suddenly flooded the year that I attended the school. What a coincidence! I had never experienced such heavy rainfall that a flood would occur, and it is a memory that will forever be remembered in my mind. Once the water started entering my class, my classmates and I basically quit school for the day and flourished with joy. Once the water level subsided, we all took an effort to clean

Hanging around with friends at schools out the classroom, which was probably one of the best class bonding moments that has ever occurred to my life. I don’t think anyone has ever been as happy as we were when that flood happened, haha! Attending a wedding ceremony of another host family member

I will 100% recommend Malaysia to future AFS participants. Malaysia has so much to offer in terms of intercultural learning and understanding. Not only will the AFS participant learn about Malaysia as a whole, but also about the subcultures that contribute to it. The student will be able to celebrate so many various holidays, all of which have their own significance. The future AFS participant will learn how a country consisting of so many different ethnicities and cultures is able to develop so quickly and work together to create harmony within its borders.

...and this is how paddy is grown! 17


My Life Changing Experience! By: Rinisha Nehru Thiaku


hen I was 17, I learnt about AFS and decided to give this exchange program a try. I attended my state level interview and my first choice was the scholarship program to the United States which is the KL-YES program. After a few weeks, I received notification that I had qualified for the National Selection Camp. I met so many inspiring people there but at that point, I was a shy and introvert girl. I was bad at socializing because I was afraid that I would not fit in. Despite that, I was chosen as a finalist. It was definitely something I had never expected but I guess the panel of interviewers saw some potential in me. I was told I would be hosted in Knoxville, Iowa, USA. At the time, I did not even know where that state was in a US map!


Throughout my exchange journey, I definitely had my share of challenges. One of the toughest was bonding with my family. My family members were all really nice but they were busy people. Moreover, I was a shy person and I had no idea on how to start a conversation. But they did bring up questions for me and made every effort to bond with me. I promised myself that I would also try to meet them halfway and be more open with them. It helped that my host family loved wrestling because we would go for meets which actually helped make us closer as we had so much to talk about. In return they would ask me about the sport that I play, which is water polo. As months passed by, I got closer to my sister. We hung out a lot with her friends and it made me feel comfortable being around them. All I had to do is put my shyness aside and be myself. Communication was key

My visit to Iowa State’s capital city of Des Moines and a little confidence helped too. Although my host parents were busy, I had a great time with my host sister because we did a lot of things together.

Friends came to support my choir concert

My family’s presence was a morale booster too!

State Wrestling at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines

The most memorable part of my exchange when I was in the States was when I got to attend the Future Farmers of America (FFA) State Convention with my host sister and the agriculture class. I learnt how agriculture played such a big role in Iowa. The convention taught us how to be future leaders of the country. Youths were also exposed to caring and loving animals which really inspired me because I was not an animal lover then. But now, I do have an interest in helping animals that are unfortunate. All the young speakers inspired me to make a change in my community and country upon my return. Their passion sparked something in me that I too could inspire others by sharing my knowledge about my exchange journey and how kindness and small courtesies can change a person’s day, emotions, thoughts and even life. This program has definitely changed me. It might not be an obvious change but deep down in me, I know that I have changed in so many aspects. The AFS claim, ‘Send us your student and we will send you back a Changemaker’ is so true. I am no longer that quiet, shy and introverted girl. I believe I have gained more confidence through this programme, I socialize better this days and I am able to get along with people easily. In fact, I am usually the conversation starter. This exchange experience has also taught me that judging people is not going to make you a better person, but helping them change by being a role model and educating them is what we should do. I also believe that this program can help youths to see the world in a different perspective and understand each other better because it definitely did for me.



Bonds Are Forever By: Nuriah Manap Q1: Recently, you have hosted exchange my manner and techniques as a parent to the students from around the world. Please exchange students. elaborate your experience as a host family. Q2: What made you want to volunteer as a This is not the first time that my family and I host family for more than one time? (If you have hosted exchange students from abroad. have hosted more than once) or what makes My experience tells me that each student you volunteer as a host family for the first that I have hosted comes with their own time? peculiarities and traits. However, I have taken it as a challenge and an opportunity not only I was encouraged by a friend to volunteer as a to educate and integrate the students‘ living host family and I have not looked back since. environment and condition with our own Malaysian social values and norms but also Q3: How does it feel to host an international to enhance my capability to improve further son/daughter in your family? How did you

Chiharu was one of the bridesmaids at my son’s engagement party 20

overcome the cultural differences and challenges? Having the exposure of living abroad for some time, it was a privilege to host an international student. The cultural differences were overcome by having an open communication with them, constant talking and discussion, explaining the cultures, the do’s and don’ts and most importantly assisting them when they are confused or feeling homesick. Receiving a token of appreciation from her host school

Q4: Why would you recommend a family from Malaysia to be a host family? Can you share some of the learnings from your own experience in hosting an exchange student? Being a host family provides an opportunity for both parties to adopt a cross- culture exchange experience, with all involved learning as we go through the process of understanding and accepting each other. It also opens a world of fun activities, human challenges, fond memories and most importantly, it creates a bond that lasts a life time.

Witnessing the slaughtering of a cow during Eid al Mubarak

Farwell from her school SMK Wangsa Melawati 21


A Tropical Christmas Celebration To Remember


n account in the perspective of Geerthanaa Santhiran and with the help of Srishagon Abraham

There are some things that are simply out of our control. One of those things is the weather. The weather was looking gloomy on Friday, 22nd of December, as we arrived early in the evening to set up in the open space beside the poolside in Subang Olives Residence.

Going in with a theme, “A Quirky Tropical Christmas� was only appropriate to ring in the festive season as Malaysians. Even the food was truly Malaysian, both catered and potluck representing the diversity of Malaysia from Nasi Goreng to curry, Ayam Penyet to Christmas fruitcake. Not only did the AFS and YES alumni pour in at 7pm, but also a tropical

YES Alumni and AFS Returnees with NH17 students 22

thunderstorm. However, as I watched old friends hugging each other as they waited out the rain and newfound buddies saying their hellos, I realised that the cold chill surrounding us was nothing compared to the warmth of the AFS family. The night was hosted by none other than Srishagon Abraham, who made us laugh throughout with his wit and quirkiness. Before we

began, representatives of YES Alumni, Amrin Amar, and AFS Returnees Malaysia, Anisha Thiruchelvam, moved us with their inspiring opening messages. I announced that it was time to dig in and in true Malaysian spirit, we did just that without any ceremony. We ended up rearranging the tables together in a long line ala Harry Potter dining hall. Jokes and silly banter went around in circles and we laughed until our stomachs hurt. As we stuffed our faces with good food, we were entertained to performances by our fellow alumni and exchange student Guilia. The night continued with its highlight event, Secret Santa, as everyone got together in a circle to exchange gifts with their “giftee”. As each giftee was revealed, there were grateful smiles and hearty hugs going around. It was a sight to tug at one’s heartstrings, the celebration of strangers turned friends turned family. The night ended with fun games and music to dance to.

Outgoing exchange student from Italy, Giulia, belting out Fallin’ by Alicia Keys

So yes indeed, there are some things that are simply out of our control… like the weather. But we went home that night with a renewed belief that rain or shine, we will be there for each other, always. YES17 songbird, Rinisha, graced us with her solo performance

Guests tuck into the delicious food while catching up with each other

AFS alumni, Ranjani, singing Snowman by Sia with her number one fans 23


The Importance of Cultural Awareness “A fish only discovers its need for water when it is no longer in it. Our own culture is like water to a fish. It sustains us. We live and breathe through it.” (Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner. Riding the Waves of Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 1997.)

People see, interpret and evaluate things in a different ways. What is considered an appropriate behavior in one culture is frequently inappropriate in another one.(Stephanie Quappe and Giovanna Cantatore. What is Cultural Awareness, anyway? How do I build it?)

One of the major steps in creating cross cultural understanding and acceptance is having a cultural awareness. But first, it is important for us to understand what is cultural awareness? There are several levels of cultural awareness that reflect how people grow to perceive cultural differences.

While we can never learn everything about every culture, what we can do is know our own values and how they affect us. We can be determined to go beyond auto-pilot thinking and to question our assumptions. We can approach working across cultures with curiosity and the intent to learn about others. Doing all this helps us to communicate more effectively and to avoid misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings and conflicts. In communities, this translates into greater cohesion. In the workplace, it means higher productivity, creativity, and synergy.

Cultural awareness defined by COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary as someone’s understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.


Degrees of Cultural Awareness As you go through the cycle of adjustment, your awareness of the host country culture naturally increases. This awareness tends to progress through a series of levels, described below. 1. Unconscious incompetence This has also been called the state of blissful ignorance. At this stage, you are unaware of cultural differences. It does not occur to you that you may be making cultural mistakes or that you may be misinterpreting much of the behavior going on around you. You have no reason not to trust your instincts. 2. Conscious incompetence You now realize that differences exist between the way you and the local people behave, though you understand very little about what these differences are, how numerous they might be, or how deep they might go. You know there’s a problem here, but you’re not sure about the size of it. You’re not so sure of your instincts anymore, and you realize that there are some things you don’t understand. You may start to worry about how hard it’s going to be to figure these people out. 3. Conscious competence You know cultural differences exist, you know what some of these differences are, and you try to adjust your own behavior accordingly. It

doesn’t come naturally yet—you have to make a conscious effort to behave in culturally appropriate ways—but you are much more aware of how your behavior is coming across to the local people. You are in the process of replacing old instincts with new ones. You know now that you will be able to figure these people out if you can remain objective. 4. Unconscious competence You no longer have to think about what you’re doing in order to do the right thing. Culturally appropriate behavior is now second nature to you; you can trust your instincts because they have been reconditioned by the new culture. It takes little effort now for you to be culturally sensitive.* *This paradigm is based on work by William Howell. Increasing cultural awareness means to see both the positive and negative aspects of cultural differences. Cultural diversity could be a source of problems, in particular when the organization needs people to think or act in a similar way. Diversity increases the level of complexity and confusion and makes agreement difficult to reach. On the other hand, cultural diversity becomes an advantage when the organization expands its solutions and its sense of identity, and begins to take different approaches to problem solving. Diversity in this case creates valuable new skills and behaviors.



Lunar New Year: A time for Celebration and Merrymaking


here are many legends that are part of the Chinese culture. Many of them illustrate moral teachings. One story in particular is the story of the Lunar New Year. Long ago in the mountains, there lived a horrifying demon creature named Nian. Every year, the first day of the year, the Nian would wake and descend upon the village. He would eat all the grain and livestock. And if there were any unfortunate children found outside their homes, they would disappear. The villagers lived in fear of this beast and boarded up their houses on this night to protect their families. One year, right before this event was to occur, an old man visited the village. He turned to the villagers and asked, “Why do you fear this creature such? You are many and he is but one. Surely he cannot swallow all of you.”


But the villagers remained skeptical and locked themselves up anyway. That night, Nian did not come. The old man had ridden him until dawn when the creature went back to its cave. This went on for several nights until the old man revealed, “I cannot protect you forever.” So, the old man informed them, “The beast is easily scared. He does not like the color red. He fears loud noises and strange creatures. So tonight, spread red across the village. Hang red signs on every door. Make loud noises with drums, music, and fireworks. And to protect your children, give them face masks and lanterns to protect them.” The villagers did as the old man instructed and Nian never returned. In Chinese, the word for New Year is Guo Nian. Literally translated it means to “pass over Nian”

or “overcome Nian”. That is exactly what the villagers did. It has become a tradition that part of the New Year’s celebration is to hang lots of red decoration in your house. Streets are filled with music, loud drums, and fireworks all day long. And special paper lanterns are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, paraded through the streets to scare off any demons that might come. The New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important dinner for the Chinese. Normally, this is the family reunion dinner, especially for those with family members living away from home. During the dinner, normally fish will be served. Dumplings are the most important dish in Northern China. These two dishes signify prosperity. Other dishes are dependent on personal preference. The majority of Chinese will have New Year’s Eve dinner at home instead of a restaurant. Fireworks are used to drive away evil in China. Right after midnight on New Year’s Eve, fireworks will be launched to celebrate the coming of the New Year as well as to drive away evil. It is believed that the person who launched the first firework of the New Year will obtain good luck.

the elderly to young children on New Year day. It was believed that the money in the red packet will distance evil from the children, keep them healthy, and give them a long life. A few days before the New Year arrives, people will do a complete cleaning of the house and house wares which signifies removing the old and welcoming the new. During the Lunar New Year too, no special food will be served but customarily, fish will be served. Dumplings are the most important dish in Northern China. These two dishes mean “prosperous.” New Year Cake, popular in Eastern China, is a solid cake made with glutinous rice flour together with some sugar. Tang Yuan, another traditional favourite, is a small ball made of glutinous rice flour mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. LaBa Congee, a mixture of rice, nuts, and beans cooked together, is usually served at the LaBa festival which is the 8th day of the last month of the year.

Another highlight of this celebration is The Red packet. The red packet is a red envelope with money in it, which ranges from one to a few thousand Chinese Yuan. Usually the red racket is given by adults, especially married couples, and




Rises from the Ruins



n December 26 this year, Aceh will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the utter destruction caused by a wall of water that swept almost everything in its wake, hurled ships several kilometers inland, took 225,000 lives and caused untold damage to property and livelihoods. Ten years on, Aceh has transformed itself: now business in the city is brisk, tourist arrivals are increasing, housing and infrastructure continue to be reconstructed, the economy is progressing, and a peace deal has been reached between separatists and the Indonesian government. The Acehnese are a proud people and they have always been fiercely independent. They thrive on their reputation as being the most stubborn people in Indonesia, wearing it like a badge of honor. Their history is full of warriors, both men and women, who fought hard battles with invading Dutch colonial armies. Even their Navy Admirals had outstanding women of courage who commanded entire fleets to

A Memorial to tsunami victims feature a clock whose time stands still to the very moment when the tsunami struck

This fishing boat was swept inland and landed smack dab in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, finally resting on top of a house



The villagers of this farmland were startled to find the dome of a mosque that was totally destroyed 3 km away, on their land where it sits to this day defeat the Dutch forces. Perhaps it is that very stubbornness and resilience that have helped the Acehnese recover so quickly from the devastation caused by the tsunami.

Ornate gold painted door in the house of a celebrated female admiral, Cut Nyak Dhien 30

In the immediate aftermath of the destruction, the most poignant photo circulated around the world was that of the coastal town of Lhoknga. No building was left standing except for a local mosque standing tragically alone amidst a sea of debris. Now the gently rolling hills of the Sulawah Golf Club have replaced the seaside town and a modest tourist resort with chalets built into limestone outcrops are found here. The mosque has also undergone repairs and a beautification programme courtesy of the Government of Turkey which funded its restoration.

There is a silver lining behind the tragedy though: an end to the long-running conflict between Acehnese separatists and the Indonesian military. The tsunami served as a catalyst for a peace deal between the two sides. Although the greater political autonomy has not quite translated into real economic progress for many here, especially those in the rural areas, life is decidedly better. Aceh is rich in natural resources and there are more opportunities for local residents to make money. Also, there is some semblance of peace in the province now. Before the tsunami during the Indonesian occupation, the army strictly enforced a 6 p.m. curfew but now it is common for residents to still be out and about late at night without fear of any repercussion. Mosques are still full of worshippers at midnight, with recitals of Quranic verses being broadcast from tall, slender minarets... a reminder to the faithful that life is fragile and cannot be taken for granted.

Top: A house 5km inland was destroyed by the waves Right: A heavy brass bell in the compound of a traditional Aceh house



Mah Meri Cultural Village: A Journey to the Spirit World 32

On Pulau Carey or Carey Island, this Orang Asli village is well worth a visit to learn about the distinct culture and traditions of the Mah Meri, a subgroup of the Senoi people who live along the coast of Selangor.


he Mah Meri are renowned for their masterful woodcarving and expressive masks worn during dance rituals to represent ancestral spirits. It is a mere 1-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and accessible by road. Upon reaching the Mah Meri cultural village, proceed to the information centre, get registered and pay a minimum entrance fee of RM 10. You can get a local guide who will guide you through the information centre and the exhibition hall for a minimum fee of RM 10. However, you need to call ahead or email to make an appointment before making the journey out to Pulau Carey, since the villagers are not always around.

The art of the Mah Meri leaf origami is said to be older than the Japanese paper origami

Members of the Mah Meri tribe performing a ritual dance during a thanksgiving ceremony 33


This is an indigenous tribe with a rich culture and strong belief in the spirit world manifested through their wooden craftworks. They are well known for their origami and pandanus weaving too. One can purchase these as souvenirs from the information centre workshops / kiosk.

At the Mah Meri Cultural Village, one gets to visit museums that showcase the tribe’s history, wood carvings and culture 34

Our host explaining the origins of the Mah Meri tribe and their culture For those who are into arts and culture, take your own sweet time in the exhibition hall to observe the information on Mah Meri people, their culture, their belief and their arts. There are many wooden crafts which have been UNESCO Certified as an important art of the indigenous people. The video presentation of the Mah Meri People though is an old clip but very informative too.

Taking a break with refreshing coconut water 35


Each woodcraft has a different story of the spirit world which has shaped their belief and culture. They have a strong family bond which extends beyond the grave… deceased family members and ancestors are still worshipped for guidance, good-will and well-being. Many of the figures are representations of some of the more than 700 gods worshipped by the Mah Meri; a few pieces are more than 100 years old. You are likely to see villagers weaving origami, used to decorate houses and please the spirits. It’s also possible to arrange demonstrations of dance and wedding rituals. After the tour at the information centre, you may take a walk around the village where the people are very warm and friendly. You may get a chance to take a glimpse of their daily routine and some men at their wooden carving workshop or the ladies at weaving. If you are lucky enough you can get a villager to bring you to a sacred place where the annual Spirit’s Day celebration is conducted. 36

The Spirit’s Day is a special celebration held exactly one month after the Lunar New Year. There will be a big procession throughout the day with food shared among the villagers and guests and cultural dances and rituals. If you are going for this celebration please remember to bring some food (rice, bread, biscuits, drinks) and snacks which you might want to share with the villagers.

Top: Inside view of Mah Meri Cultural Village museum Right: The sumpit (blowpipe) was traditionally used for hunting



Nurturing Talent


successful meeting was recently held between AFS Malaysia and Talent Corp, a government agency that attracts, nurtures and retains talent to enable Malaysia to reach its national aspirations. Talent Corp reached out to AFS Malaysia to help with its overseas bound young scholars who are lacking in communications skills, a global outlook and intercultural experience. AFS Malaysia will present a proposal to Talent Corp within the next few weeks and a pilot programme will be rolled out once approval is obtained and formalities concluded.

Process by Design By: Liyana Johan An intensive five-day training in Seremban was all about getting the perfect outcome from process designing. How would you know that your outcome is the best? When and how would you need to tune in to adjust to your response? This was where participants learned how to recognize the difference between attribute data (countable) or variable data (measurable) and how to tabulate them to make a hypothesis and select suitable factors for the best results. Although this training is mostly relevant to engineers, I was still able to learn how to apply the techniques into our organization. With AFS being an educational based organization, our samples would mainly be from attribute data but to get the desired response would be challenging as it will take a few cycles to see a pattern. The training opened my eyes to different knowledge besides my own daily work. Thank you AFS for letting me grow!


First Board Meeting of 2018


he new AFS Strategy as laid out by AFS International was the main focus of discussion at AFS Malaysia’s first board meeting of 2018.

The meeting also discussed the upcoming 60th anniversary celebrations and assigned roles to each Board member to follow up with their respective teams. Sitting in for her first time on the board was Shukreen Ma, appointed by the Board Chair for a term of one year.

Welcome to New Board Appointee


here is a new member onboard the AFS Board and she is Shukreen Ma, a returnee to the Netherlands 1999/2000. Shukreen is no stranger to AFS Malaysia as her book, “Of Dutch Bikes, Cheese and a Geweldig Year” chronicling her AFS experience and published by the Dutch embassy in KL in 2009, is often used as a corporate gift from AFS Malaysia! Shukreen is a Communications Strategist with over 10 years’ experience in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. She has valuable experience in C-Suite Executive profiling, aligning business strategy with communication requirements and driving organisational transformation through effective communications. She is currently the Head of External Communications in the Office of the President at Petronas. 39


“Our fortunes rise together, and they fall together. ‘All men are brothers,’ said the Analects. We have a collective responsibility-to bring about a more stable and more prosperous world, a world in which every person in every country can reach their full potential.” — Christine Lagarde Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (AFS Intercultural Exchange Program - France to US, 1973) 40

Calling all AFS members! ICL Level W Workshop 2018 is now open for registration. Become part of the AFS global community! Hurry! Register now before 2nd of March 2018. Scan QR Code to register.

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