By Jericha Del Mundo
Manila, October 3, 2019: I never thought that being friends with a person with a different culture was going to be easy.
I was one of the selected student volunteers to represent the Philippines for the YayasanSukarelawanSiswa-Association for Southeast Asian Nations (YSS-ASEAN) Student Volunteer Mission to Sarawak, Malaysia, August 15 to September 3, 2019.
The Ministry of Education, Malaysia established YSS in 2012 to inculcate the spirit of volunteerism and camaraderie among college students from ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), and the People’s Republic of China.
There were six clusters that YSS had wherein I was a leader for Agribio and Environment Cluster and Pavi was a leader for Health Cluster. Even if we had different clusters, we still managed to help each other with our capabilities and knowledge.
We were divided into 10 teams and the team that I belong to was the KampungTarikan team where I met my best friend, Pavitra DIO Balakrishman but I usually call her Pavi.
She is 21 and she is studying a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Malaysia, Sarawak.
Pavi is a Malaysian and Indian because she was born and grew up in Malaysia yet she was raised with her two Indian parents primarily adapting two cultures from two different countries.
She is a Hindu and I am a Roman Catholic from the Philippines which made a big difference in terms of our beliefs and cultures.
Pavi was the first person I have got to introduce myself with. I remember during the pre-departure training of the program, I was sitting right beside her. She is timid and she does not talk a lot, but we still tried to make small communication with each other and little by little, we became closer and closer.
Philippines and India-Malaysia: How We Ignited Despite Differences
“At first, Jecha was so quiet and talks less to everyone on the second day of the pre-departure training and we still need some time to get to know each other,” Pavi said the day she first met me.
She also said that she was surprised because her judgments were wrong and I proved her that I am friendly, talkative, and brave during the mission in Sarawak.
“I was totally surprised with her changes and then I understood that she will usually take some time to adapt with new people,” she pointed out.
At first, with my shy attitude, I had a hard time communicating with others, but Pavi made me feel that it was so easy to get along with people. She opened herself to me and I opened myself to her. We became closer day by day and helping each other when we needed each other during the mission.
Filipinos are known for being loud and happy and she was also surprised with the energy that Filipinos have. I was just quite amazed because she was focused on certain tasks assigned to her. She was very much willing to get things done and I admired that kind of energy.
She is an introvert person and does not have close friends and I find myself as an ambivert who can get along with certain types of people. I also choose the friends I want to be with and I am so happy to meet Pavi as one of my circles.
“The only closest person to me is my mom. I shared everything that I want to my mom but at some point, I felt that I am making my mom worried about me. Since then, I stopped sharing my problems with her and kept into myself. I always dream that it would be awesome if I had a best friend who was caring and motivating whenever I feel down,” Pavi stated.
Pavi said that she still remembered the first time we both spent time together listening to song and singing during our tea break. We even shared a lot of things about the culture, food, and language of India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
It helped us to know each other well and since then, we became closer to each other. “I am grateful to get her as my best friend despite the background,” Pavi shared.
How our Friendship Changed my Perspective in Indian-Malaysian Culture
In the Philippines, it is just sad to know that many Filipinos mock Indians even without meeting one. I hate this kind of thinking and I believe that this thinking needs to be changed.
Pavi is one of the examples of an Indian you will love forever. Her positivity in life makes me wonder why some Filipinos think that way. Indians are nice I can say because of what Pavi showed me. It was so easy to get along with her and I never really had a hard time sharing what I feel with her whether I am sad or happy.
Indians are people we should trust with. Their openness, their sense of loyalty as a friend, their helpful hands, and their intelligence are the factors why should we get an Indian friend.
Cultures and beliefs should not hinder us to spread the love to one another. Whether you are Indian, Malaysian, Filipino, or any races and nationalities across the globe, the love must always reign supreme despite differences.
(Jericha Del Mundo, 21, is a journalism student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila).