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ISEP Student Stories: Food, Friends, and Family in Malaysia

July 3, 2013

Rachel B, a University of Montana student, is studying anthropology in Malaysia at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. She gives us snippets of how she’s adjusting to the “Three F’s” – food, friends, and family!

Food

Malaysian pickled fruit.
Malaysian pickled fruit.

The food here is just… just… amazing. Even the canned sardines that I would typically do anything to avoid have found their way to my kitchen. With the many varieties of food widely available, my favorite meal is still a large plate of plain rice, a bit of chicken or fish, and loads of cooked veggies. All topped off with curry and chili sauce.

Friends

I’ve finally given myself enough time in one country to understand the adjustments to daily social interactions. I’ve become good friends with many of the other students, and learning and understanding what friendship means to them has thrown me back a step or two. First off, you call each other “friends” within days of knowing each other. Women, particularly, have gotten upset when I don’t remember their names. They say, “We are friends, you should remember.” I tactfully reply that I’ve only just met them, and I have a terrible memory.

Family

Family. Aww, family. I’ve had the opportunity to stay with several Malay families now, and this my friends has been an adventure. When I stay with a Malaysian family, unlike in America, I cannot separate myself, nor should I. If I go stay with my friends or family in the United States, I pretty much do as I please. Politely of course. Here, I am generally older than most the siblings in the house, so it is important for me to act as the older sister. As the older sister I am responsible for looking after my younger siblings, even if they are 18 or older. There is no, “She’s an adult, she’ll figure it out” in Malaysia. I’ve struggled with this daily as I am fairly independent; calling and checking in is something I haven’t done since I was 16. But when I sit back and watch how siblings and families function here, it makes sense within the context of the Malaysian culture.

Rachel with her homestay family
Rachel with her homestay family

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