June 1st is the official halfway point of my grant. I’m struggling in my attempt to comprehend the magnitude of that statement. It sure doesn’t feel like 5 months have gone by. To be honest, I think that last month was instrumental in terms of comfortability and the removal of linguistic barriers. I wanted to write this post for June 1st but I will be out of the country on that day. We have a two week school break from May 29th until June 13th and my friends and I will be gallivanting around Cambodia and Vietnam. There will surely be a blog post to follow what should be an incredible trip. We have an itinerary full of historical temples, bustling markets, and a two day boat cruise to cap it all off.
When I say that the last month was instrumental, I am referring to the tremendous strides and progress that I saw, encouraged, facilitated, and experienced. It was almost like the flip of a light switch, a change so sudden it could be seen and felt from one day to the next. Something happened where I stopped being the foreign ‘import’ teacher, and simply became Mr. Matt. I couldn’t identify a single event or action that enabled this momentous transition, but the change has been tangible. The students are now more comfortable with me than ever before. There is less of a felt awkwardness when students can’t find the right words, or are speaking to each other in Malay in front of me. Students approach me in the hallways or in the teacher’s room with questions. I have received several invitations to play futsol (indoor soccer) after school with the students, something that I always take full advantage of. There is less formality in our exchanges, and our conversations now are peppered with jokes and laughs. Yes I am still using Malay sometimes, especially with the lower forms (grades), but it is slowly being phased out. I value confidence and relationships over raw knowledge.
In addition to this exciting advancement, the last month has been filled with various school events that are unlike anything in America. The first was Koperasi Day, which is a day sponsored by the school store which sells everything from school supplies to any sugar-loaded snack your body might crave at 10:15 in the morning. There were no classes this day, and the teachers organized a variety of activities for the students to partake in. There was a relay race that included blowing and popping a balloon, sifting through a plate of flour with your mouth in search of a candy, and filling up a bottle with water using sponges. The creativity of this relay was baffling. There was also a cooking competition which I was a judge for. My initial reaction was concern over the food preparation before I realized most of these students have been cooking at home with their mothers for years. The final, and most exhilarating event of the day was abseiling– my teachers actually taught me this English word– or repelling from the fourth story of our school to the ground. I hid my anxiety to the best of my ability, lowered myself over the edge, shouted “Saya berani!” (I am brave!) and plunged towards the bottom.
The other memorable event from this past month was my first official English Camp. I am allotted money from MACEE, the Fulbright organization in Malaysia, to host two English camps at my school over the course of my grant. I held my first one on May, 9th. The theme was originally going to be cooking, but that idea was quickly discarded after a preliminary budget was drafted. Instead I settled on an American Summer Camp theme. Unlike most schools, I negotiated with my fellow English teachers to have the kids sign up voluntarily for the camp. So instead of a mandatory, homogeneous camp filled with students of one particular form, mine was a melting pot of grades, ages, genders, and abilities. On that Saturday, over 50 students showed up to spend the day with Mr. Matt and the four other ETAs who assisted me. The four activities which the students engaged in were: home-made tie-dye t-shirts (lots of dashes there), monster bookmarks, English posters, and the infamous marshmallow challenge that I’m sure most of us have done as a team building exercise back in the states. The t-shirts were primarily for fun, although some English on the shirts was encouraged. The monster bookmarks were accompanied with a brief discussion on reading for pleasure. The marshmallow challenge emphasized working together and problem solving. Finally, the English posters were for the students to hang in their classrooms, where there is minimal English, and even less grammatically correct English. Overall it was a tremendous day. The students had a blast, they immersed themselves in the activities, and nobody needed emergency medical treatment. Already I am pestered with requests for another camp.
After I return from my travels in May/June, we will have our midyear gathering with all of the ETAs together again for the first time since January. There may have to be some re-introductions. Around this time the holy month of fasting known as Ramadan will commence. Although I am nervous about the availability of food in my small town during this month (during the day, that is), I am looking forward to experiencing first hand one of the most important events in the Islamic calendar.
My best wishes to everyone back home. I’m glad you all finally made it to summer, I was sweating it out (literally and figuratively) for a while. Enjoy!