Penn State

Festival brings hundreds of Malaysian students, dignitaries to Penn State

Malaysia’s ambassador to the U.S. Awang Adek Hussin joins students from colleges across the East Coast for a photo during the opening ceremonies of the Malaysian East Coast Festival on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Alumni Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center.
Malaysia’s ambassador to the U.S. Awang Adek Hussin joins students from colleges across the East Coast for a photo during the opening ceremonies of the Malaysian East Coast Festival on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Alumni Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center. CDT photo

Time flies — especially when there’s not very much of it.

It was mid-January when Penn State senior Nur Amalina Azman learned that Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s minister of youth and sports, would be able to attend the Malaysian East Coast Festival 2015. The event would bring about 600 Malaysian students from 45 universities to campus for three days in March. It was a massive undertaking — the first of its kind on the East Coast — and there was still a lot of work to be done.

“Just getting the minister of youth and sports has been exciting. He’s really youth focused. He has (almost) a million Twitter followers. Just getting him at an event in Malaysia is hard, but he is coming here,” Azman, project director of the organizing committee, said prior to the festival.

Rehearsals for the festival’s opening ceremony continued into Saturday morning in Alumni Hall at Penn State’s HUB-Robeson Center. Groups of Malaysian students from schools like Rutgers, Virginia Tech and Michigan State took the stage with flags and props, practicing rally cries for an audience that was still filtering into their seats. Members of the 13-person team from Penn State were easily identified by their navy shirts and blue banners, and the young man dressed from head-to-toe in a lion costume.

The lion and his cohorts represented the 237 Malaysian students studying at Penn State, the largest population of Malaysian students in America. Azman said the festival is an attempt to unite these young scholars with others across the country.

“We have a lot of Malaysian students in the USA and we need a way to bring everyone together,” Azman said.

She and others from Penn State’s Malaysian Student Association worked with Drexel University, the Malaysian Students’ Debate Club and the U.S. East Coast Presidential Council to make the event and its many moving parts a reality. Inspired in part by a Malaysian soccer tournament held in Washington, last May, this festival took things a step further, adding a debate competition, a battle of the bands and expanding the list of athletic activities to include games like basketball and badminton as a nod to Jamaluddin’s fitness campaign in Malaysia.

Azman thinks that the athletic events will provide visiting students with an opportunity to play and learn together.

“Some of the teams are not even university based,” Azman said

Shortly after rehearsals wound down in the HUB, Azman took the podium to welcome Jamaluddin to ECFest. The minister, fresh from a dodgeball game with some students, had been greeted into the hall by loud applause — and the sounds of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” He joined Awang Adek Hussin, Malaysia’s ambassador to the United States, at the front of the audience, where he watched the freshly rehearesed students commence the opening ceremony.

When it was his turn to speak, Jamaluddin praised the students for the initiative and drive they had shown in bringing ECFest to life, referencing a quote by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

“They dreamt of something that wasn’t there and asked why not,” Jamaluddin said.

He told the crowd that he had come around the world to be with them for 24 hours — and that he would do it again at the drop of a hat. Jamaluddin urged them to help create an identity for Malaysian students on the East Coast.

Azman’s goals for the event already extend beyond this year.

“I’m simply hoping that this continues to be organized in the future,” Azman said.

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