IT’S been a roller-coaster ride for four foreign students who have been staying in Malaysia for six months now through an exchange programme organised by AFS Yayasan Antarabudaya Malaysia.

Exchange students got to make kuih bahulu at a local bakery during the camp.

Exchange students got to make kuih bahulu at a local bakery during the camp.

Seventeen-year-old Roberto Colzani, who hails from Italy, revealed that some of his friends teased him about “living on the trees” and that “there is no water” when they heard that he would be living in Malaysia for a whole year.

Clearly, that isn’t the case. In fact, the students were intrigued by the good things that Malaysia has to offer.

American student Ayinde Williams, 16, said that he was particularly impressed by how affordable it was to take our trusty public transportation. “I can travel from KL to Malacca for less than RM60 for a round trip. Back home, however, it is difficult for me to go to a restaurant with just US$20,” said Ayinde.

The exchange students attended a three-day mid-stay camp in Sekinchan, Selangor, as part of the AFS programme to make kuih bahulu, and more importantly, to evaluate their cultural learning progress in this country.

As expected, issues like the language barrier and culture shock were part of the discussion. But, of course, the students have found their own creative ways to adapt to their new surroundings.

Speaking to the locals was quite a challenge for Ayinde – even with those who can speak English. He would try to incorporate some of his limited Bahasa Malaysia vocabulary and speak clearly since some locals find it hard to understand his thick American accent.

Fellow exchange student Raquel Villalba Martin, 16, finds our cultural diversity unique.

“I can find a church, Buddhist temple, Hindu temple and mosque all in one area, near my house. That’s just incredible!” the Spanish teenager exclaimed.

Meanwhile, these students are also embracing Malaysia’s pride and joy: the food. Raquel, for one, admits that she enjoys learning how to cook various Malaysian dishes with her host family.

Roberto, on the other hand, loves the pasar malam in Kuantan, Pahang – near his host family’s neighbourhood – where he buys local snacks like apam balik.

While he clearly enjoys being out and about, Roberto is disappointed to see that local students don’t enjoy the same thing.

“They should stop wasting so much time on afternoon naps,” he pointed out. “Since it’s always summer here, take a bicycle and explore your country. You’re living in an amazing place!”

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s José Pablo Méndez Sánchez feels Malaysia needs more recreational parks.

“Every town in Costa Rica has a park in the middle of the town where people can just go and sit and talk. I wish Malaysia had more parks of those sorts.”

Having said so, the 17-year-old admits that he enjoys indulging in his host family’s household pastime.

“They like watching a lot of Tamil movies, so we would normally visit the cinema when a new Tamil movie is released.”

These exchange students have gained a broader perspective about the world, and they reckon more young people should start stepping out of their comfort zones too.

“The world is huge. Just go out and explore,” advised Ayinde.

For more information on how to be an exchange student, a host family or even a volunteer with AFS Yayasan Antarabudaya Malaysia, visit

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