By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A Malaysian high school exchange student is having the time of her life this semester as she embraces the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy new experiences while in the United States.
Dina Azhar, 17, has spent this semester attending classes as a Yukon High School junior through the Program of Academic Exchange (PAX). Her favorite subjects are U.S. History and U.S. Government.
“They both teach me a lot about America,” Dina said. “I got to go experience Prom because I don’t have one in Malaysia. In May, I’ll be going to the Yukon High School commencement ceremony. I’m not graduating, but since I’m an exchange student, they’re allowing me to participate in the ceremony.”
Dina arrived in January and will be in Oklahoma until June 11 when she returns to Malaysia. She said she’s “very grateful” to have been hosted here through the PAX exchange program.
“It’s not so cold, it’s not so hot,” Dina said of the Oklahoma weather. “In Malaysia, it’s so hot. It stays like summer all year, so it’s easier for me to adapt in Oklahoma.”
The opportunity to stay in the U.S has helped Dina greatly as she anticipates studying in the United Kingdom in two years after being awarded a college scholarship.
Her English fluency has steadily increased and she’s improved her social skills by meeting and interacting with people at school, church and all the places she’s been.
HOST WITH THE MOST
Dina is staying in Yukon with Micheal (pronounced Michelle) and Jeffrey Wootton and their three children, Natalie, 17 (also a YHS junior), Madeyn, 10, and Van, 6. Jeffrey Wootton is a newly elected city council member.
As a Muslim, Dina follows the Halal diet and eats only certain meats.
“I have a very understanding host family,” she said. “They are Christians and I’m a Muslim. There are things I cannot eat and my host mom will drive me to the city to a grocery store where I can get foods I can eat.”
Some Muslim students in the PAX program will decide to “go vegetarian” while in the U.S. because they don’t have access to the Halal meats, said PAX regional director Melanie Moseley.
“Dina’s host family has been very understanding and very generous by allowing her to follow the diet and taking her to a Halal market,” Moseley said.
Dina described the Woottons as a “very happy family” and “very welcoming.” She certainly plans to remain in contact through social media with her host family after leaving next month.
“I’m definitely going to miss them,” she said.
Dina likes participating in youth group activities every Wednesday at Yukon Southern Baptist Church. They play games and watch videos about Christians, and Dina is welcomed although she is Muslim.
Dina has done community service by volunteering at Manna Pantry and the Festival of the Child, planting flowerbeds at City Park, and planting trees over spring break at church. She has made two presentations at YHS about her culture and her country.
Dina’s PAX exchange experience is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and Bureau of Education Affairs, administered by the American Councils for International Education through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study program.
Dina highly recommends this program to other students.
“It widens your perception about the outside world,” she said. “There are a lot of differences between Malaysia and the United States and even in high school, there’s a lot of different systems.
“You can see the difference and it makes you open your mind up about how things change.”
It has been a challenge being away from her Malaysian family, but she’s used to staying far away from home having been at a boarding school for five years.
“I miss my family at home, but I still can balance it,” Dina said. “It’s not bad.”
TRIP TO D.C.
A highlight of Dina’s academic exchange study was a trip to the nation’s capital.
She was invited to the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to interview with 11 other Malaysian students for the chance of a prestigious college scholarship to study in the United Kingdom. Dina and her fellow Malaysian students arrived on April 8 in Washington, D.C.
Dina, whose dream is to become an economic analyst, was awarded the scholarship.
Dina graduated last April from Machang Science Secondary School in Kelantan, Malaysia but she missed the commencement since she’s in Oklahoma. She’ll be going to college in Malaysia for two years before flying to the United Kingdom.
She made the most of her recent trip to D.C. and even got to watch Congress in session at the U.S. Capitol.
“This trip will forever be one of my memorable moments here in the United States,” Dina said. “For that, I would like to express my endless gratitude for my host family, my local coordinator and PAX for making it a success.”
Dina carried out enhancement activities around the historical city with another Malaysian PAX exchange student and her local coordinator.
She visited the White House, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, World War II Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial and George Mason Memorial.
The Korean War Monument was the most moving to Dina.
“Freedom is not free,” she said. “The hard work of the veterans that lost their lives for freedom is proof of that.”
The exchange students and PAX coordinator also explored the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Madame Tussaud’s.
Local host families are needed for other PAX high school exchange students coming in August for the 2019-20 school year.
“We are currently looking for host families in the area,” Moseley said. “We welcome people to apply to be a host family.”