School Daze


It’s been what, three weeks since my last post? I’m slacking. But cut me some slack. I’ve been a little busy.

I don’t even know where to start with this post. I have many strange and wonderful things I could write about here. Firstly, general updates: I left Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago (already?!/it’s only been two weeks?! time moves in odd ways here). I spent a week of regional orientation in Alor Setar with many other ETAs and our mentor teachers. I will be writing about mine, Yati, a lot over the next several months. She is an absolute gem. After orientation, I moved in to my new house in Sungai Petani, Kedah with my gal Veronica. She is also a gem.

My lifelines ❤

Also, I have officially been a part of the SMK Seri Badong “family” for one week now! The welcome I received on my first day of school was out-of-this-world. Students greeted me with a bouquet of flowers and a drum line as the acting principal guided me into the assembly hall. Speeches were made, mine a bumbling mess of “I’m so happy, y’all are amazing” (although the students were blown away by the two sentences I spoke in Bahasa Malaysia). Oh, also, this happened:

I can safely say I will never again be welcomed to a workplace with a banner of my face.

I haven’t gotten into a routine yet at school as far as which classes I’ll be teaching, and I don’t think I ever exactly will. Schedules here are much more lenient than in the US. I’ve led a few classes on my own, some of them with zero notice, and I’ve assisted other teachers with their lessons. Simon Says and hangman are lifesavers.

Main takeaway from my school experience is how kind and welcoming the students and staff are. Other teachers have made efforts to chat with me, even if speaking English for them is a struggle. I have stopped bringing food to school because I am constantly being offered snacks (I think my blood is 97% pure sugar at this point), and Yati makes me a veggie breakfast every day. She’s the real MVP.

The students are adorable. Every time I walk down the hall, there is a chorus of “Good morning, teacher!” and then when I reply they giggle and hide their faces. I’ve been solicited for many a selfie. I made a teacher Facebook and woke up one morning to the call to prayer from the neighborhood mosque and 334 friend requests. I’ve never experienced being in the spotlight like this. Many of the students are intimidated by me because of their level of English and this weird aura of celebrity-ness I’ve acquired here. Slowly but surely, I’ll break down this language/culture barrier.

Malaysian-moment story time! During class today, I convinced some students to show me the school’s ping-pong table after school so I could show off my skillz. After school, they open a door to reveal three dust-covered, disassembled ping-pong tables in various states of disrepair. Before I can say, “Oh, never mind, I can clean up in here and we can try again some other time,” several students are lugging table pieces out into the courtyard right in front of choir rehearsal (I’m so sorry…). Despite my protests, they’re crawling under the table missing two wheels and several screws and telling me, “Be careful, teacher!” Then the acting principal shows up.

He observes the chaos for a few moments, and then says, “go get the bricks.” Students return with blocks to place under the legs of the table, string and clamps for the net, and in less than 5 minutes we have a functional ping-pong table. Ingenuity at its finest. I’m floored.

Naturally, 2 minutes later the acting principal emerges from the storage room with a better ping-pong table that doesn’t require blocks. I played (and won) some close matches and enjoyed the surprised “wows!” every time I scored a point. Mostly though, I enjoyed connecting with the students in a way where language wasn’t necessary. It gave the guys I played a chance to relax and have fun without the pressure of speaking English, yet they still gained exposure as I kept score and complimented their shots.

School has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Yes, programming/lesson-planning might be an uphill battle in the future, but I am so thankful for the kindness and patience I’ve been shown.

And school is only one part of my experience! To avoid a gratuitously long blog entry, I’ll write about these in detail later. But my 11 days in Sungai Petani have also included: a trip to visit Yati’s family, one AC-less Zumba class, two foot massages, one drive down the wrong way on a one-way street, two Thaipusam celebrations (this one deserves its own post), two mushrooms growing in our kitchen, copious sweating, two family Scrabble nights with Mike and Nate, several phone calls to the US and new friends in Malaysia, one Pepsi shared with our neighbor, one lunar eclipse shared with our other neighbors, one visit from friends Niki and Erika, one Domino’s delivery, one flying roti canai show, and omnipresent rice. All is well.

Thanks for reading. Jumpa lagi!




4 thoughts on “School Daze”

  1. Roti chanai is just the BEST, isn’t it? Your description of your house could have been our house there in 1991-2… many row houses everywhere. We are so glad you are enjoying Malaysia as we did! We thought you would, once we knew you like chili peppers. Rex and Karen


    1. I’m definitely going to miss roti canai when I return home! I think about you all often and how much I appreciated hearing your stories. It’s been fun to relate those to my own experiences. I managed to see Thaipusam and lion dances too!


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