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A Trip to the Orchard
By Kate G., YES 2019-20, Malaysia
The first few days that one spends with their host family while on an exchange are exciting, terrifying, and telling. You are thrust into a new family dynamic that exists within a new culture. So, if you are anything like me, you search for as many familiarities as you can to make the transition just a little smoother. Thus, I was elated when on my second day with my host family they told me that we would be taking a trip to the orchard!
We arrived at the orchard and my host uncle and father immediately climbed trees to cut down a fruit called dokong, while my host mom and I caught the fruit as they dropped it from above, and my host grandmother went about clearing stumps and overgrowth.
We continued in this rhythm until my host mom motioned for me to join her on a short walk. She led me down a road and explained that the land had been her father’s and when she was young she would often visit with her family to gather fruit, as we were doing that day. I later learned that this is something that many Malaysian families participate in, visiting an orchard, where they grow flowers, fruit, or other plants. I was grateful to be included in this intimate piece of Malaysian family life. Yet I was even more touched that my host mom shared with me how much the land means to her, as a piece of her childhood that has continued into the present.
The orchard provided a different and unexpected sense of familiarity that was invoked by the conversation with my host mom. It reminded me of my own childhood, when my dad added a small fruit tree and bush collection in our backyard. We now have multiple apple trees, cherry trees, an Asian pear tree, and many raspberry bushes that reside in our garden. Each summer, when the raspberries are ripe, my family and I pick as much fruit as possible. As we do so, we take any opportunity we can to enjoy the fruit, often with more berries making it into our mouths than our buckets. This act of savoring the fruit that we harvest was mirrored at the orchard in Malaysia, as my host mom handed me one mangosteen after another and my host grandmother peeled open countless dokong fruits.
I had expected to miss the familial gathering of fruit while in Malaysia, yet, unexpectedly and beautifully, my Malay and American lives were united by this visit to the orchard. Aside from making me feel at home instantaneously, this early visit taught me that while on exchange I need to maintain a completely open mind, without any expectations or ready comparisons. Doing so allows for the familiarities of experiences to come naturally, allowing for me to embrace such commonalities to create a fitting place for myself within my host family and culture.