LIFE: The First Month


Danael, an uncompromising thirteen-year-old

I’ll try my best to give a flowery introduction to my experiences thus far…

  1. Orientation:  We’ve been going into the MACEE (Fulbright’s commission in Malaysia) office from 8:30 – 5 since January 7th, making the ballroom our unofficial classroom.  Orientation is hard to describe; on the one hand, we have gained unique insight from past English Teaching Assistant’s (ETAs) on the other, much time was spent on inessential cultural immersion work.  Ill give a little insight into both.   Invaluable information came from helping run an English camp for KL youth, learning how to structure lesson plans, and intensive Bahasa Melayu language classes.  Other sessions seemed like preparation for aspects of ETA life that can only be learned through ad-hoc experiences (dare I call them…time-fillers) like preparing us to learn how to eat with our hands.  Granted, orienting 75 ETAs with varied travel and teaching backgrounds is a lofty challenge.  The State Department also holds some faint liability over us, so it is MACEE’s responsibility to prepare us for every excruciating detail of Malaysian life.
  2. Food/Nightlife:  The longer I’m here the more I understand why Malaysia is directly associated with malls and food.  I will speak to personal experiences since you can research the literal melting pot on Lonely Planet or Timeout.  Malaysia has three distinct cuisines, Chinese, Indian and Malay (a hybrid of the two former).  The ubiquitous Malay buffet is on every street corner: Nasi Goreng and Nasi Ayam, Roti Canai, kuey teow and loads of ambiguous sweet/spicy curries with chicken, fish and pork (depending on the stall’s Muslim status). There is not much of a difference between the buffets; some are cleaner, have fresher food, wider selection, etc.  What floors me more than the extensive offerings is the price; you’ll rarely spend more than 7 Ringgit (2.25 USD) for a meal.  Exploring KL and making Bukit Bintang (the area which we stayed for orientation) our “playground” was primarily how we spent our lunches and evenings.  One of my favorite nights during orientation was a few weeks ago when the ETAs and Bahasa Maleyu tutors celebrated the last class.  We started going out around Jalon Changat, an expatriate hub of bars and restaurants.  Around 4am a few of us maneuvered our way out of the crowded bars and stumbled upon an even more crowded area, the hawker food stalls on Jalon Alor, open all night.  At a Chinese restaurant at the end of the street we ordered frog, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, stingray and spicy fish balls, hardly skimming the surface of bizarre Malaysian food stuffs.
  3. The 75 ETAs:  Last year the program had 50 ETAs, this year 75 and next year MACEE is aiming for 100.  President Obama and Prime Minister Najib believe improving the level of English across Malaysia will directly contribute to the country’s goal of being a high-income economy by 2020 and apparently this ETA program is a product of their conversations.  What’s interesting is being thought of as a diplomatic pawn.  Yes, we are here to teach but we are also here to bolster an umbrella of relations between the two countries, giving way to a strange feeling of empowerment and disillusionment.  As I try to brush off my flowery blog writing aesthetic, let me sincerely say I think the world of the 75 ETAs.  Each seems to bounce off one another in a productive way; maybe because there is an atmosphere of independent confidence or the common obstacles we’re facing provide a pho-bond I’m fixated on.

I reached my placement in Jahor a few days ago, met my eccentric mentor Hamza and am planning out my lessons for the week as I write this.  I’ll take on the challenge of comparing Malaysian and U.S. politeness next post.


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