Conservative Muslim state, the monsoon season and beautiful islands. These are among the first things that come to mind for a group of American youths who will undergo a 10-month stint as English teaching assistants (ETAs) in Terengganu.

Despite being unsure of what they will get, the 23 participants aged between 22 and 33 are very excited and raring to experience Terengganu’s culture and charms.

They will leave for the state on Friday and placed at 23 government schools statewide.

One of the students, 22-year-old Khadijeh Zarafshar, an English major student from Georgetown University, Washington D.C. said the stint would give her an opportunity to explore and learn more about Malaysia’s diverse culture from the locals.

She said she chose Malaysia as “it is a multicultural country and to experience how the Muslims get along with the people of other religions”.

“I heard the country is beautiful and I am fascinated by the Malaysian culture. Although it is a Muslim country, it is so culturally diverse compared to the Muslim countries in the Middle East,” she said.

Elizabeth Bowen, also 22, said the programme would definitely be fruitful for her as she would get to learn a new culture and share her own with the students.

When asked why she chose Malaysia, she said a couple of her friends had visited the country and appreciated its way of life.

“Based on the research I made before coming to Malaysia, I found that Terengganu is a conservative place and hence, I will wear baju kurung for class to show my respect for the local culture,” said the University of Pittsburgh student.

Another participant, Matt Skarzymski of the University of Santiago, said he looked forward to enjoying the local delights and nature.

“I am excited about the whole new experience and looking forward to start my adventure in the state,” he enthused.

Skarzymski decided to apply to come to Malaysia after he fell in love with the region during a students exchange programme in Thailand in 2006.

The ETA programme which began in 2006 with just 10 participants is an initiative co-funded by the Terengganu government and US State Department.

“It is aimed at enhancing English proficiency of the local students and fostering closer ties and cultural understanding between Malaysians and Americans,” Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) executive director and coordinator of the programme, Dr James Coffman, told a news conference earlier.

“From our experience, this programme has been a success as the local students have improved their English proficiency,” he said.