I'm writing a lot of them, about now, and I feel like l should double-dip, these topics mean a lot to me.
Personal Community Service Report
It's strange to me to see the difference between the volunteer work I performed in the US and the community service I did in Malaysia. What I have to offer as a volunteer and the connections I can find to organizations in need of a strong back of an open heart seem to be of more value in my home country, or so it seemed for the majority of my stay in my host country. Before departure, in one of our YES orientations, we were briefed on the importance of community service in our host communities and given suggestions as to how we might get involved. However, the timing of our arrival in Malaysia (halfway through the school year, right before Ramadan) made it challenging for students such as myself to find someone to help.
Still, soon after my arrival at SMK Jalan Tiga, my first host school, I took the initiative to bother my counselor about volunteering opportunities. The scout group wasn't doing anything for the rest of the year, and the other community-oriented organizations were finished. With help from my host family, and counselor, I began teaching language classes after school to a few students at a time. I began with English to form three students, and the waiting list crowded enough that we had to split into two groups. I taught 5 classes, about two hours each, to both of the groups, and the classes included some reading out loud , some grammar, some vocabulary and far more class participation than the students were used to. I also briefly taught french (around 5 classes, one hour long) to any interested prefects, and one private class to a form five student who wanted to study abroad in a francophonic country. While I was with that family, I was also given the opportunity to teach spoken and office English to workers at UPM GSM because my host mother saw the need for improved communication with the foreign students attending the university. I taught around three classes twice (one for the men and one for the women) on Fridays, and although it was initially difficult to hear the students speaking, we made progress in speaking confidence, simple past and future tenses, and basic report writing. For all of these classes, I probably spend a half hour preparing for each hour of the class. This usually included a lesson plan and supplemental materials, as well as room for expansion on topics of interest and a quick discussion of current events to warm up the class atmosphere. I unfortunately had to stop after Ramadan as everyone went balik kampung, and by the time I could resume the classes I found myself no longer staying with that host family. I attempted to make the same school-based effort in my new school, but the communication between my counselor and I was far less direct and frequent, so I dropped the idea and remained inactive in the school community except for a performance or two.
It was refreshing to get really involved during those few days in Kuantan with the other American girls- an excursion detailed in our group report, and I certainly hope we helped those we volunteered with as much as they helped us, I only wish I had known about these opportunities earlier. In conclusion, I didn't get to volunteer nearly as much ad I wanted to, which is one of the only things I regret in this year because I truly enjoy the challenges and rewards of teaching and volunteering in that way.
Final Monthly Write Up
Almost all of the paperwork is finished, almost all of the clothes are packed, almost all of the goodbyes are said. All the remains is what I've been saving- papers like this one and my school transcript, clothes I'll be needing in Washington, and the farewells closest to my heart, This last month has been intense in a way that's kept me just busy enough to restrict my alone time. Refrain from misunderstanding me- I have had plenty of time to reflect on events and feelings; I have taken hours out of time otherwise spent with family and friends to write in my journal or on my blog. But it will never be enough, I always find a new bit of myself in each of these reflections. All of the write ups brought be closer to the time I spent here by separating me to the occupation of "narrator", each of the blog posts that kept my family informed and my friends entertained let me express the experiences in mediums that have become comfortable.
This month- these weeks- have been a series of realizations that there are an innumerable amount of "lasts" to be recognized. From the last drink at a local cafe, the last day of school, the last time I'll wash the sheets, it all seems so significant. I've heard if compared to the weeks before departure, but that's inaccurate in my case. Those weeks were spent in anticipation of a beginning, these weeks are spent in anticipation of an end. I spent hours recalling the "firsts" to combat the bittersweetness of the "lasts", but no comparison could be made and no consolation was found, there. I suppose it's only natural to squeeze every half hour out of the last five days, to spend the time with family making memories and with friends promising more, but it feels like someone else's life in a numb way. It's a comfortable numbness, though, one that will most likely shatter on the plane home. Moving through this period, I record everything and remember nothing except the feeling, which is why this write up is devoid of any dates.
To satisfy my favorite government clones, let ti be noted that I attended a chapter farewell event and volunteered in its preparation. I also met frequently with my volunteer at hipster coffee shops I wish I'd discovered months ago. Conversations were begun and cut short by impending curfews of the night and the year, and toasts were made with teh o ais limau and milo panas, and tears were shed- all these things seem far more important than what I was asked to write about. I fear these things won't be understood by this audience or friends and family and state department people, but I've realized that I'm really only writing for one person- eighty-year-old Margaret Desjarlais. Thank you for reading, though, it means more to me than I can express, here.
AFS Office/ Program Write-Up
In retrospect, a great deal was tolerated on our account thing year. Our families accepted a lot about our foreignness, as we accepted a lot about the foreignness of this place and ourselves in this context. Judgement and criticism was withheld, and we said a collective "never mind, lah", taking it all in stride. We called it a learning experience and got on with our lives. This made some students annoyingly tolerant; accepting of all but the directly harmful. Others were made cynical or sad like a beaten dog. Although we were prepared in orientations to deal with culture shocks, many of us trusted that our program's volunteers would provide a respite for communication problems and cultural differences, but in many cases that oasis was a mirage in a desert.
The error liess in expectations, as usual. If one national office cannot guarantee a liaison to a student of a chapter willing to work with students and host families, it should not be promised to students pre-departure. Although the inconsistent presence of these and other parts of the network of communication are culturally understandable, they are not internationally acceptable. Certainly, it is taken into account the nature of organizations in developing countries, but that problems are allowed to grow once they have been identified is disappointing. Fortunately, students such as myself are more than willing to work with volunteers to brainstorm and come up with a framework that might better suit the culture of the organization, its aims, and the individual participants in the program. The main complaints of the host parents and students to AFS Malaysia and the primary source of miscommunication and resulting problems lie in the chapter organization.
We recognize that the office has to beg volunteers to become chapter leaders through incentives and networking opportunities, and beggars can't be choosers, but stray dogs will reject meat that is too far gone in their foraging. We respect that Malaysian culture gives ultimate respect to the hierarchy and that chapter leaders are given a lofty position, but we request that screening and checkups be carried out to keep problems from getting out of hand as they did this year. It is a good plan to have host parents act through chapter organization, but communication between the parties needs to be maintained; host families need to be notified of AFS events in advance. As the chapters hold this power, they have the responsibility to use it wisely. Chapters are also entrusted with the responsibility of choosing host families in the beginning, and this should be taken far more seriously than what this students has observed. In this matter, it is a question of student safety (first) and organization reputation (second) to choose host families, but too often families and homes are not properly scouted out, perhaps to blame is the fear that a look too far into a hosting situation will reveal private problems and this will make the potential family uncomfortable and unwilling to host. At this point we need to recognize that hosting a student is uncomfortable sometimes, this is inescapable. Being hosted is often uncomfortable, we all learn from this, and these challenges need to be met to achieve the goals of AFS.
Through the grace of the universe, students this year were blessed with a volunteer in the office that has represented them accutately and with cultural sensitivity. I had the pleasure of being a student under her, and she acted as my liaison for the majority of the year, and many of my batch will swear that she is the diamond in the rough- the clarity in the enigma of AFS Malaysia. Her name is E Laine Chong, and with every meeting I have with her I become more impressed by her personal and professional dedication to this cause and these students. This does not make her popular at the office, but she somehow manages to function under tense environments with a few extra cups of coffee. She has overseen and assisted my individual and external growth from the beginning, making sure my situation is manageable and making positive out of the more challenging times, without making light of them. She is mature enough to earn the respect of all of the students, while maintaining a young, approachable face. She is able to listen to us, and admit her own challenges to help those she counsels. We carry a pipe dream, the students and I, that some day AFS Malaysia will be filled with Es, who seamlessly manage our progress and who we can keep in our hearts. I genuinely hope this ideal can be worked toward as a goal. In conclusion, a change in the organization of the program can seriously benefit all parties, although it may be awkward or uncomfortable at first, and a model should be taken in this case of a certain volunteer who has helped us solve our problems and reorient ourselves to the goals we came here to achieve.