So I admit it though I’m embarrassed. Sometimes I must challenge my own stereotypes. We were arriving in Malaysia and our friend introduced to a girl from Michigan she had met living in Kuala Lumpur. She happened to be a final-year medical student doing a program abroad for a year.
She and I had a lot in common…we both love to travel and learn about new cultures, we both love food, we both wanted to be doctors, and we were both raised in the US with immigrant Muslim parents. But we differ in that she wears a hijab to cover her hair and is more religious than I. In Kuala Lumpur, she fits in quite nicely. Many Malay women covered their hair. In fact, when being placed in Asia, she stated that she wanted to live anywhere she can work in a medical clinic. But it seemed like her religion took precedence in deciding where she would be placed, and the program felt it would be safer for her to be in a predominantly Muslim country. Ironically, she has lived in the US all her life, a predominantly non-Muslim country and she functions quite well.
She is more patriotic then many Americans I know. She stated multiple times that she loved “her country” and would “kiss the ground when she returns” to the US. She is more patriotic than I am though I do miss the US, I could never state that I will kiss the ground upon my return. She also aims to practice medicine and serve Americans in the hospital and clinics. As I run away from medicine, she runs towards it at full speed with her scarf blowing in the wind. This is despite negative comments from patients along the way, which she has learned to ignore or respond to with laughter. Her personal favorite, a male patient asking her “How is it in your countries?” The US is her country, she responds. It’s also hard for her to convince people in Malaysia that she’s an American. She’s not the typical blond blue-eyed poster child, but she was born in Michigan and has lived their all her life. Her parents emigrated from India to pursue graduate education in the US many years ago.
In KL as it is lovingly called, we enjoyed a few meals together, including Indian-Malay food such as tosai masala, roti canai, banana leaf with curries, and sipped on iced teh tarik. Of course the focus of our discussion was our love to travel and our awe of the so many exciting places to visit in the world!