Selamat pagi, or good morning, from Malaysia! It’s 87 degrees and sunny here, a far cry from the cold New England temperatures I recently left. After a 15-hour plane ride from New York to Hong Kong, I took a 4-hour plane ride to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where I’ll be staying with my Fulbright cohort for the next couple of weeks for orientation. I’ll be placed at a school in one of nine states (state reveal is coming soon and it seems as though everyone holding their breath), where I’ll serve as a teaching assistant for the next 10 months, helping students build skills in English, running co-curriculars, and engaging with the community.
Here in KL, orientation is in full swing. Once we arrived at the hotel, our three coordinators took us to a nearby mall to get Malaysian SIM cards and dinner, and then we returned to the hotel and succumbed to the jet lag of the trip from America. The next day, the coordinators, or coords, introduced us to the program and ran icebreakers and workshops about how to act, how to dress, safety and security, and expectations for the program (“It depends on your placement” is the answer to most questions). At the end of the day, we explored KL and found an underground food market for dinner (I had blue rice, which, to my disappointment, tasted like normal white rice). After dinner, we walked for about 20 minutes to the Petronas Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world), where we watched a stunning light show. KL reminds me of a smaller, cleaner Times Square in New York City. The number of flashing billboards and signs means that it’s constantly light outside, even at night. And as someone who just came from New York, I’m struck by the cleanliness and lack of sound of the city. There’s traffic, yes, and many Malaysian drivers disregard traffic signals, but there’s no honking or yelling at other drivers. It’s strangely quiet.
Everything feels deliciously exciting — talking to new people, savoring flavors of food I’ve never tasted before, getting lost in the city every night, contorting my mouth to sound out Bahasa Melayu, and imagining the lessons I’ll teach. I keep returning to this quote:
"The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy — the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program ... is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope ..." - Sen. J. William Fulbright
Simply: I’m grateful.
I’ve gained: Friends, a few more words of Bahasa Melayu, a taste for guava juice and lotus seed bao, and a special appreciation for air conditioning and bottled water.
I’m working on: Walking on the other side of the road, adjusting to all of my U.S. news notifications coming through overnight, Bahasa Melayu, practicing NOT converting RM (ringgit) to USD, sending more photos back home, and embracing the constant sweating.
What I don’t know: My placement, whether I can wear pants for the next year … and so much more.
Thanks for taking a few moments to read. Here’s to a new adventure!
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