My name is Jessica. I am from Malaysia and am spending a year in Pennsylvania as an exchange student. When I first arrived in the United States on January 11, 2005, I never would have thought I would experience so much of culture diversion. I mean how different could the world be anyway?
Well, to start off, I thought arriving in the middle of the winter season would be awesome since it never gets cold in Malaysia, but I was ready for summer after two whole weeks of plain shiver.
Unlike how we keep our bathroom door closed all the time, closed doors in America normally indicate that the bathroom is occupied. As for the doors to the rooms, closing them also means, "leave me alone!" so we normally keep our doors open most of the time.
Americans are mostly outspoken and straightforward too. They are not afraid to voice their opinions to anyone, and are very open and sensitive to body language too. It is normal to address the older generations just by their first names or sometimes "Brother (first name)" or "Sister (first name)," especially in church, and not "Auntie" or "Uncle" like how de do in Malaysia, unless if they are your real aunts and uncles because that is considered rude to them.
Among all the culture shock I expected to deal with, I would never have expected to have difficulties in communication. Since I came from an English speaking family background, conversing with the American shouldn't be a problem, right? Well, expect the unexpected! It's rather surprising to know that they have a hard time understanding what we speak even though we do speak the same language. My host mother said that I speak in a tonal language. I think it's because we don't use American English, but rather British English, often modified to what we call "Manglish." Americans obviously do not use all the -lah's and -ah's at the end of their sentences like we do.
Unlike the schools in Malaysia, there are no rules for uniforms except a dress code to follow in the U.S. School goes from 8.30 a.m. till 3.00 p.m., while lunch break is at 12 p.m. I go for my classes before lunch, then I help in teaching the 1st and 2nd graders in elementary school. I realize that teaching these kids can be a very challenging task too as most of them have difficulties in reading and counting, but it is my favorite period in school!
So it has been a month and a half since I've came here. Throughout this time, I've learned to be more patient than I was ever before and to be tolerant and adaptable by accepting the different cultures and to survive in the States. Time passes when you are having fun. The Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program has indeed been a meaningful experience and it has definitely changed my life.