February 27, 2024

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International students of UTM Cultural Immersion Program in Pelegong, Negeri Sembilan

A number of International students of international and mobility students from UTM Kuala Lumpur participated in the Cultural Immersion program organized by UTM International Kuala Lumpur at Labu, Negari Sembilan for 3 days from 4th to 6th October 2019. The main objective of this home-stay program was two-faceted: one was to create awareness among the international students on local Malaysian culture, and society giving an exposure by placing them in a local set-up, and the other was to enable the local community to develop multicultural understanding by having international students homestay experiences with selected families.

The three-days were fully packed with awesome activities! On the very first day, we stopped at Blue Lagoon Beach at Port Dickson before we continued with our intended Kampong (village) homestay.  When we reached the Community Centre at Pelegong Homestay, Negeri Sembilan, we were warmly welcomed by our going-to be foster-families with traditional bunga manggar and kompang. The refreshing natural fruit juice served to us as ‘welcome drink’, along with the local traditional dish called cooked chili peppers with cloves, were amazing!

After the briefing and introduction, we became the ‘foster children’ of our respective families in the village. It was actually an interesting feeling to belong to a completely new family in another country. In addition to the members of the family, 3 other international students also stayed with me and I was the ‘kak long’ (the eldest sister) of the family. It was a surprise for me, so was it for my younger sisters, to learn that the eldest daughter has almost the responsibilities of a mother. I liked the new role of mine in the family, and I became the closest child to the mother. I liked the local spicy food and I learnt to prepare them. At the same time, I also discussed with my mother how differently we, in Sri Lanka, cook the same vegetable or meat. Later that day, all the students from the different foster families gathered at a place, planned and prepared for the mock-wedding that was going to take place in the following evening.

The following two days, we were involved in many community programs. ‘Trash Challenge’ was an activity through which the international students supported the cleanliness of the local area: a mosque and a playground. The foster family siblings were with us most of the time. Our stay was also made beneficial to the villagers especially single mothers who have already learnt certain special skills to earn their living. These were people who entertained us with their delicious kampong dishes, and going a step further they also taught us how to prepare those appealing dishes.  We had so many excitements on the second day. While we were making all the arrangements to have a mock-wedding with two of our colleagues for the evening, we were also invited to attend an actual wedding ceremony during the day. It was a twin-wedding; two siblings were getting married on the same day in the same hall at the same time. None of us have ever seen this situation before, and it was really fun. They treated us with delicious meals and we had the opportunity to be photographed with the newly wedded couples and received prettily wrapped boiled eggs as door gifts before we left.

On our return that day, we learnt to weave rattan baskets. They were not merely baskets – but baskets full of tradition of the locals we met. Each one of us wove at least one basket which made us feel proud of ourselves. We prepared some traditional Malaysian food, and also involved in drawing and painting. The same night, the long waited mock wedding came. A Japanese student and a Pakistani student volunteered to be the bride and the groom respectively. It was not only fun, but was an effective way of sharing the Malaysian culture with us because we now remember every bit of the wedding ceremony in a Malaysian village since we experienced it. We enjoyed performing the ‘tarian piring’ (plate-dance) and playing the instrument called ‘cak lempong’ at the wedding.  During this stay, we had several missions to complete, and one was to learn to talk in Malay language. We also learnt some simple rhymes in Malay and enjoyed singing local songs. In addition, students in each foster-home was supposed to teach one of their languages to the family. All the above were fun competitions. Each one of us wanted to win so, we did our assignments the best that we could. Out of the three, my family won two places: a group song in Malay language and teaching the family to talk in our language. In this activity, I taught my parents Tamil which is my first language, and they picked it up superb fast. My foster-father was a retired military officer. Learning a new language through fun activities was an effective strategy. It was exciting to speak in each other’s language, trying to understand the culture and social behaviour of different people.

Through this homestay program, many things that we (either party) thought was odd in the beginning became very ordinary and even acceptable in the end. In this regard, one of our colleagues Miho Miyazaki from Japan said “If I hadn’t joined this program, I would have never known those traditional lifestyles of people living there. It means that it is not everything of Malaysia which I find in tourism guide books or at famous sightseeing places. Thanks to the host parents for their kindness to welcome us warmly and treat us like their real children, which was so relaxing and comfortable. I was surprised to know that it was very normal for people here to eat using their hands. It was interesting to see families cook together and eat together”. On the last day, we had the ‘Sukan Rakyat’ session where we played Malaysian traditional games. It was a collection of many small games. Our siblings from the foster-families helped us understand the games better. There were many prizes won and we shared them all. The Kampong tour included visits to rubber estate where we saw rubber tapping, dairy-farming and fish-pond which we enjoyed. On our way, we also passed through fruit farms (Mangosteen, Rambutan etc.), but as this was not the season we did not go to the farms. We had one more important session during this event. It was the War-memorial Day of Egypt which fell on 6th October. We had Hisham Khalil an Egyptian student with us, and he led the session. Hisham shared with us the history of the country. Each one of us made a ‘Wish’ for the people of Egypt on this memorable day. Hisham was very happy and he even shared a traditional food that he brought all the way from home to surprise us. What Hisham said about the homestay program was that “It gave me the chance to explore Malaysian culture which is not very commonly found in the modern city of KL”.

Here are some feedback from the programs:-

Gizem Kayar, an Exchange student from Germany summarized the visit in a nutshell. “It was my first time to go into an Asian country. I’m really interested in different cultures and the Community and Cultural (C&C) Program was a great opportunity for me to discover the Malaysian culture. I really enjoyed the trip”.

An MBA Exchange student from Pakistan, Affan Ahmed mentioned, “C&C Homestay was one of the best events I have ever attended in my life. Full of excitement, dance, joy, and obviously that Malaysian mock wedding was simply beautiful. The efforts of the management team to make this event successful to the love and hospitality all of us received from our Malaysian families is highly appreciated. All of these memories can never be forgotten. I am so happy that I participated in this event. I recommend it to every person who wants to truly experience the Malaysian culture!”

Raya, an Omani MBA student mentioned that she enjoyed her every moment of the three-days in homestay.I felt very welcoming and happy. The thing I liked most in the Malay culture was how family members treat each other with full of love and respect, and never call each other by their names – but the relationship. The homestay was the greatest experience to me in Malaysia so far”.

Practising the plate-dance and music

 

Though the experience of authentic Malaysian life-style was aimed, the subsidiary benefits also included a better mutual understanding among us, the international students since each one of us comes from a different country and culture.

 The UTMi’s Homestay program is an effective and a successful project in my view. I noticed the change of perspectives of my colleagues and me, and I’m sure the same happened to the families that we were in too. Understanding different perspectives, and value different cultures are some of the pleasant ways to solve many serious issues, and UTM has played its role to bring about some positive changes in the minds of its students and the villagers.

 Prepared by:  Jameela Hanoon Umarlebbe, PhD student from Language Academy, UTMKL

 

 

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