You Know You’re Malaysianized When…

Malaysian kids goofing around at school

Goofing around at school in Malaysia

After nearly 11 months in Malaysia, I have picked up tons of word, habits and ticks from the local culture. So much so that I and the other exchange students on my program consider ourselves “Malaysianized.”

What exactly do I mean by this? Read on to find out.

You know you’re Malaysianized when…

  1. You know the words for eat and tea in Tamil, Malay, and a few dialects of Chinese;
  2. You know at least 1 Malay and Tamil song;
  3. Arguing with the taxi drivers to use the metre isn’t so difficult;
  4. Crossing a busy street? No problem. Use the hand.;
  5. You know how to eat with your hands and use chopsticks;
  6. You’ve slowly forgotten how to eat with a knife…;
  7. You can’t go more than one week without eating roti canai (flatbread) or nasi lemak (fragrant coconut rice);
  8. There is no such thing as too much milo (chocolate and malt powder mixed with hot water);
  9. You know which way to fold your banana leaf after eating banana leaf rice;
  10. You hate it when someone thinks you’re a tourist;
  11. Malaysians know more about US pop culture than you;
  12. There are people in your class who speak better English than you;
  13. You start to spell things the British way;
  14. You know what the call to prayer sounds like on at least 3 different radio stations;
  15. The Starbucks baristas know you by name;
  16. You started saying going back to America instead of going home because Malaysia is home;
  17. The thought of leaving Malaysia makes you cry – really, really hard;
  18. You know that you’ll be back one day!!

*This post was adapted from the post, “You Know You’re Becoming Malaysianized When…” on the student blog, “Musings from Malaysia.”

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La Romeria and my birthday

This year, I had a birthday I will never forget. Not only did my birthday fall on a Friday, but it also happened to be the same day as La Romeria, the biggest celebration in my town.

La Romeria means pilgrimage. It’s a Catholic celebration that consists of a trip (in cars, floats, horseback, or on foot) that ends at a sanctuary or, in our case, a church. It’s an all day celebration that goes on well into the night.

Here’s an interesting fact – the word “Romería” comes from “romero,” meaning those traveling towards Rome.

I went into the holiday having no idea what I was doing. What I experienced first was a street filled with people in floats, on horseback, and many on foot (like me).



Our Float

Our float

Everyone was dressed up. The women wore beautiful Flamenco dresses with big hoop earrings and flowers in their hair. The men wore suits and ties, or riding gear if they were on horseback.

Flamenco dresses

All dressed up and ready to go

Girls in flamenco dresses

Girls in flamenco dresses

We started the journey around 2 pm, after a mass took place, and began to walk in the scorching sun. We walked behind a sculpture of the Virgin Mary (hence the Catholic celebration).

Virgin Mary statue

Virgin Mary statue

There was a man walking with us playing guitar, and we sang traditional Sevillana songs the whole way. Every fifteen minutes or so, we would stop for a “dance break.” The women would dance the Sevillana – a dance that’s broken down into four parts and is pretty challenging. In the end I only really succeeded in learning the first part, but oh well!

After about 1 ½ hours, we stopped in a very shady area to eat lunch. This was where I celebrated my 17th birthday party with everyone, including all the kids from our float and their families, my sisters and all of my friends. We celebrated, danced and sang. It was so fun, and a birthday I will definitely never forget.

Birthday cake

My Host Mom made me this cake...isn't it adorable?

After all this fun, we actually had another 1 ½  hours to walk until we reached our final destination!

We arrived around 8 pm in a forested area, and lots of people started setting up to sleepover for the night. From then on it was just a typical Spanish fiesta :). Lots of eating, drinking, partying, dancing and singing until late in the night.

Final Destination

Fiesta time!

It was great just being with friends and enjoying a typical tradition that only happens once a year. It was definitely a birthday I will NEVER forget.

Besos, Lani

*This post was adapted from the post “La Romeria and My Birthday” on the blog Vida en España.

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How I’ve Changed and the Surprising Things I’ve Learned

*This post is adapted from the post, “Random Happenings from the Last 3 Weeks,” on the AFS student blog, Pathways Through Peru.

It has dawned on me that I only have 74 precious days in my beautiful Peru. To say that time has flown is an understatement. It is crazy to look back and think about how much I have changed this year.

I feel like a different person, and thankfully, I like the person I have become. Peru will always be a part of me now. My exchange year has been a unique experience that only I can completely relate to. I feel as if it is a series of special memories that belong to me from a dream.


Visiting a church in the Historic Center of Lima

And speaking of memories, here are a few fun facts I definitely won’t forget:


There is a special breed of dog that is only found in Peru. These dogs have no hair, they are gray, and most of all, they are super, super ugly. Their skin is dry and scaly looking!

This specific breed is Pre-Incan. In many archaeological sites you can see a large number of these wild dogs that live there. It is somewhat rare to see them as pets because they are extremely expensive. There is also a law that says you can’t bring them outside of the country. These beauties are exclusively for Peruvians.

Believe it or not, the “Spanish version” of Dora is used to learn English, while the “American version” of Dora is used to learn Spanish. I was extremely intrigued by this, so one day I watched a few episodes of the Latina Dora on YouTube. When the American Dora is talking in English, the Latina Dora is talking in Spanish.

Thanks to my Peruvian education, I have now learned the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish and the Peruvian national anthem. Every morning we say the Lord’s Prayer to start our day because I go to a Catholic school. Every Monday we sing the National Anthem together. Viva Peru!!

Here in Peru, it is common to see vendors selling really random stuff or offering interesting services. Today I saw the best one yet. A young lady was standing on a bridge over a highway with a super old scale. She was yelling, “1 sol to see your weight!!” I can’t imagine anyone paying to see her weight, not to mention in public where everyone is watching!

Hairless Dog

The Peruvian Hairless Dog!

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A Different Sort of Silence – Part 2

Click here to see part 1 on our blog’s homepage
Nyepi, however, turned out to be more than just a lazy day…

It was a day to discover the beauty of just sitting and being – of talking to everyone I was with, getting henna, and playing with the kids next door, who left their house just to come hang out with the new ”bule” (foreign) neighbors.


Nyepi Henna

And, cliche though this may be, you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone: Nyepi gave me a new appreciation for AC, my iPod, and the ever-constant drone of the TV.

Nyepi was a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of the importance of taking a second, every day, to stop to think and wonder at all the things around me. And most of all, it taught me that silence can be just as powerful as words – that observation is instrumental in action. A balance needs to be struck between speech and silence.

And now enjoy some pictures of my various adventures in the Island of the Gods.



Foggy Lake

Foggy Lake

Lush Greenery

Lush Greenery

Delicious Cuisine

Delicious Cuisine

Beach at Sunset

Beach at Sunset

*The author of this post is YES Abroad scholarship recipient. To learn more about YES Abroad visit: www.yesprograms.org/yesabroad.


A Different Sort of Silence – Part 1

As an exchange student, silence has become my new way of life. Speaking tends to take a backseat to listening, to watching the frantic motions and trying to decipher the mix of Indonesian/Javanese spoken by everyone around me.

While I was in Bali this past weekend, silence took on a new meaning, as I had the opportunity to take part in observing the Hindu holiday of Nyepi.

Nyepi is one of the rituals which marks the Balinese Hindu new year. It involves spending an entire day fasting, not using electronics, and doing self-reflection.

It’s also forbidden to go outside. Bali’s normally roaring streets are completely deserted, with the exception of traditional guardsmen patrolling the streets with flashlights, checking for disturbances.

Before Nyepi, there were a few days of rituals that are unique to Bali’s brand of Hinduism. One involved making an offering in front of the house, then marching through the building smudging the air with burning wood and banging pots and pans to drive out lingering demons or other unpleasant presences in the home.

Ritual outside of the home

Making an offering in front of the house

After the rituals, the entire neighbourhood seemed to pour outside to see the parading and subsequent destruction of ogoh-ogoh, paper mache representations of demons which sit by the sides of the road.

Ready for the parade

Ready for the parade



Once night fell, the ogoh-ogoh were carried through the streets by groups of tipsy Balinese boys, followed by a raucous band playing percussion in maddening beats. Hoardes of Balinese and foreigners alike joined the parade, dazzled by the ceremony.

Ogoh-ogoh being carried

Ogoh-ogoh being carried through the streets by Balinese boys

At the end of the night, the ogoh-ogoh were destroyed by the boys, who spun and shook them until they groaned and toppled over. Usually, they are then burned the same night, but the village we followed decided to burn them the day after Nyepi.

Walking home under the buzzing yellow street lights, giving a piggy-back ride to one of the kids who followed us to see the parade, I was never more excited at the prospect of waking up to an absolutely lazy day. Nyepi, however, turned out to be more than just a lazy day…

*The author of this post is YES Abroad scholarship recipient. To learn more about YES Abroad visit: www.yesprograms.org/yesabroad.


El Camino de Santiago

Over Spring Break I had an opportunity to participate in one of the most famous pilgrimages known in Europe and the world: El Camino de Santiago. For those of you who don’t know, El Camino de Santiago is a route that stretches all over Europe with many different paths leading to Santiago de Compostela, home of a world famous cathedral thought to be the burial place of St. James the Great. Catholic pilgrims have been walking these routes since the Middle Ages, and it is considered a spiritual and physical journey. This picture shows the most used route:

I went with a group of 46 people, including 31 foreign exchange students and 15 volunteers and host siblings. Everyone communicated in a common language – Spanish.

A yellow arrow is the marker that shows the correct path of El Camino de Santiago. There are hundreds of yellow arrows that line stone walls, cobblestones, and just about any object that can be painted on.

Our 6-day journey started at Sarria. We walked 5 days straight covering a total of 114 km (About 70 miles). From Sarria we walked to Portamarín, Palas de Rei, Arzua, Pedrouzo, and lastly, Santiago.

We were in Galicia, a province famous in Spain for rain, so of course it rained every day!

We walked on many different types of terrain – roads, rocks, bridges, and muddy trails in the woods.

So you may ask “How can walking 70 miles in the rain wearing a 7 kg backpack make for such an amazing week?” Well…because of the 45 other people walking, suffering, laughing, smiling, freezing, striving, talking, and living by my side. The people I met on this trip, the old friends and the new friends, are the reason the week of doing El Camino de Santiago holds such a special place in my heart.

How excited we were to finally arrive!

The best feeling was arriving in Santiago on the last day. After walking 5 days straight, waking up at 7:00 am each day, and receiving blisters we had finally made it to the Cathedral. How I felt upon arrival was bittersweet…the wonderful, spiritual, and unforgettable pilgrimage to Santiago had finished.

This was one of those moments when you realize that the destination is never that important, it is the journey.

View the full post and see more great photos at: http://carolineduncombe.blogspot.com/2013/04/el-camino-de-santiago.html


KARNIVAL! {Der Deutsche Feiertag}

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Here and There

This post is mostly just a life update, and I have to say, things really do get better every month! Admittedly, I did have a bit of a rough patch about the second week of January. I’m not sure why, but I was extremely homesick, even more homesick than I was during Christmas. But I think it was just the winter blues. Right now, I am really starting to feel at home here in Belgium. My French is getting better, and therefore, so is school. I am starting to make friends, interact with my classes and teachers, and almost forming “my own life” here in Belgium. Last week, I started some drawing classes at this art school in Namur called “L’Acadamie des Beaux Arts”. I will take them every Wednesday for 4-5 hours. I think it will be good for me, because I am rather terrible at drawing. In general, life is good! I hope that this is equally the same for you! Winter can be a sad and cold time, but I think that that will change with the rise of the thermometer. Until the next time! 

Here are just a few random pictures that I have taken in the last few weeks.


I wrote a letter to one of my best friends, Travis, near the beginning of the year and told him that one thing I really missed about Fall was pumpkin flavored things. So he sent me some pumpkin chai tea! What a cool dude.
(January 3, 2013)

I visited Bruges with some other exchange students and another American who was an exchange student in Belgium 2 years ago. It’s a really cool city, but I hope to go again in the Spring when the weather isn’t as gray!
(January 4, 2013)

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“Almost” February Break + New Feature: FAQ’s

Hello everybody! These past few weeks have been great! I will start by saying everything is normal, my host family is good, and school is as confusing as ever. So not much has changed there! But so much other stuff has. This week I started hanging out more often with one of the French exchange students who goes to a different school. She is so great! On Wednesday I left school early and we just decided we would go shopping and walk around. Really, when you can walk around, not really looking at much, but just talking and laughing SO MUCH, you know that you and that person really click. We hung out from about 1:30 until 7 at night, and it was so fun! But the really great day was on Thursday. She didn’t go to school that day, and at 3:30 I could go home, so we met up, and just started walking through the city. After a while we came to a small alleyway, and so were just like, “what the heck? Lets explore!”
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سنة سعيدة ! (Happy New Year!)

This has been a wonderful year, certainly one of the best of my life so far.


It’s definitely been a unique one, full of unique and beautiful experiences. Getting to travel to Italy to visit my family back in April, to the World Summit, finishing a difficult year of school back home, then having a wonderful summer and a magnificent send-off, and finally the most significant event of all by far – coming here. This part, of course, stands out as the most special one of this year. I had the luck of coming to fulfill the dream that I’ve had for four years: Going to Egypt for a year with AFS. I came to a country where I only knew three people – all former AFSers that had stayed in my hometown – from 82 million, that I had never been to before in my life, to live with a family that I didn’t know, attend a school where I knew no one.


And now?

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