Anything but Boredom
It’s about that time again. Though the updates may be getting slower the number of events and tasks on my calendar seem to be staying at a delirious constant. When I think I am going to have are really easy week I am almost always very wrong. Though one of my greatest fears for this year was the onset of mind-numbing boredom or loneliness, I have experienced neither. I do have time to do some reading and writing which I really enjoy, and I have on occasion been able to take a pretty good nap, greatly aided by the heat, of course. But now that football season has wound down I’ve continued to have some pretty exciting routines on my hands.
To say that anything is routine in Malaysia is kind of a caustic comment. Most of the events that I am involved in come at a pretty surprising notice. Like when National holidays just appear on the calendar just a couple days before hand: same with district wide school competitions, exams, weekend school days and even elections. I guess they figure that life keeps being more exciting that way; which it is. And though it can be rather exhausting at times it is nice to see a people that kind of pick up and move, change and adjust at a drop of a hat and with very little complaining. Culturally, it is a bit of a stretch for me to do the same, but I’d have to say I am finding my stride too. Nevertheless, the pattern of life that I have found myself in is really very enjoyable for me. And again, I don’t really have any real reasons to complain about anything.
The routine as it seems is one that is constantly morphing, and though I have done a lot of things over this past month; each weekend holding some kind of strange new nuance, I will just give you some major highlights.
1. 1. As I mentioned earlier and as I last wrote, the football season came to a close and my twelve strait hour days came to an end. My “under 15” team won the district and helped represent the state at the national level. I was extremely proud and it was one of my favorite moments of the year so far. My “under 18” team did not fare as well, though they certainly gave a gargantuan effort: they lost in the quarter final. I was disappointed I couldn’t help the school get back-to-back championships, but they will have a great team next year.
2. 2. I have had a number of really great camp opportunities to plug into a lot of different communities and schools. In fact in the month of April I went to a different type of English camp in a different small town in Malaysia every weekend. This has probably contributed the most to my exhaustion as it is not really easy to get from one small town to the next. And though these camps are not my own with the students that I work with regularly, it has been really fun to interact with all different kinds of students from all around the country. Most of these camps have been day camps just consisting of about eight hours of constant contact, games, and of course, English, but a couple of the camps that I have been a part of have been overnight camps.
One just consisted of my students and was not an actual English camp though I tried my hardest to make it an important component. It technically was a Uniform camp. In Malaysia, the National Ministry of Education has made it compulsory for students to join a uniform club every Wednesday after school for Co-Curricular time. These clubs are mainly civil service clubs where students learn about being a fire-fighter, police officer, Scout, or Military personnel. It is certainly a very interesting day on Wednesday to see all of the students dressed up in their respective uniforms for the whole day, but the students seem to really enjoy it. Anyways, the Uniform camp is the culmination of all of their learning and training over all of those Wednesdays and this is where they more or less compete in military style games to decide which troop was the best of the year. It was a really great event to see the students in a very observant and competitive light. We took them on some jungle walks and led them during some physical fitness games (which is always hilarious). It was a good time, and at the end of the weekend we had a very proud outright winner.
The other overnight camp that was organized was set up by the U.S. Embassy. It was dubbed the CLICK 3.0 Camp and it was based on Social Entrepreneurship; a very interesting concept to try to get across to students just learning English, but it was a very effective and rewarding camp. The general idea was that each ETA would lead their school students to develop an infant business that helped solve a social problem in Malaysia. The business ideas that surfaced were quite interesting and well thought out by student s. They were then to come up with an implementation and growth plan for their business. Sustainability was yet another tough idea to get across, but I suppose that the main purposes and ultimate conclusion of the camp was to show students that there are many social problems in Malaysia that can be thought of seriously and fixed, and of course, to improve communication in English. My students were challenged and really frustrated, but the developed a great idea to help raise cultural awareness about the local indigenous people that live around Maran. They are now in the act of implementing the plan. It’s going slow but pretty well in its aftermath.
3. 3. Yes, we are also still running at least three tutoring sessions a week for some local students. They young boys that we tutor are still the same, making menial progress behaviorally and still the worst boys on the earth; though they are cute in-between their brief breaks of running, fighting, breaking and urinating on things. One the brighter side, we are now tutoring two girls of the ages 7 and 9 and they are absolute angles: smart, obedient, and just really precious— making up for the other torturous hours with the boys.
4. 4. On a not as academic level, I have also been able to explore the country a little bit on a number of the holidays that we’ve had lately, including: Labor day, the Sultans birthday, and of course the 13th National election that just took place on the 5th. (more on that later) On such occasions I have made it my goal to see as much of the surrounding country as possible, and I think I have done pretty well so far. I have done some substantial hiking around my local area and exploring the landmarks. By the way, I really do live in a beautiful place. But not only have a traveled relatively close to my area but also to the surrounding states to see some of the more beautiful islands on the earth and do some world class snorkeling at places like Tioman and Perhentian. I’ve even had the chance to bathe with elephants and feed wild deer in the nearby village of Lancang.
And most recently, I have just returned from a trip to the State of Sembilan where we were chosen to present the Fulbright program and the National Convention on Teachers Day or “ Hari Guru” ( a very big event in Malaysia). Though I was not able to be with my students on that day, which is a real shame since it’s one of the most fun days of the year, though I was able to stay in a free hotel for 4 nights, rubbing elbows with some Education Officials, and was even able to shake hands with the Deputy Prime Minister. But just as I’ve done with any unexpected event (and this was unexpected; they notified us we had to make the trip across country just 20 hours before we left) I have tried to make the best of it and we spent the last Saturday exploring nearby Melaka where the city is ripe with history and brimming with fantastic food. To top it all off, when we arrived in Melaka it also happened to be “national museum day” where there is no charge for any historical site. God’s grace and good fortune seem to continue to follow me everywhere I go in this country, it’s almost comical, and I’m even starting to get worried because I can’t imagine it could last much longer before is comes crashing down. But I’m praying it persists.
5. 5. And last but not least, I have been coaching English Parliamentary style debate at my school for the last two months which has definitely been one of my favorite experiences at school. Parliamentary debate is a little bit different than anything I have done in the past since in high school the only type of debate I ever did more resembled a congressional hearing than anything else. But after doing a bit of research and with some much needed help from another English teacher, coaching the 6 girls on the team was really enjoyable. Getting students to be confident enough to speak in English is hard enough, but also making sure that my students comprehend some pretty deep questions like “Is science a threat to humanity?” was challenging. We spent a great deal of time going over concepts, rules, points and counter points.
Finally, after many days of consistent practice my team had their district wide competition just last Tuesday. I was confident that we would do very well and probably win, and I made sure that the girls felt the same way. After the competition began however, and despite a very strong start from the girls it became very clear that we were not the best team there—not even close. Though I think my students understood the concepts they we’re not really able to defend them. That’s primarily because I’m confident their first match up was against a team that I would have to think was one of the best in the country. I didn’t know Malaysian students could speak English that well until last Tuesday. My girls might as well have been debating an American school from a Chicago suburb. I was floored. The following unscripted sentence actually left the mouth of one of our opponents: “Just because students are hormonally irrational in their youth does not mean that they are void of the responsibility of choosing good friends.” I know because wrote it down in disbelief. Needless to say, soon thereafter; the wheels came off.
What followed was not pretty for my team, but I made sure that they knew how proud I was of them and how incredibly difficult it is to hold a debate in a foreign language, at the age of 17 against some team of cyborg children from God-knows-where. I know that I definitely could not do the same even today. All in all, it was a massive success in English language learning and confidence building, and after all was said and done, our school got third place—very respectable.
After all events, co-curriculars and class time, I have become very attached to my students by now. So much so that when I don’t see classes for the week, as I did nearly all of last week, I really do miss my students. It might be because they’re great at inflating my ego, but I think it’s much greater than that. They are so happy all the time—always wanting to learn, starved for any knowledge I can give them, so excitable, genuinely grateful (they make me little gifts and give them to me pretty often) and generally kind. Being at school is a blast every day, and even though it can be exhausting, my day-to-day schedules are anything but monotony.
“The experience of teaching them has been such that I can hardly tear myself away from it.” –Bonhoeffer