“Wait, I forget. You’re going to Mozambique? Mumbai? Oh no, it’s Montana!”
Close, friends. So close. I almost forgot where I was headed too after months and months of waiting. But thankfully, I have arrived safely in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where I will be living for the next 10 months. Well, not in Kuala Lumpur. I will actually be living on a completely separate chunk of land, but I’ll explain that in a bit.
For those who may not know, I’ll quickly explain why I moved (quite literally) to the other side of the world. Way back in September 2012, I started my senior year at Gettysburg College. Along came with it were the typical feelings of anxiety as I started to realize that I would soon be shuffled out of my college safety zone, where almost every human being that I needed to help fix my problems were a 3 second walk away (since I practically took up residence in the GIS lab). When I thought about my life after graduation, I couldn’t conjure up a clear picture of what I saw myself doing. Should I go to grad school? Should I get a job? Should I get a “real” job? Should I fail this year so I wouldn’t have to pick one of these options? No, let’s not do that last one. Instead, I took a step back and reflected on what I knew: I love to learn about and explore the environment, I love to travel, and I love (most of the time) to interact with kids. If only I could mash all three of these “loves” into one delicious adventure that would be rewarding for myself as well as have a positive impact on those around me…
Aaaaand MASH. I was quickly introduced to the Fulbright Program’s English Teaching Assistantship grant, and thanks to some wonderful people at my school, I am now in Malaysia fulfilling my grant. The Fulbright Program is an incredible organization packed to the max with people from all different backgrounds and adventure stories. It was started by Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 to avoid wars and foster mutual understanding and respect between people of different nations. There are several sectors to the Fulbright program, such as yours truly’s English Teaching Assistantship. Here’s how it works: the U.S. Department of State and the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange (MACEE) provide funds and work with the Institute of International Education to select candidates and organize the program. Although it is already a world-renowned program, the spotlight on the Malaysia ETA sector in particular has become more intense as it rapidly expands. Just two years ago, 50 ETA’s were awarded grants in Malaysia. My cohort has 100 (!!!) people, many of which I have yet to meet.
Now that we’re all up to speed, I can tell you about the fun stuff! For the next 2 weeks, I will be staying in Kuala Lumpur for the group’s orientation. Orientation is basically a never-ending string of speeches from members of the U.S. Embassy, police authorities, religious figures, our program coordinators, and even a local celebrity. It has been a massive amount of information in a very concentrated amount of time. One of the more helpful pieces of advice came from one of the coordinators, David Peterson, on our second day. A question was asked about eating meals with our hands, as this is a prevalent practice in many southeast Asian countries, especially Islamic ones. It is extremely offense to eat with one’s left hand, as this is the hand that is used to, er, “cleanse” oneself after using the bathroom (toilet paper is for nerds, anyhow). In order to do this, there is a hose located in the bathroom stall so you can really sanitize your stuff effectively, or maybe not so much. Anyhow, David was explaining how spraying yourself can get wet and messy, so “when in doubt, take your pants off”… I think I’ll splurge and bring my own TP to school.
Other than needing to undress myself to use the restroom, the prevailing theme I am taking away from it all is that no matter what advice we are given right now, everything depends on your placement within the country. When I say everything, I actually mean everything. Issues like how I will be perceived by my students and the community, if I have to wear skirts down to my feet and sleeves down to my wrist, or if I will be able to drink alcohol will all depend on my placement.
AND I FINALLY KNOW MY PLACEMENT. I’m not yelling, it’s just an incredibly exciting thing for me and probably every other ETA. Our placements were revealed to us only two days ago, approximately 9 months after we had found out we were even going to be ETA’s. That is a long time to have to stew over the aforementioned questions running through my mind. Thankfully, the wait is over. I will be teaching at a secondary school called Semerah Padi near the city of Kuching on the island of Borneo. I am ridiculously excited to live and teach in Borneo. This is the first year in the history of the Malaysia ETA program that people are being placed on the island. I, along with 19 other ETA’s in my cohort, are being given the opportunity to blaze a path for ETA’s in the future and make an enormous impression on the students in Borneo. My feelings of pride and gratefulness grow more everyday as our departure date draws near. I am already plotting ideas for lessons and co-curricular camps I could lead (most likely nature-related, of course).
For now, I don’t have too much else to say about Sarawak or what life will be like for me over the next 9 and a half months. I can say that since I have stepped off the plane into this beautiful country, I knew I made the right choice. I look forward to learning as much as I can about this diverse culture, and how this diversity translates into everyday life. My students don’t know it yet, but they’re going to have a rocking ETA.
Also the food is pandai – “brilliant” or “excellent” in Bahasa Melayu