Learning about Malaysia

15 June 2011

Mieke Kuschnerus is a university student from Germany who came to Malaysia for an Environmental Development Programme withe AIESEC. After spending a day volunteering in the PT Foundation office, she kindly shared a little about her experiences in Malaysia and her thoughts on HIV.

“Selamat datang” were the first Malaysian words that I learned and that actually stayed in my head. Arriving at the airport from Germany, I even had trouble to remember the names of train stations like Bandar tasik selatan. The whole language and environment was so different and strange to me, but “Selamat datang” got somehow stuck in my head.

And that represents exactly my reception in Malaysia: everyone gave me a very warm welcome, asking about my journey, about my country and offering me food. I came for a six weeks development traineeship in an environmental project organized by a student organization called AIESEC. The project is trying to reach out to youth to raise environmental awareness amongst them.

I found that most young people we approached during workshops at schools or other activities were more interested in asking me questions about my country then environmental issues. This gave me a friendly and open impression about Malaysian youth and society in general. Being here for more than 5 weeks now I found this impression to be true, but also noticed some differences in culture and society. Although I learned very soon that the Chinese word for “cute guy” is “leng tsai” (not sure about the spelling), I didn’t learn about anyone spending time with their boyfriend or girlfriend, if they even have one or what would they do together. On the university campus where I stay is a park with a sign that forbids kissing and it is forbidden to wear sleeveless shirts or skirts that show your knees. For me this was very unusual, being told how to dress and learning that showing affection in public is not allowed.

So I found out that about some topics Malaysian society is not quit as open as I am used to in Germany and other European countries. When I watch the presence of HIV and Aids related campaigns and projects in Germany and Malaysia, I could compare it to our environmental project. During our work, we found that most students know about 3R (reduce, reuse, recycle), there are “Green campaigns” and big signs in the streets of KL that ask people to recycle or waste less water. But does this affect everyone’s daily life? Mostly it doesn’t, because people do not realize, what does it actually has to do with them, if someone comes and tells them the climate will change in 50 years. And this is exactly the attitude I experienced in Germany about HIV and Aids related issues.

We have all those campaigns, workshops in schools or sign boards promoting “safe sex” and advertisements for the use of condoms. It is present in every city and I am sure everyone has at least heard about it once. But most people think, it has nothing to do with them. Still the awareness in society is a first step. It is important that we at least know the facts and especially the dangers that can concern everyone. And this is the same in Malaysia and Germany and the same for environmental issues and HIV related issues.

So far my European views on things. But I learned something in Malaysia: Even if people don’t talk about something it doesn’t mean it does not exist. And even if people don’t talk to me about something, does not mean they don’t talk about it at all. And with getting to know some students a bit closer I found out, that there are some very happy couples among them.

By Mieke Kuschnerus

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