Greetings from Kuala Terengganu, the capital city of the state of Terengganu on the eastern coast of Malaysia and my home for the next few days. I’m here with the ETAs from my state (which is Pahang, in case you’ve forgotten) and those placed in Terengganu for a state-level orientation led by the Malaysian Ministry of Education. While I’ve loved spending these last two weeks in KL getting acquainted with my cohort and my new country, I have to admit that I’m happy to be away from the chaotic and often overwhelming city of Kuala Lumpur. Our new hotel is a stone’s throw away from the ocean in a much smaller city (its population is 31,000 in comparison to KL’s 1.6 million) and our cohort has shrunk to a much more manageable size of about 30. Needless to say, this week has been dramatically different from what I’ve experienced thus far.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s do a quick rundown of my last few days in KL, shall we?
First, and perhaps most excitingly: I finally got the chance to work with students at a school, and it was incredible. As part of our training, we were asked to put together a Saturday “English Camp” with a small group of ETAs and about 100 students at a school in Kuala Lumpur. English camps are a large part of what we will be doing as teaching assistants in our placements; we are required to coordinate at least two camps at our own school, and we’re encouraged to travel to other schools to help out with camps that need more ETA assistance. The goal of camps is to make learning and speaking English fun outside of the classroom, using games and activities and themes that will make the students forget that they’re actually practicing valuable English skills. Thus, the opportunity to actually plan, prepare for, and execute a camp while still above the safety net of orientation was a great way to gain some valuable experience and have a whole lot of fun with some awesome Malaysian students.
My group put together an “All-American Field Day Camp,” complete with outdoor team builders (thank you, Orientation), charades competitions, and paper airplane contests (led by yours truly). The students at St. Mary’s, the all-girls school we were working with, were incredibly welcoming and very proficient in English; they made team chants and banners, both of which they displayed proudly throughout the day as they made their way from station to station. I had a blast running this camp, and while I think it was probably easier than any of the future camps I’ll end up planning at my school, it has me really excited to plan my own and get started at my placement.
When we weren’t busy planning for our camp, my cohort and I spent our last week in KL working on lesson planning, teaching strategies, and Bahasa Malaysia survival skills. Bahasa Malaysia is the name of the language spoken here, and while it’s vastly different from any other languages I’ve studied, I have to admit that I am loving the chance to learn what I can. We are encouraged not to use Bahasa with our students in school, but I definitely want to pick up bits and pieces as I go, probably with the help of my students and fellow teachers. Learning languages is one of my favorite things to do, especially in a new country; I’ll keep you all posted on how it’s going as I struggle through it over the next few months 🙂
Oh, and I also met a monkey at the Batu Caves. He was basically the greatest.
That brings me to Kuala Terengganu, the next stop on my journey. I’ve been in KT for three days now, learning more about my state, my placement, and the experiences I can expect as an ETA. On our first full day, we traveled to a local school here to visit with the principal and to meet some more Malaysian students.
I have never been more warmly welcomed to a place in my entire life. We got off the bus to a chorus of “Good morning”s and “Hello”s from a group of awaiting students and teachers; as we walked into the courtyard, we were greeted with gamelan music, a type of traditional music (initially developed in Indonesia, I believe) played by a small percussion ensemble. Teachers and students crowded around us to say hello, offering small gifts and warm smiles, and we were ushered in to begin a day of presentations, tours, and meet-and-greets with students. Again, this school is considered higher-performing and is therefore not a perfect representation of what I can expect at my school, which will be more rural and in greater need of help, but I think it was a wonderful welcome to Terengganu and an excellent example of Malaysian hospitality, which has far exceeded my expectations.
And now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop near downtown KT. I’m surrounded by a few of the close friends I’ve met in my short time here, all of us taking advantage of public wifi that actually works and coffee drinks that are more sugar and cream than anything else. We have only two more days here before we meet our mentor teachers and begin the journey out to our placements, and I can’t help but feeling a little nostalgic already. I have loved having time with others in my cohort, getting to know them as educators, world-travelers, and just all around good people. It will be an interesting experience to finally move out into Kuala Lipis and to get started at SMK Padang Tengku, away from many of these incredible souls and all of the knowledge and passion they’ve already shared with me. I only hope I can take all of these little lessons and bring them with me, using them in the classroom and at home as I learn to adjust to this new life that is unfolding (slowly and yet terrifyingly fast) before me. There is so much more to say, but I’ll end this post here, in this quiet moment before everything changes.