Malaysian student fits in easily at AU

12 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Interview with Anisa Ismail, senior in the School of International Service


Observer photo by Mark Maathuis
Anisa Ismail transferred to AU from a college in Malaysia. She said diversity is one of the best things about America.

Anisa Ismail’s eyes light up when she talks about her days as a campus orientation leader last summer. Working with freshmen was an exhausting but rewarding experience, she says. “I can relate to them very well,” says Ismail.

Ismail, 21, was born in Malaysia and is a senior at the School of International Service where she studies International Relations. After one-and-a-half years of college in Kuala Lumpur, she left the capital and transferred to AU. She came to the United States because she wanted to meet other people and learn from their experiences, says Ismail.

In the future, Ismail wants to follow her passion and work at an international youth organization. “I do not know yet how I can translate this into an actual job,” says Ismail. But Ismail is convinced the perfect job is out there for her, somewhere. She wants to focus on education because it is such an important part of young people’s lives, she says. “It is a benchmark that can lift people up so much.”

Her volunteer work for Operation Outreach, an AU program, intensified her dedication to follow her dreams. Every spring, the organization brings elementary students to AU to show them what life is like in a college setting. Some of the children told her after the tour that they felt passionate about coming to college. That’s when Ismail knew she did a good job. “I know it is a bit preliminary, since they are still at elementary school, but it is a good start.”

Although her hometown, Kuala Lumpur, is full of Western and American influences, most of Malaysia is more conservative, says Ismail. When she moved to the U.S., she was struck by how free the interaction between men and women was. “Back home, we have all-boys dorms and all-girls dorms. The concept of a common floor in a dorm would be unheard of,” says Ismail. This conservatism is part of the Malaysian culture and Muslim religion, says Ismail. Over 60 percent of the 24 million Malaysians are Muslim.

Because her Malaysian college had an American degree program, Ismail found it easy to fit in at AU, but there were some differences she had to get used to. When someone asked her how she was and kept on walking without waiting for her answer, Ismail would get confused. Now she knows better. “‘How are you?’” is not a question. It is a statement,” says Ismail. After almost two years in the U.S., Ismail often hears herself say the same words: “It is all part of the D.C. fast pace.”

Ismail says that one of her favorite things about the United States is the diversity. “I am a Muslim Indian international student and some of my closest friends are White American Christians,” says Ismail. Discussions about life, politics, family and religion are often a debate with her friends. “Sometimes, we respectfully disagree, but still manage to remain good friends.”

Ismail has had only negative experience: while crossing the street, she forgot that Americans drive on the right side of the road. “I had a real close call with a Hummer.”

Ismail recommends that everyone visit Malaysia. The diversity of people, the beaches, the forests, the food and the culture are all great reasons to come, according to Ismail. “It is a beautiful country,” she said, “But naturally, I am biased.”

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