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Column: Welcome to Malaysia ... a long way from Indiana


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Courtlyn Heaberlin is a 16-year-old Whiteland Community High School student who traveled to Malaysia in July for a 10-month cultural immersion program. Her occasional column is excerpted from her blog.

July 2: Host family!

So after much anticipation, I just found out my host family. I will be living in Kuantan, a city near the east coast of the western Malaysian peninsula. I can’t wait. From what I’ve seen, it will be beautiful!

I also will be living with a big family of four brothers and one sister, which I’m so excited about. I feel like having such a large family will be a great chance to get to know the culture from all different points of view.

At this point, I can now start preparing things like what I will wear, how much to pack and what presents I should bring for my host parents and siblings. Being an American, I feel a lot of pressure to bring things from America that are not as common there or that they often think about when they think of “America” ... I guess I’ll think of something. For the meantime, I absolutely cannot wait to meet my new family.

July 14: Suitcase thoughts

I fold a T-shirt.

Wrap an American gift for my host family.

Tie on neon yellow suitcase tags.

Give hugs.

Figure out stupid suitcase locks.

As I sit here in a pile of rumpled clothes waiting to be folded and packed in my now-empty suitcase for my departure tomorrow, I decided to take a moment to prepare myself for the incredible experience to come. I want to also thank everyone in the states who has supported my choice to pursue the YES-Abroad exchange because those of you who have supported me are those of you who have also made this happen. Your kind words and confidence in my success alone could make me feel like I’m on top of the world.

As I journey to a new home, where I will make a new family, new friends, try new foods and expand my heart and mind to new culture, my friends and family in the United States of America will always be with me in spirit, giving me their encouragement and beautiful blessings.

A huge I-love-you and thank-you to my American family and friends, and although my private messages, emails, texts, Skype calls etc., will be very limited in an effort to make the most of my journey, your support and kind words will always be on my mind. While I realize social networking is a great innovation to allow connection across the world, I will be online and available to chat very little in order to totally immerse myself in Malaysian culture.

I will keep in touch as much as I can, but please understand my personal goal and the goal of the YES program is cultural immersion, which can only be achieved by limited interaction with loved ones back home. However, I will try my best to update my blog weekly or monthly and send emails letting everyone know how I am.

July 18: Long flights? Not fun

As I left the final airplane in my chain of flights to Malaysia, I noticed I was instantly greeted with so many new overwhelming feelings.

Happy to finally be here ... exhaustion from long flights ... anxiety that this exchange will be harder than I thought ... excited to meet my host family soon, but most of all, reality. I don’t know if you can classify “reality” as a feeling, but I definitely felt it.

Sitting on a bus on the way to Kuala Lampur with several other AFS YES Abroad kids, I looked out the window in disbelief. Mostly just because everything we had spent so much time preparing for is finally really happening. Reality starts to set in the minute you see the massive palm trees arching over the roads and the beautiful buildings that are so similar yet so very different from that of the United States. This beautiful new place will be my home for a year, and I’m very proud to say so.

Now I sit in my hotel room, which is located in the heart of Kuala Lampur, the capital of Malaysia. Even at a westernized hotel, there remain many differences compared with hotels in the USA.

The next several days hold many orientations to help me and my fellow AFS-ers to adjust successfully to our new homes and cultures. My roommate for the next few days is an Austrian girl exchanging to Malaysia also. These next few days will be so interesting. I also finally get to meet my host family July 21. (I’m probably most excited for that.)

Well for now I am leaving with several other students to explore Kuala Lampur.

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