Observing the fasting month of Ramadan in the United States is an unforgettable experience for Malaysian students who are participating in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program in the United States.
Fasting about 13 hours a day is normal during Ramadan in Malaysia but to do almost 15 and a half hours in a foreign country is a new challenge. The holy month also provides an opportunity for them to share their culture and religious customs with American host families.
Sixteen year old Ariana Nurfitri Isma Zaki said the fact that her host parents at Clearfield, Pennsylvania joined her in fasting helped her feel at home.
“I have a lovely and very understanding host family, and they have been fasting with me since the start of Ramadan till now. It’s crazy! Well, the good part is that we always have our sahur and iftar together even when one of us is not fasting,” said Ariana Nurfitri who fasted from 4.46 a.m. to 8.14 p.m.
Ariana Nurfitri is one of the 25 Malaysians who are spending six months in the United States under YES program for 2022, and the program allows them to stay with a family and study in a school in the United States.
Another YES exchange student, Syarifah Nur Iman Alattas Syed Mokhsein, shared that she likes to have bread with chocolate spread, jam, and banana slices for sahur. Some of her friends in the U.S. sent her dates for breaking fast.
“My host family also put some decorations in the house for Ramadan,” she said in a video recorded in Alpine, Wyoming.
For Aiman Danish Zhafran Akmal Hizam, it’s a new and fun experience to have sahur, puasa, and iftar together with his host family in Nacogdoches, Texas.
“My day starts at 5 a.m. and we wake up to have our sahur together. I will prepare myself to go to school at 7 a.m. and I will be at school until 3 p.m. After that, I will have a three hours of free time to do my homework and study. Later we will prepare and have our iftar as a family,” Aiman said.
The YES program is funded by the U.S. Department of State to provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to study for up to one academic year in the United States. YES students serve as “youth ambassadors” of their home country, promoting mutual understanding by forming lasting relationships with their host families and communities.
Participants live with a host family, attend an American high school, acquire leadership skills, and engage in activities to learn about U.S. society and values; they also help educate Americans about their home country and culture.
The program was officially launched in Malaysia in 2004 in hopes to expand communication between the people of the United States and Malaysia in order to promote mutual understanding and respect. Since then, over 672 Malaysian students have completed the YES program and now participate as alumni.
“Exchange programs are one of the most impactful things we do at the U.S. Embassy. The YES program and its emphasis on youth, bridging cultural divides, and leadership skills is especially powerful,” commented Ambassador Mcfeeters, “Hearing the stories of how the American host families have not only accommodated the Ramadan traditions of the visiting Malaysian students but also celebrated the season alongside them is a reminder of how everyone benefits as a result of international exchanges.”
Click here to learn more about U.S. Exchange Opportunities: https://my.usembassy.gov/education/
Click here for Ariana and Syarifah’s videos documenting the Ramadan experience of the YES program students in the U.S. — and stay tuned for more to be added to our social media channels through the end of the month: Ramadan 2022