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How to Adjust to New Cultures While Studying Abroad

September 3, 2016

ISEP student Rachel B. from University of Montana studied anthropology in Malaysia at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. She gives us snippets of how she’s adjusting to three important factors – food, friends and family.

Food

malaysia_pickled_fruit
Pickled fruit

The food here is 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.

malaysia_homestay
Rachel with her homestay family

Family

I’ve had the opportunity to stay with several Malay families now, and this has been an adventure. When I stay with a Malaysian family, unlike in the U.S., I cannot separate myself, nor should I. If I 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 of 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.


Thanks for the insight, Rachel! To read more about what Rachel’s learning in Malaysia, check out her blog When Education Meets Adventure. You can also visit the ISEP website to learn more about how to study abroad in Malaysia.

An earlier version of this post was originally shared July 3, 2013.

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