Fireworks over the Eye of Malaysia ferris wheel in Kuala Lumpur

YES Students

All students from Malaysia arrive in the U.S. in January for 6 months as Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program scholarship winners. Click here to learn more about the YES Program.

Country Information

Native Malays share citizenship with ethnic Chinese and Indians, and though the state religion is Islam, Buddhist shrines and Hindu temples are as commonplace as mosques. The diversity of Malaysia is celebrated throughout the year with multicultural festivals and flavorful food.

I feel so very blessed to have been the [Youth Exchange and Study Program] coordinator for this remarkable exchange experience and encourage families and schools to get involved. Fion from Malaysia came to the Bay Area after receiving a full scholarship through the YES Program. Right from the start, Fion was enthusiastic and eager to get involved in her new high school and community, and her warm smile left a piece of her heart with everyone she met. Talking about her country and culture was one of Fion’s priorities. Fion continued to volunteer throughout her stay in the U.S. and never stopped discovering the beauty in everything around her, from the people she met to places she visited. She especially loved exploring caves and hiking on the Mist Trail in Yosemite.

– Jean McQuady, AFS Cluster Coordinator

Lifestyle and Family

Extended families often live together. Elders are highly regarded and respected. Malaysians have a relaxed attitude about time and punctuality.

When visiting a Malaysian house, it is customary to stop at the bottom step and announce one’s presence, or knock at the door and wait. Nobody walks through an open door uninvited. After being invited in, visitors take off their shoes and leave them at the door. Most of the time, visitors will be served drinks and snacks, and Malaysians may be offended if food is refused.

Parents are protective of their children and like to know whom there are with and whereabouts. Bedrooms are not private. Family members can enter at all times, but parents’ bedrooms are out of bounds.

Teen Life and Sports

Malaysian teenagers love sports. Soccer and badminton are the most popular games. Tennis, bowling, golf, squash, motor racing, swimming and horseback riding are also loved by many, especially those who live in the bigger cities. Teens also engage in sea sports such as surfing and jet skiing, or martial arts, traditional games like sepak takraw (a foot-kick-ball type of volleyball), giant top spinning or kite-flying.

Dating is not encouraged among teenagers. As a Muslim country, the religious authority has the right to fine fellow Muslims who are found kissing or courting in public. All religions in Malaysia respect each other. Body contact between different sexes is frowned upon, although it is acceptable for men to walk with their arms on another man’s shoulder and for girls to hold each others’ hands.


Two things are seen as public interest in a small town: dress and personal morality. A Muslim woman is expected to cover her arms, head and legs. Long-sleeved shirts, trousers and sarongs are acceptable. Short or miniskirts or tight spaghetti-strap dresses are not acceptable in small towns but propriety is slightly flexible in the city. Most Malayans bathe twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening before dinner. Other dress practices include no nail polish, short hair for boys and tied back long hair for girls, no jewelry or makeup, no ear piercing for boys. The climate in Malaysia is warm year round. Students are required to wear uniforms to school.


Using one’s left hand to eat or pass food is considered offensive as the left hand is considered unclean. Malaysia offers a range of mouth-watering food—spicy Malay dishes, an endless variety of Chinese food, exotic cuisine from North and South India, as well as local Nyonya and Portuguese dishes. Western cuisine is also easily accessible, and there are many international fast-food chains.

Malay dishes are generally spicy. They resemble Indonesian and Indian cooking. Most dishes are characterized by the liberal addition of spices, chilies and coconut cream. Fish is made for any occasion and in many styles. One favorite dish is Yong Tau Foo—stuffed paste made from fish or salted fish, filled with tofu, vegetables, eggplants or okra.

Food on the table is shared by all the family. It is proper etiquette not to finish everything, and to break and eat a small piece at a time.

Language and Religion

The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melayu, but English is a compulsory second language. The official religion is Islam. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other religions are freely practiced.

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