I am delighted to introduce you to some of the many wonderful students at SMK Bukit Diman!
1) Meet the ‘Form 5 Fearsome Foursome’. I gave them this nickname about halfway through the year and it could not be more applicable. These four girls, gifted with the best English in the school, are inseparable. They each have a distinct personality that, when added to the group dynamic, makes for entertaining conversation. I try to spend time with them every day during their lunch break, informally chatting. From left to right we have: Anis, Nabila, Shahidah, and Tasha. Anis is a sweetheart who is one of the few students that seems genuinely excited to speak to me in English. She is also the only person at school besides myself to have eyes that are not black in color. Students always ask us if we have ‘original eyes’, inquiring if we wear colored lenses or tamper with our eye color in some way. Nabila is a quiet, shy student who is also a talented gamelan player (traditional instrument I have posted about). The other three girls tell me that she is very different outside of school where she has acquired the nickname ‘gangster Nabila’. I have been persistent in obtaining more information about that but to no avail. Shahidah is also shy but with a quiet confidence that is growing daily. Last, but certainly not least, we have Tasha; a hilarious and sassy 17 year old. She takes every opportunity to joke and tease me, which is refreshing amongst the one hundred ‘Sir you are handsome today’ comments I receive daily. My favorite instance of this is when I was telling them that my family would be visiting, and that I wanted them to have an opportunity to speak to my younger sister, Caroline. Tasha didn’t miss a beat, looked directly at me, and responded, “I’m going to bully your sister.”
2) Meet Hafizie. Another form 5 student, he was one of my first student friends at SMK Bukit Diman. He may not have flawless English, but he approaches and speaks with me every day. He also acts, to the best of his ability, as a translator for the other 50 form 5 boys who either cannot or will not speak with me. Fizie loves to ask me every morning if I have taken my breakfast when I arrive at school. He knows very well that I have eaten my daily PB&J that comprises a healthy breakfast in Malaysia. Anticipating my answer, a smile grows across his face. “Sir, every day? You know you are so boring.” It never fails to make me laugh. He also has expressed interest in my collection of bowties and we have set a date to have a few students try them for the day. Photos coming soon…
3) Meet Mira. She is the last of the form 5 students that you will be meeting, and also my first female student friend at school. I meet Mira during one of the first weeks of school while helping out with the girls’ handball team. From her photo Mira may appear innocent and quiet, but don’t let looks deceive you. She has a boisterous personality and is always laughing and shouting to her friends across the courtyard or canteen. When I first met Mira and attempted to forge a conversation with her during handball she was hesitant. I distinctly remember her running up and down the field shouting emphatically, “My English is broken!” We’ve come a long way since then.
4) Meet Zulhimin. He is a form 4 student from the middle level class and an absolute football fanatic. He is also a rowdy, borderline con man that will do anything to prevent him from having to complete his work. He was never shy in speaking to me, and immediately upon meeting me wanted to know my feelings on the Messi/Ronaldo debate, German national team, and football in America. His favorite question to ask me is, “Is best or not?” An example of this would be when I talk about my travels to other countries, I try to explain to the class about the different foods, religions, and historic sites throughout Southeast Asia. I can see the wheels turning in Zulhimin’s head and he’ll look at me quizzically and ask something like, “Sir, women in Thailand, is best or not?” He also refuses to believe that I am in fact a single man. He always tries to trap me into telling him that I have a girlfriend.
“Sir, where are you going?”
“To take my dinner, Zulhimin.”
“Oh, with your girlfriend. I see.”
5) Meet Ilya Fasya or, as she is known to everyone at school, B. She is the Queen Bee (ironically enough) of a group of form 4 girls that I am close with. They are the closest thing I’ve seen to a clique in Malaysia. B has a very serious resting face and for the first few weeks of school I was worried that I had already made an enemy. I would constantly ask her if she was OK. Once I discovered that it was in fact not caused by my presence, I began to joke with her. I will be teaching a lesson and in the middle of introducing new vocabulary words I will pause, look in her direction, and say “B, please smile.” She gets a kick out of it. She also has a massive presence on social media. A look at her profile on Facebook would show over 5,000 friends and a constant barrage of selfies with hundreds of likes. Whenever I send her a photo that we’ve taken I joke, “B, this one will get 200 likes because I am in it.”
6) Meet Sofea, a form 3 student and rising star at SMK Bukit Diman. In the third year of secondary school all students take a massive country-wide exam known as the PT3. If you score high enough on the exam you can be removed from your school and placed in an elite one with more funding, better teachers, and students with similar abilities. I think Sofea may be one of those students. When my family visited their classroom in August everyone else immediately channeled their inner turtles and pulled their heads back into their shell at my request to ask some questions. Sofea asked three of her own before I was able to pry one out from another student. Before preparing for the exam became the entirety of their existence, I used to teach her class several times a week and it was my favorite group, as well as the group showing the most progress. I remember one day I walked into school, approached Sofea, and asked if she had heard the news about her favorite band, One Direction. She said she hadn’t and I proceeded to tell her that Zayn Malik had left the band. I honestly thought she was going to cry and I felt horrible. I apologized profusely for being the bearer of bad news and in between sniffles she assured me, “It’s OK, Sir. I must know. Now I only have Harry (Styles).”
7) Meet Habibah, a sweet, genuine form 2 student whom we call Bibah for short. She has a bright smile that will always improve my mood after a difficult class. She is one of the many girls that giggle at absolutely everything I say, but one of the few that I think actually comprehends what is said. She has limited use of her right hand but I have never seen her asking for help or sitting out of activities. She is inspiring and whenever I see her in the halls, no matter the distance between us, I sing out, “B-B-B-B-Bibahhhhhhhhh.” She is one of the students that I will miss the most.
8) Meet Syafizan, a small form 2 boy with a voice that hasn’t dropped yet who is well on his way to being a Malaysian heartbreaker. He is very popular throughout form 2 and has many friends in all of the classes. I think because of his non-threatening height he is also very friendly with all of the girls, something not commonly seen in a Malaysian classroom environment. And by friendly, I’m sure our American brains immediately assume flirtatious, but what I mean is genuinely amicable. He works in the koperasi (school store) and is always ready to provide me with my daily water during the lunch break. When it is not super busy at the koperasi, and he has a moment to speak with me, he loves to ask if I am drinking plain water because I am on a diet. When I took a few students to the waterfall near to our town for the day, Syafizan was in charge of starting the fire so we could grill our lunch. I will never forget him squatting over a collection of sticks and leaves, lighting a plastic plate on fire hoping that a melted fragment would ignite the rest. They don’t offer boy scouts in Malaysia.
9) Meet Haikal, another form 2 boy who, is hands down cutest kid in school, is not an inch over 3 and a half feet tall, and doesn’t speak a word of English. He was the student mentioned in one of my first posts who would literally run away at the sight of me. Now we have a great friendship and he is one of the rare exceptions of students to whom I speak only Malay. His English may be limited, but Haikal has a huge heart. If I can get him to understand in Malay that I need his help, I know that I can always count on him. A hilarious side note is that because his English is so poor Haikal is also one of the biggest cheaters in my form 2B class. I always give a big spiel to the students about “original ideas” and ‘Jangan tiru kawan awak’ (don’t copy your friend) and then I can’t help but laugh when I see him hunched over another students’ paper, desperately wanting to complete his work so he can show me.
10) Meet some other students from the 2B class, and my best friends at school. From left to right we have Fahmi, Arif, and Zul. It may seem surprising that I hang out with younger students the most, but the older students are constantly faced with the pressures of exams. These students were also some of the first to make plans with me outside of school. Once we played futsol (indoor soccer) a few times, and they saw that I would not only join, but sometimes ‘sponsor’ them for drinks after, the invitations started flooding in. We’ve been to the waterfall near our town, and this past weekend I took them on a big trip to our state capital (photo location) Kuala Terengganu where we went bowling and walked along the beach. Fahmi is the one with whom I make plans over social media. To confirm our plans he always asks me if I am serious. For example, “Sir 10am tomorrow pick us up. Serious?” He also keeps the other students in line when he feels they make an inappropriate joke in Malay around me. Any joke like that usually warrants a ‘bodoh’ (stupid) comment from Fahmi and he will ask me if he can punch them to which I always respond “Up to you!” Arif has one of the best laughs at school; a hearty, contagious laughter that seems to go on forever. One time playing futsol I was hit in the man area and I swear Arif laughed for 10 minutes straight at my condition. Lastly, we have Zul whose real name is Zulfadhli. At my first English camp I had the students make and tie-dye t-shirts. On the back of his, where a name would be on a jersey, he wrote ‘I AM ZUL’. Since then that is all I refer to him as.
11) Meet Syahid, an enthusiastic and bright form 1 student. He has superb English for a student his age and always helps his classmates after he breezes through my English worksheets. When I started a video club at school to teach students about creating videos he instantly volunteered for the position of director, even being the youngest student in the club. He also can be a sneaky troublemaker when he feels like it. It will come out suddenly and when you least expect it. One day, when we had finished our lesson I was just hanging out with his classmates chatting. He approached my desk and asked me if I was interested in purchasing a pencil case. I told him I already had one but I was so intrigued by his salesmanship that I asked him to show me his products. He then produced every girl students’ pencil case that he had stolen throughout the duration of class, much to the chagrin of the girls. He let out a shriek of delight and bolted from the room before any of them could lay a good smack on him.
12) Meet Fatin, another talented form 1 student with a bright future ahead of her. She is the spokesperson for a group of form 1 girls that like to sing English songs with me after school occasionally. They also love to take photos so we have some entertaining afternoons together. At the beginning of the year I presented the students with a survey that contained questions about their feelings toward English. Most of the responses were things like ‘English is difficult. English confuse I’ or something along those lines. Fatin wrote confidently on hers, “I enjoy English and it is very easy for me.” Amidst all of the immature, publicity seeking acts that constitute the life of Justin Beiber, little does he know his lyrics are helping teenage girls learn English across the globe.
Bonus: Meet Daniah. She is not a student, but rather the 1 year old daughter of the lady who runs the canteen at my school. Her adorable, smiling face is always waiting to greet me when I come to eat lunch.
I know this is a lengthy post, but I hope you enjoyed meeting and learning a bit about some of my favorite students. It was an absolute joy writing this blog, and I was able to recount some of the best memories from my time at SMK Bukit Diman. The students featured above are some of the ones that will make leaving, in only 9 days time, so difficult.