I am thrilled to be writing this post, the first of many from MALAYSIA (it still feels incredibly strange to be writing, saying, or even thinking this)! Before I get into some of the fun details of my first week, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my past experience abroad, one that influenced my decision to apply for this program and which has stuck with me for nearly two years now.
One of the things I loved the most about studying abroad in Italy during the spring of my junior year was the fact that I hardly ever understood anything that was going on around me. Sure, I was studying Italian and could pick up on a few words here and there, but I generally spent most of my time in public surrounded by a whole lot of incomprehensible noise. I found a surprising amount of freedom in this muffled chaos, realizing that I could devote more of my energy to observing with other senses–the sight of a little girl clumsily climbing the basilica steps, the smell of leather and smoke from the street markets–instead of constantly filtering through a jumbled mess of words that I couldn’t help but hear and understand. One of my favorite pastimes during those early spring months was to pack a bag and head to a busy part of the city, usually a piazza or a park nearby, where I would buy a little coffee and read a book, happily oblivious to so much of the comings and goings around me. I let my mind rest. I practiced simply being where I sat, book in hand, unable and unwilling to focus too much on all of the craziness outside of my self.
I don’t think I realized how much I missed that aspect of living abroad until this past week, my first full week living and (almost) functioning in Malaysia. I haven’t had too much time to wander alone–yet–but I have definitely had to readjust to the feeling of almost constantly being surrounded by sights, smells, and sounds that I can’t fully understand. It can be frustrating at times, but I’m already reminded of how much growth can come from being forced to let go of my own need for control.
Alright, now that I’ve spent a sufficient amount of time waxing poetic, let’s get down to the fun stuff 🙂
I’ve spent most of this first week in full-on orientation mode: ice breakers, information sessions, guest speakers…you get the picture. While the days are long and can be a bit (read: very) overwhelming, I’ve loved the chance to meet the other Fulbrighters in my cohort and to get to know more about what these coming months will bring.
Which leads me to one of the most exciting parts of my week: getting information about my school placement! I found out on Thursday that I will be teaching at SMK Padang Tengku, a public secondary school (that’s what the “SMK” means) in the city of Kuala Lipis. Kuala Lipis is a city of about 20,000 people located in Pahang, one of the 13 Malaysian states, and it’s supposed to be one of the more scenic and natural places on the peninsula.
From what I can gather (thank goodness for Google, y’all), I’ll be relatively close to several nature preserves, a beautiful highlands area, and the world’s oldest tropical rainforest. Casual, right? Needless to say, I am chomping at the bit to move out there and get started. I’ll spend another week here in KL finishing up orientation before heading out for a week of in-state orientation–and then I’ll be at my school, doing my best to teach English and get settled in my community. I can’t wait.
In the meantime, I’m still adjusting to life here in KL, and in Malaysia in general. This city is absolutely incredible. It can be overwhelming at times, but I’m thankful to have spent a few of my weekend days getting on trains with new friends and traveling to sights a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of Bukit Bintang, the tourist-y/mall district where I am currently living. This past weekend, for example, I took a taxi out to the Islamic Arts Museum and the National Mosque, both of which were as enlightening as they were beautiful. The museum was full of art and artifacts from a variety of Muslim cultures, including a stunning exhibit on Islamic architecture throughout the world. It makes me want to travel more…but I won’t get ahead of myself too much 😉
At the National Mosque, we were lucky enough to be invited on a (free!) private tour with a volunteer. The two hours we spent with him have been perhaps the most challenging and culturally significant moments of my time here so far. Our guide was enthusiastic and open to conversation, and he encouraged us to ask him about any and everything related to Islam that we wanted to know–so we did. While it was sometimes difficult as an outsider to fully understand where he was coming from, I appreciated his honesty and his willingness to tackle controversial topics head-on. I definitely left the conversation feeling uncomfortable in a good way, having engaged in a discussion that, to me, was a step in the right direction toward intercultural and interfaith dialogue.
Oh, and the mosque was georgous, too.
Alright, folks. That’s all I’ve got for now–thanks for sticking with me so far. Like I said, I’ll spend the rest of this week here in KL, and then it’s off to a new location to learn a bit more before I get started. If you want to keep up with more of my everyday doings, feel free to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, as I tend to keep those outlets a bit more updated (but also sign up to follow the blog with WordPress or email if you want, too!). As soon as anything new or exciting happens, I’ll be back with another post.
Until next time,