To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t actually expecting anyone to send me questions in response to last month’s post. I know that people are busy with, you know, life and all, and I figured most of you would read the post, think about it for a moment or two, and then move on. Which would have been absolutely fine, because I get that and probably would have done something similar myself, assuming that others would send things in and that I didn’t have to.
But, much to my surprise and excitement, some of you actually did it. And because that makes me happier than I can say (it’s nice to know you’re not just writing to a void but to actual human beings that read and want to know more), I’ve taken some time to answer a few of the questions that were sent my way. I hope they fill in some of the gaps that might have been missing from my updates up to this point. Enjoy!
Tell me more about your school: How far is it from your home? Do you follow set lesson plans? How much English do your students know? How many classes do you teach, and what age are the students?
This is my school:
This is the view that I see every day as I walk from my car to the teachers’ room to start my day. From what I’ve seen of other schools in Malaysia, SMK Padang Tengku is pretty standard. The school is divided into several blocks with walkways and staircases connecting them. The entire set up is very open, with lots of windows and doors leading directly outside–almost like a motel, if that makes sense.
The way my schedule is set up, I only see each class of students one day out of the week. While I would love to see them more frequently, doing it this way means I get to teach anywhere from eleven to thirteen classes a week, averaging about three a day. Padang Tengku is a secondary school, which is basically a combination of the American middle and high schools; because I have the chance to teach so many classes, I’m fortunate to work with students from every form (which is what we say instead of “grade” or “level”). My students range in age from Form 1 (basically 7th grade) to Form 5 (11th grade)–and they’re awesome.
The English that my students know ranges from “practically none” to “able to hold a conversation about something more than the weather,” which has honestly been one of the biggest challenges of teaching here. I don’t follow set lesson plans necessarily (it depends on the class, really), and when I plan my classes it is sometimes difficult to differentiate for the various levels of English proficiency in the room. That being said, I’ve found that having such a wide range can be helpful in certain situations.
The other day, for example, I was trying to explain an activity to a class of Form 3 students, and I could tell from the looks on the faces staring back at me that very few of them had any idea what was going on. One boy in the back, however, nodded knowingly after every sentence, and when I asked if they all understood my directions (“Faham, class?”), he was the only one to reply with a confident, “Yes.”
Concerned by the silence from the rest of the class, I asked my new ally to stand up and explain to his friends, in Malay, what was going on, after which I repeated my instructions in English. In this case, I was happy A) to know that someone understood me and B) that someone was willing to translate for me, a skill that can be really helpful in the language acquisition process. Plus, it meant that we were all finally on the same page with the activity, which is always a good thing when you’re trying to teach a lesson!
I’m no ESL expert, and I certainly don’t pretend to know more than anyone else going through this experience, but I’m enjoying the process of learning more about teaching. It’s mostly trial and error for me, but I find that I’m much more confident of my own abilities after a few months of stumbling my way through it all.
Tell me more about your personal life: Do you live in an apartment? Do you have roommates? Do you eat out or cook more, and what kinds of things do you eat?
This is my house:
I live in the town of Kuala Lipis, which is about 3 hours north of Kuala Lumpur (and twenty minutes away from my school, to answer that one question I forgot earlier!). Lipis is a difficult place to categorize, in my opinion, as it’s not really a small town–we have a KFC, which qualifies us as kind of a big deal–but it’s certainly not a bustling suburb, either. It used to be the capital city of Pahang (my state), but things seem to have declined since the capital was moved a few decades ago. Someone here once described it as “sleepy,” and I think that adjective makes the most sense to me. There are a few places of interest to see, but the town is made up mostly of restaurants, small shops, places of worship, and a few schools.
We live in a pretty normal Malaysian neighborhood, in a small house attached to others in a long row (almost like a duplex?). There’s a playground, a field where the kiddos play football (soccer), and lots of cats wandering around. I like to go on walks sometimes as it starts to get dark, as many of the neighbors are out and about and I’ve found it’s a good way to at least say hi. We haven’t gotten particularly close to the people living around us, but the family next door does occasionally bring us yummy Indian food and water our plants when we’re on vacation, so I’d say we’ve taken some steps toward making friends.
I really like living here, as it’s a bit removed from the busy life I’d grown accustomed to–but not so far removed as to leave me feeling stranded in the middle of nowhere. I enjoy the balance, honestly, and I look forward to a few more months here.
And yes, I do have a roommate! His name is Dan (but he also answers to Mr. Daniel and/or Dan the Man), and he is awesome. He’s from Florida, with strong family ties to Nebraska, he loves coffee & country music, and…that’s probably all I’m going to say about him so he doesn’t feel weird if and when he reads this post.
When it comes to food here in Malaysia, I must admit that I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have the chance to try more dishes and types of cooking here than I ever do in the States; each day at the school canteen is a lesson in Malay cuisine, and I’m often encouraged to try at least a bite of most things by my teachers, who love to talk about food and are always willing to teach me about their favorite dishes. I’ve discovered that bean sprouts and pumpkin are maybe the best vegetables in existence, especially when they’re paired with rice (always rice) or mixed into a curry. There are also a few Chinese and Indian-style restaurants in town, a necessity when I feel the need to diversify my diet a bit.
On the other hand, I sometimes think it can be difficult to maintain as healthy of a diet here as I would like. Those of you who know me know that I’m not some sort of health food fiend–I enjoy a good greasy slice of pizza and a batch of french fries as much as your average Kyle–but in recent years, I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to be conscious of the foods that I eat, balancing the not-so-great with plenty of vegetables, good sources of protein, baked and steamed things as opposed to fried…and that balance can sometimes be difficult to maintain here. While most of the food here is incredibly tasty, it’s usually fried or cooked with heavy amounts of oil, and eating out can be a struggle. When I ask for “vegetable fried rice,” it usually has only a few green leaves in it and some peppers (see above photo). This isn’t inherently bad, but it has made for a change in diet that I wasn’t planning on.
Dan and I don’t cook all that often, which I think accounts for a lot of my struggles, but to be honest: I usually just don’t feel like cooking after a long day at school. Maybe these are normal #grownupproblems, but it’s definitely something I’m trying to work on. Cooking for myself seems to be the key to taking control of what I eat, and I’m looking forward to trying more of that in the months to come.
I’ve loved this chance to explore my own tastes more, as I don’t really make a habit of branching out much back home. I think this year’s food journey will definitely influence the kinds of foods I look to and enjoy when I return, and I can’t wait to share some of my newfound favorites with family and friends. Get ready, mom 🙂
Okay, I think I’ve done my best to answer all of the questions I received. Some of you requested more photos, so I’ve tried to include more here, but as always, check out my social media sites if you’re looking for more frequently-posted stuff about life here in Malaysia. I’ve now reached the halfway mark of my grant period (more on that craziness at a later point), and I’m looking forward to seeing what this second half of the journey brings. As always, leave me comments (or more questions!) if you’d like…or just read and enjoy and don’t feel pressure to validate me in any way. I’m a big boy, I can handle it.
Until next time,