Traveling to Kuala Lumpur
By Pharoah Egbuna
Dinner at my home is often filled with laughter, great food, and challenging questions. For example: what does global citizenship really mean and how can we make the world a better place? These questions do not require an immediate answer. I would say that my parents have one goal: to encourage me to consider my place in the world globally. These questions inspired me to create a list of possible world changing solutions. An increased opportunity for youth to travel and explore the world is number one on my list. I strongly believe travel plays an essential role in learning to respect diversity and in creating social change. Becoming a global citizen requires more than a passport. It begins with being aware of the wider world and having an understanding of how economic, environmental and social barriers affect communities globally. When you travel within or outside of the U.S., you experience first-hand how geography plays a very important role in shaping cultural perspectives, worldview, and identity.
Travel allows you to explore countries and learn new things outside of books and high school research papers. These adventures help challenge misinformation and stereotypes. Exploring a new country encourages intellectual and social growth, but unfortunately travel can be costly and therefore inaccessible to many youth. Community youth organizations can certainly play a large role in facilitating this type of discovery by supporting families and teens who seek access to such life-changing opportunities. I am currently a member of “Flag Stories: Citizenship Unbound”, an international cultural exchange program at SOMArts Cultural Center, a non profit arts and cultural organization in San Francisco, California. We are an amazingly diverse group of “young diplomats”, who use video, photography, painting, and graphic design to develop a greater understanding of citizenship, nationality, and culture. This year-long project encourages us to explore family and community identity through visual art and correspondence with Malaysian youth.
I was recently selected to travel with two other youth diplomats and our super cool program chaperons, to explore Malaysia and meet our international counterparts. Before departing, I read a few books to become familiar with Malaysia, but nothing can prepare you for its beauty. We were greeted by diversity and world-class hospitality throughout our trip. Malaysia has an extremely culturally diverse society. Not only is it multi-cultural, but it is also filled with many different ethnicities and religions.The three largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese, and Indians. In some countries, the bringing together of different ethnicities and cultures has led to conflict. However, in countries like Malaysia, this diversity has produced a peaceful and progressive society for the most part. Every ethnic group comes together to celebrate one another’s festivals and traditions. While Islam is the national religion of the country, freedom of religion is practiced in Malaysia, many of its citizens are practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Christianity. There is a wide array of places to worship, and in many parts of Malaysia one can find Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and Christian churches within the same town. As a Nigerian-American Muslim, I found every masjid beautiful and instantly noticed how Islam appeared normal instead of different or strange. Many Muslim women in America who wear hijab, struggle with acceptance and prejudice. The hijab and other forms of modest Islamic clothing were considered normal clothing items in this society, instead of markers of difference.
At the beginning of the program, I initially feared that our interaction with Malaysian youth would feel strange or awkward. However, since we were able to connect with some of our new Malaysian friends through Facebook, it wasn’t as awkward as I expected. In fact, I found that they were mostly just like us in that they went through some of the same things and had similar interests. All of the youth that we met throughout our trip showed us a great time in the country they call home. They had a lot of fun with us and we felt the same. My favorite dish while I was in Malaysia was egg and cheese roti, which I had almost every morning of the trip. After we arrived, I ordered a cold milo (kinda like hot chocolate… but cold), and an egg and cheese roti from a restaurant called Yussef’s Fish Head Curry. My favorite moment during my visit was when we took a nature walk with the Malaysian kids because we really got a chance to learn quite a bit about each other. Also, I find it very interesting that the way Malaysian people interact with nature seems to be very different from here in the U.S.–– what I mean is that somehow nature feels “closer” there. The form and shape of even the buildings seems to be somehow less separated from natural elements. Of course, seeing beautiful landscapes is fun, but the most powerful moments come from sharing food and witnessing beauty with the people you travel with and with friends you meet along the way. The real beauty is in shared experiences.
This is an experience that I shall carry with me for the rest of my life, and I’m sure that is way more valuable and dynamic than anything I could have gotten from any textbook.
About the Author
Pharaoh Egbuna, is a fifteen year old, Nigerian-American youth photographer, currently residing in Oakland, California. In 2013, he began “We Photography”, a greeting card company and photoblog, celebrating intentional happiness. His current work explores protest graffiti, urban culture and diaspora identity. A lover of graphic novels, independent films and travel, he hopes to attend college abroad, pursuing his interest in art history and design. He is currently a Young Diplomat in Flag Stories: Citizenship Unbound, an international cultural exchange project, exploring culture and identity with students residing in the United States and Malaysia.