By KYLE CHOONG and AILYN LOW
Many of us dream about going to other countries and living a different life – but how many of us actually do it?
Nine lucky students from around the world were able to turn those dreams into reality by doing a student exchange programme right here in Kedah, Malaysia.
An estimated 60 students came to Malaysia under the AFS (American Field Service) exchange programme, and they were spread throughout the country to experience all the different cultures of Malaysia.
Kedah was one of the biggest hosts this year, with nine students from Belgium, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Iceland. Last year, only one student from Italy was placed in the northern state.
The BRATs got to speak to the nine students during a recent “Merdeka Pot Luck” organised by AFS Kedah. The students cooked up a storm of all their native dishes, while exchanging Malaysian lines they had learnt. They seemed happy to celebrate our independence day and learn more about our country’s rich history.
They said one of the main things that impressed them about Kedah was the greenery. Most of them had never seen large paddy fields like the ones in Kedah. They had also learnt the process of making rice, something most of them have never tried.
And that’s the main point of a student exchange programme – for participants to learn the culture of their host country, and adapt to it. They have to live with a host family, and attend a local school with their host siblings.
The local students, naturally, have been very eager to get to know the exchange students. How often do you get a student from Iceland in your school?
When asked if the level of attention they were getting was difficult, Guillemore Abio Villegas, 16, from Spain said: “It is okay for me, as I am very excited to share about my country – and to learn about this amazing country!”
Villegas has been in awe of the uniqueness of our country, and how we live so harmoniously in a multiracial environment. He also praised the friendliness of Malaysians, saying that back in Spain, if an exchange student was placed in his school, nobody would care about him/her at all.
Food, of course, has been a big part of the experience for the exchange students. Villegas said he now enjoys eating with his hands more than with proper cutleries!
German student Balthasar Matzat, 17, had never been a fan of spicy food before, but he said: “After trying the tom yam here, I’ve fallen in love with it. Initially it felt like I was eating fire!”
Justin Casimir Braun, 16, also from Germany, was the only one among the nine who enjoyed his first taste of durian. He said the smell was overwhelming in the beginning, and he did not have the guts to try it. But after a while, he gathered enough courage to try it, and the taste is now forever in his memory.
But what really stays with the exchange students is the ties they build with their host families. Even after the programme is over, many of them will continue to keep in touch with the families.
So during the next AFS session, why not take up the challenge and host an exchange student?
For more information on AFS Malaysia, log on to