Two days left. Two days left to hug every student, wave goodbye to every neighborhood cat, and pack up my life at my school. There is so much I will miss, even though I am feeling more and more ready to go home every day (see you all very soon). Most of all, I’ll miss the people.
As my grant year comes to an end, I have never been more thankful to have found a family in my community. From the start of the year, teachers would pull me aside and help me adjust my baju kurung, students would bring me snacks at recess, and everyone would try to get me to taste as much food as possible. The women, especially, of the bilik guru, have tried out every makeup shade on my face, left kuih on my table, hugged me during the hard times, and helped me to navigate my school setting. My mentor and my roommate’s mentor have each come to my rescue when I needed them and had no one else to turn to. My mentor has given me
At the start of the year, I found the practice of exchanging small gifts to be a little unnecessary. It seemed like everyone had to give everyone else a present at some point in time. I struggled to see the value. But throughout this year, I have been a receiver and a giver of many small gifts. And it’s lovely to be surprised with small symbols of appreciation, and even more fun to give them to others. Both have made many difficult days better, and now I recognize that the value is the smile that always appears on the reeceiver’s face.
When I cried after my sendoff assembly at school (filled of surprise karaoke, lots of gifts, and speeches that also made me cry), a group of girls grabbed my hand, pulled me away from the bilik guru and out to the lakeside and into the sunshine, singing songs, braiding my hair, and trying to put a smile back on my face. Small arms encircled my waist and hands grabbed mine as my students showered me with patience and compassion. While I was close with some of these students, some had barely spoken to me. But to them, it didn’t matter. They just wanted to help.
And on the really hard days, when all I want is to be at home in the U.S., other ETAs have gone to incredible lengths to lift me up and to support me. No one else quite understands this experience, and therefore, no one else can quite understand the best ways to get me back on my feet again.
It’s hard to process this goodbye, but my school will always have a piece of my heart. My students have promised video calls and Instagram messages. I wish that there was more time to give hugs, more time to write notes, and more time to simply be.
This year has challenged me in ways that I never knew I could be challenged. But what I hope to bring home is the love that my school has given me unconditionally. I am lucky that teachers let me join their clubs, that students let me tag along to birthday parties, and that the men and women on the English Panel made me one of their own. I am lucky that there are always people who are looking out for me, whether it’s the teacher who sat beside me while an IV was my arm at ungodly hours of the night or students who held my hands and wiped my tears when I cry.
Looking back, I’ve realized that I want more time with and to give more of this kind of love to the people I care about back home, too. At the end of the day, this has to be what matters. And I now have a very large, loving family on the other side of the world. At the end of the day, it’s these people who make life so much brighter, so much more fulfilling. If this kind of love is possible, why would you give anything else?
Tell the people you love that you love them. And in the style of Malaysia — try surprising them with a small gift. It might mean more than you think.