Friday, August 12, 2011

First Mont in Review: A Short Reflection

First, let's have some pictures!

The Orientation in DC, the Everybody Picture!
In front of the USA Malaysian Embassy in DC!

At the Gateway Orientation with the YES Malaysia Group!

A Sculpture in DC (A Little out of Order to Screw You Up)

At the Hong Kong Airport Museam!

The First Welcome to Malaysia in the KL Airport!

Oooooo, Currency! (It looks like Monopoly Money)

Whew, more later, I promise.

Now for the Actual Reflection part;

When the first month anniversary of any major event rolls around, it's only natural to respond with a celebration in your heart and in your head. I began today leisurely, waking up around 6.00 because I wasn't fasting today (it's very considerate of Islam to allow breaks in religious obligation for women who are menstruating, pregnant or breastfeeding). This was the 8 hours I've been craving, and that set me up for a successful day. I spent some classes in the library, where I finished a large part of the organization of my Malay terms and I remembered that today marks my first month in Malaysia. I came home to hurry up and get ready for my first University English Class. I was teaching Conversational English to the employees at my host mother's office, which went fabulously. After the lesson, I worked on the next week's lesson plan for my Tuesday English, Thursday French, and Friday English language classes I'm teaching. I'm starting to get the hang of teaching this, overcoming a few challenges along the way. Namely the language barrier.

But that's what the whole program is about, isn't it? My host father favors the phrase "learning process", whereas I like to think of it as a progressive movement to a deeper understanding of the world around the individual, forging bonds and making positive impressions; less a process to be followed, more a journey to be discovered. Let's see where this journey has taken me so far in this full month, shall we?

Firstly, the gateway orientation preparing our little Malaysia group with some last-minute bits was a blast; so well organized and facilitated and so informative while catering to our emotional needs as well. We were all nervous to some extent, and the community we shared helped us bond. I love my YES Abroad Malaysia sisters! Our commute to Hong Kong was incredibly awkward. "Classy" is not a word I would use to describe us. We arrived in Asia worn out and happily exhausted. Arriving in KL, we got through customs after a long line and much more awkwardness. We were oriented, again, at a hotel in KL where we met our host families on the fifteenth. Then I slept for five days.. I am eternally grateful to my host family for letting me get acquainted with the time difference (12 hours) and being as patient as could be for me and my one-loop emotional roller coaster. I began school soon after arrival; the next Wednesday held much confusion and many introductions and that Friday held my first major culture shock in the form of a presentation on sexual education. After you see the worst-case scenarios of a society, it's hard to get out of that slump. Fortunately, then came the weddings- they filled the Weekend! There were a lot of questions asked on my part that first week, and with every question I have, more questions emerge until it becomes an exponential growth of things I feel I need o know. Again, a great thanks to my entire host family (nuclear and extended) for their patient, pleasant explanations and counseling. All this before Ramadan, mind you!

As you may know, Ramadan is the fasting month, generally taking up the month of August, but it varies because Islam runs on a lunar calendar. I've been fasting with some success and some challenges, but as my natural father mentioned, I really wouldn't enjoy myself unless there were things there to challenge me. Being here has opened my mind to so much of the Muslim culture already, and in studying and researching and listening I've been able to wrap my head around the immediate situations that have sculpted the main culture in this multi-cultured country. The post-arrival orientation was held to reinforce these explanations, and to reiterate the goals and values of AFS. This country and it's inhabitants have welcomed me with open arms that have only just begun to embrace me. There was an awkward tension before the trust was there, but now I feel more accepted than at first, because now some of the novelty has worn off. Now they can get to know the person that I am instead of the person they assume I am. I've had to change and mask that person to keep myself safe and maintain a pleasent demeanor and my personal sanity, but I'm sure it will be worth it in the end; mostly because I know I won't lose the genuine things about me in this adventure.

The strange things I have retained get me funny, questioning looks though. Habits like wearing socks inside the house and keeping my backpack with me at all times in school are habits that die slowly. I've needed the security provided b the friendship bracelets I've made and the Ukulele I've been playing, and blogging has really helped me reflect on the story so far.Also, people here don't make postcards, even though their newspaper is just FULL of amusing photographs. If you want one, email me your address and I'll get one to you. It's putting up with these benign things I do that reassures me of my host family's support of AFS and my personal experience. My gratitude extends to my natural family for their positive, sensitive advice and loving support that make the separation easier for all of us. With those safety nets, I'm protected from a long hard fall to the ground, but it's the security blankets of the friends that I've got that keep the net from digging into my skin. Also, I've got to give credit to YES Abroad and all it's magnificent haphazard organization and AFS and all its crazy mafia hierarchy and AFS Malaysia's incredible serendipity.

In conclusion, I'm exhausted and happy and I miss having people say 'Bless You' when I sneeze, but now that I've got a pattern, I was work up from there. I'm an American in Malaysia, and I love you all dearly.


  1. Good to read your posts and see how you're adapting to the culture. I'll take a funny newspaper pic/replacement postcard anytime.
    p.s. When you're not fasting, how are you liking the food?

  2. Thanks! I'll send out the postcards when I can get a ride to the post office which is kind of far away. The food is really really different and t's tough to get used to. Frankly, it's incredibly unhealthy, everything oily and sweet and spiced and stuffed with MSG. But some of it is really delicious like Sate, which is a skewered meat dipped in peanut sauce. Mmmmmmm :)