An Amazing Cultural Journey through ICEP

The Inter-Cultural Enrichment Program (ICEP) is an enrichment program that enables students to experience the diverse Malaysian culture and immerse themselves in the rich multicultural, multi-ethnic environment. Divided into four days of activities in Semester 2, 2018, we learnt about Malaysia’s diverse peoples and their history, its arts and craft, the Orang Asli communities, and of course, Malaysia’s extraordinary range of food. However, this was also an opportunity to meet fellow exchange students from all over the world. Participating in ICEP this semester were students from Australia, South Africa, Italy, Germany, France and many other countries.

The program commenced with lectures about Malaysia’s people, society and cinema. But despite what you may be thinking, these lectures were surprisingly humorous and entertaining, not what you might expect from a typical university lecture. Mr. Koh Chien Aun’s (from the School of Arts and Social Sciences) presentation about Malaysia’s politics and society had everyone hooked through his wit and sense of humour. It’s not often you hear a university lecturer make the argument that Malaysia’s current Prime Minister is “more of a Emperor Palpatine rather than a Chewbacca”. And of course, one cannot not talk about such a subject without mentioning Malaysia 14th General Election. After spending the previous few weeks in Malaysia talking to locals including classmates and taxi drivers, about their opinions on the GE,  it was eye opening to hear what an expert has to say about the matter.

Following Mr. Koh Chien Aun was Dr Jonathan Driskell’s presentation about understanding Malaysia through film. Stepping through Malaysia’s cinematic history, Dr. Driskell shared with us short film clips. He was able to explain the cultural and historical context in such a way that despite our unfamiliarity with the Malay language, we were enthralled by the performance of Malaysian superstar, P. Ramlee. Dr. Driskell also shared with us works of other Malaysian directors like Yasmin Ahmad and Liew Seng Tat. Another highlight was learning about Malaysia’s independent film scene through a raw, low budget documentary about a marriage between a Chinese and Malay.

The second day of activities included batik-making and lunch at a authentic halal restaurant. It was filled with fun, laughter and creativity as we (literally) got our hands dirty with wax (it doesn’t hurt) and watercolour paint. Batik-making is an astonishingly simple, yet powerful means of expression. As you can see in the pictures, all there is to batik-making is pouring wax to form the outline of your design and then simply filling it with colours of your choice. Guiding us through the process of batik making are the employees of a batik studio. These employees are both professional batik makers, whose works you can admire on the walls of the studio, and also teachers. To wrap up the learning session, we went to a beautiful restaurant for lunch. In fact, the restaurant’s beauty was testified by not one, but TWO weddings held there at the same time. The food was so authentic that other locals were eating there, not tourists.

For our third day of activities, we had lecture sessions on the Orang Asli communities and the Malay language respectively. Out of all the learning sessions, Dr. Cyren Wong’s lecture about the past and current circumstances of the Orang Asli was the most compelling. Dr. Wong shared with us how the Orang Asli have been misunderstood and mistreated over time. Personally it was shocking to learn about the existence of these people only now when we have already spent six weeks in the country. This lecture led directly to a visit to nearby Orang Asli village. During that visit, we learnt about the Orang Asli’s values and customs including their respect of nature and the otherworld, their practice of leaf origami, and their language. But the highlight of the visit was our group re-enacting their wedding ceremony. Through it, we learned how the Orang Asli developed ways to prevent forced marriages, their respect their elders and their dance custom after the wedding. At the conclusion of the visit, it was clear to us that the Orang Asli were not simply “Mah Meri” or “jungle people” they are often made out to be.

Our second lecture on the third day of activities was presented by Mr. Adrian Yao. Mr. Yao shared with the history of the Malay language and its role in contemporary Malaysian society. Following this Mr. Yao opened up the floor for questions about the Malaysian language. However, the dialogue quickly spiraled into a fascinating conversation about all the different types of “roti canai” and why Malaysia motorcyclists wear their jackets backwards.

Overall, ICEP was an intellectual, fun and rewarding experience I highly recommend it to any exchange students looking to learn more about the rich culture of Malaysia, meet other exchange students or simply indulge in some delicious food.

Article written by Daniel Barrett. He is an exchange student from Australia. He studies Computer Science and Chinese studies, and enjoys travelling and learning about new cultures.