About Me

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Hello, Ciao,안녕하세요, Hallo, Hola, Selamat tengahari! My name is Rachael and I am a travel enthusiast. Ever since I can remember, my parents have taken my brother, sister and I on good ol' American road trips. It's safe to say that was where my interest in new places, people and experiences was ignited. As my parents always encouraged my siblings and I to explore and ask questions, I developed a sincere curiosity for new adventures. In addition to seeing much of the United States with my favorite travel companions (my family), I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Rome, Italy, as well as a semester in Seoul, South Korea during my college career. Now, I am honored to be taking part in a Fulbright ETA Scholarship to Malaysia for a year! My family's favorite motto is "Life is all about the journey, not the destination." I invite you to join along in my journey of cultural exchange and mutual understanding in Malaysia! After all, the more, the merrier.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The First Annual SMK PNZ English Magazine

The First Annual English Magazine Club and I posing for a group picture! 

        I have always enjoyed writing and I know it is a strong avenue for expressing ideas and thoughts. Before I embarked on my Fulbright stint, I knew I wanted to introduce a project to my students at my school that would engage the entire community. Thus, the SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah Magazine Club was established. The Club had thirteen enthusiastic members and our goal was to produce an English Magazine. It was a long and lengthy process that took a great deal of persistence. Creating a magazine is difficult enough, yet alone creating one that is a the club members' foreign language.

The flowchart we created during our first meeting.
We drafted our ideas.
I broke it into simple steps so as not to make it overwhelming or baffling for my students. During the first meeting, the students and I decided what themes we would feature in the magazine and throughout the rest of the school year, we met to edit work, organize the format and discuss logistics. Initially, the meetings were tough as students were shy to contribute ideas and speak in English. However, I knew that if these students were brave enough to even show up, they must have cared enough to try. So, every week from April to October we met, we chatted, we worked and we used creative energy to produce the school and community’s first English Magazine. As the months passed by, the students became more and more eager to contribute ideas and use English.

I took the students into their own community to challenge them to think of the stories within their own small, yet unique community. Together we interviewed tourists heading out to the famous Perhentian Islands and we spoke to restaurant owners, shop owners, teachers to develop stories about issues and establishments in Besut. We became a presence in the community and people were excited to share the stories about their lives, backgrounds and traditions. Students were surprised to discover that if they kept their eyes and hearts open there were many stories to be unveiled within one’s everyday life.

The English Magazine Club interviews my family
for an article in the magazine. Obviously, we had some
curious guest students attend as well.
Although the magazine was organized and developed by the club of thirteen students, the entire school became engaged through an art contest and literary contest we hosted. Over thirty students submitted work (in English), as well as artwork. To add, after several months, the teachers and administration became very interested in the project. Finally, in the classroom, I was better able to engage students by assigning them and helping them produce articles for the magazine. The students were hesitant at first but soon became eager to write their best in order for their articles to be featured in the first annual magazine.

The completed and printed magazine. The
 cover was completely designed and painted by a
student, as well as the body of the magazine.

By August, the English Magazine Club compiled, wrote and collected well over sixty articles, as well as artwork to be featured as the cover and title page. In addition, there were an array of photos and interviews to be included. After some long school days and a couple sleepless nights, the magazine was edited, finished and sent to print.

In October, the English Magazine Club and I presented the First Annual English Magazine to the school, as well as the community. Moreover, the magazine was presented to the U.S. Embassy, the Malaysian Ministry of Education as well as the Prime Minister’s Office. While turning the pages, students, teachers and community members were excited to see articles and pictures representing their country, their state, their community and their culture.

Similar to the “What Makes Malaysia Special” project (featured in my December 6th post), by allowing individuals to use English as a second language to express their own thoughts, ideas and backgrounds, it makes the language more personal. Through the magazine, I witnessed as my students came to understand the potential of English language as a tool. They discovered that English is
a powerful tool to connect their stories to the rest of the world.

The Chief Minister of Malaysia, the Director and members of the
Malaysian Ministry of Education and U.S. Embassy officials
at a dinner at U.S. Ambassador Jones home. On behalf of my school,
I presented copies of the magazine to them.
Although the magazine is not filtering around globally (yet), it went into the hands and offices of delegates, lawmakers, and expatriates around Malaysia. To add, the magazine was read by community members as well as foreigners. From their own little part of the world in Besut, they were able to share their own stories with many different places and people.

After all, Frank Smith once said, “Two languages open every door along the way.”

Enthusiastic English Magazine Club members before we unveiled the
magazine to the school and community.
Even more, the most powerful 
moment of the entire experience 
was witnessing students realize the importance of their own voice and opinions. They realized just how much they had to share with the world. That in itself, was already beginning to open up new doors that they never imagined.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A New Avenue

Helping students outline ideas for their essay.
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
“What makes Malaysia special?” I asked my 4 Science class in late June 2012.

As the students pondered the somewhat vague question, our special VIP sat in a small, wooden chair in the back of the classroom. Mr. Scott Rauland from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur came to visit our school and meet the teachers and students of SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah. The students were even more nervous than usual, due to this “stranger's” presence in class, but I watched thoughtfully as they reflected upon the seemingly weird question. After what felt like a lengthy minute or two of awkward silence,  students slowly and hesitantly started to respond.

A meeting with Mr. Scott Rauland, from the U.S. Embassy,
and the Terengganu State Education Department
officials before Mr. Rauland came to visit my class.
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
"Beautiful islands?" a girl hesitantly and softly exclaimed in the front row.

"Perfect," I replied as I wrote it on the board. 

After a few more students nervously and unconfidently responded, other students began to understand and enthusiastically started to participated.

“Many cultures!” shouted a young girl from the back.

Assisting students with the "final touches" for their
poster featuring "Why Sports Make Malaysia Special."
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
“Excellent!” I responded.
“Hari raya!” an energetic boy said.
“Food!” another stated.
“Baju kurungs!”

For 80 minutes on that hot, June day, with our special visitor, I facilitated a conversation about Malaysia, led by the students using English. As students shared their thoughts, I carefully drew a venn diagram on the board, in order for students to visually understand what I was getting at.

The biggest circle in the middle of the diagram said, “Malaysia,” and the circles branching off of the center said things such as “food,” “holidays,” “cultures” and so many more. Upon each circle, we continued to expand on each idea.

For instance, I posed the questions of “What kind of foods?” or “What different 
cultures are there in Malaysia?” 

Students soon became so interested in the conversation. Although the dialogue was in English, the students were eager to participate because the subject content related to each of their own identities. It was as though this foreign English language was becoming less and less foreign, as they discussed in regards to their own cultural context.

Helping students with captions for
their poster. (Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
Up to this point, I was having difficulty capturing the interest of students when it came to English. I tried games, jokes and several different avenues. However, with the exception of about five students, I could not generate participation. Furthermore, I could not eliminate the shy and nervous culture that is typical in an English classroom in Malaysia. To add, although this particular class was my strongest one, I felt that no matter what I tried, I continued to run into a brick wall. Therefore, I was initially quite nervous when I was informed that Mr. Rauland would be coming to visit and that he would be sitting in on my class to gain a better idea about what role a Fulbright ETA plays in the classroom.

Students from Class 4 Science presenting
 "What Makes Malaysia Special."
The week before his visit, I frantically read through ESL books, searched through Google and reached out to fellow ETAs to get ideas for a lesson plan that could be partially successful. After searching, thinking and devising a plan, I could not find anything that I felt would be a hit to my students. Therefore, I reflected back to the times I  felt most at ease speaking beautiful Italian as a second language. What I remembered was that I enjoyed speaking Italian the most when I was talking about my own background and family. Consequently, the idea occurred to me that my students in some way could “educate” me, their teacher, as well as Mr. Rauland about their own background.

Two students from Class 4A1 presenting "Why Fruits
Make Malaysia Special."
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)

Hence, the “What Makes Malaysia Special” project ensued, and it was just what my students needed, in order to use English and share their own story. By relating English to their own culture, it made the foreign language come alive for them.

Poster by a student group who presented "Why Weather
Makes Malaysia Special.

Students working on their posters!

The conversation in class with Mr. Scott Rauland on that hot, June afternoon was only the beginning of a six-week long project, and two   other classes joined in on the project as well.

Throughout the end of June and during July, the students worked in groups to represent the topic of Malaysia that they felt was most special. First, the groups wrote English essays, beginning with an outline and rough draft and ultimately creating a final, well done essay. Second, students created a poster board filled with pictures representing their topic. Finally, students developed presentations that they presented in early August when our next VIP, my dear friend Frannie, came to visit. Moreover, all of the posters were showcased on a "What Makes Malaysia Special" board that I created for the school. During the remainder of the year, teachers and fellow students enjoyed the colorful board and were impressed how students used English to showcase
and share their own country and culture.
Poster by a student group that presented "Why
Different Cultures Make Malaysia Special."

From start to finish, the project was a wonderful learning experience, not only for my students, but for myself. As my students utilized and developed their English ability, I learned more about Malaysia and my students' culture. Also, not to mention, I experienced the immense importance of relentlessly working towards finding new and different avenues for students, in order to make a subject come ALIVE.

With some creativity, reflection and effort, new avenues in the classroom can culminate a newfound energy and enthusiasm. My class’s new avenue led us on a memorable and fun, yet informative, six-week journey as a classroom that allowed us to dive deeper into
Malaysia while using English!

The "What Makes Malaysia Special" board showcased at the

VIP, my dear friend Frannie, with Class 4SC after they made their
4 Science students and I with our special VIP,
Frannie who came to visit me in August and
watched student presentations!

Boom Chicka Boom! : English Adventure Camp

My SMK PNZ students at English Adventure Camp!

One of our responsibilities as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant is to host camps for students, in order to encourage English speaking outside of the classroom. English Adventure Camp is perhaps one of my fondest memories from teaching this year.

From September 2-3, 2012, my roommate, Christina, and I hosted an English Adventure Camp for students from both of our schools. Because of the excitement and enthusiasm my students have acquired for the English language throughout this year, I had over 85 students apply. However, unfortunately, I only had 39 spots! 

On the morning of September 2nd, the students showed up ready for two-days of fun, games and English at Seri Keluang, a resort located down the road from my school on the South China Sea. The students were excited to be spending the night at a camp with their friends! Moreover, our students, as well as Christina and I, were excited to have fellow ETAs Miss Julie, Sir Jordan, Sir Nick and Sir Michael come and help facilitate our camp.

Christina and I decided to make the camp a competition between our schools. Therefore, each school was split into three teams. The teams from each respective school had to work together to earn points for their school. By having teams compete for their schools, it boosted school spirit and increased the competitive atmosphere. It was a blast!

My female campers from Forms 1, 2 and 4! 
The first day consisted of team-building and English stations. Teams went from station to station to compete against the other school for points. During the afternoon break, we started a football (soccer) game. Although I was the only female on the parking lot field, it was probably one of my favorite soccer games of all time. Plus, it was neat to show the boys that girls can play football too! For our evening activities, we taught the students bonfire songs (such as one called, “Boom Chicka Boom”), ate barbeque and then had an open mic night. Several of our students sang songs and played guitar. The students even got Christina and I to sing "What Makes you Beautiful" by One Direction! Finally, on the final day of camp students participated in an English obstacle course. The obstacle course involved physical endeavors, as well as English challenges. Students had to perform a physical challenge, such as frog hops, the crab or wheelbarrow followed by an English challenge, such as a word scramble or tongue twister! Best of all, SMK PNZ (my school) was the obstacle course winner! 

My Class 4A1 boys playing guitar and singing!

My male students holding up their "Human Bingo" sheets. Human Bingo
consisted of boxes with different information, such as "likes chicken" or
"likes Justin Bieber" or "has younger siblings." Students then had to socialize
and meet new students to find a fellow camper that met the criteria in the box. 
A "Human Bingo" sheet.

My school, SMK PNZ, did not end up winning the overall gold for the camp, but they had a great time and I was immensely proud of each of the participants. At the closing ceremony for the camp, I presented several students with individual awards recognizing students with enthusiasm, leadership, improvement and school spirit. The camp was an excellent way for my students to practice English, while having fun and meeting new people.

It is amazing how interested students become when educators make the subject at hand real and allow it to be a fun, hands-on experience. The participants returned to school with even more passion for English, which has made the energy in the classroom contagious.

Since the camp, everywhere I go, I hear my students singing the lyrics to bonfire songs, such as “I said a boom chicka boom!” 

Southtown Article #4: Pen Pal Power


Friday, October 5, 2012

Leader to Leader English Camp

Christina and I with some of my students at
Leader to Leader English Camp

During my term as student body president, the Student Services Commissioner, Laura Glaub SMC 12’, initiated a campus wide event called Love Your Body Week. Love Your Body Week focused on self-esteem, self-love and well being. Moreover, it strived to bring awareness to the community about issues affecting both adolescents and adults alike. All in all, the experience was incredibly empowering and successful. The campus tremendously enjoyed the fulfilling week of events. Laura’s idea did not stop there, as the event was hosted again this year for the Saint Mary’s campus, as well as The University of Notre Dame. In addition, the program earned national recognition. To learn more about Saint Mary’s College Love Your Body Week:

Similarly, since I was a young girl, I have been encouraged to take on leadership roles inside and outside of academic settings. Furthermore, I have always had a community to support me with new challenges and opportunities. Due to this positive atmosphere, whether in my little league soccer team, youth group, high school student council, college student government and now as a Fulbrighter, I have always felt inspired to take on leadership roles and test my limits.

My experiences have allowed me to recognize that leadership is nurtured and facilitated from a positive atmosphere, a support group and through generating self-esteem, self-love and well-being.  The opportunities I have had and the people who have impacted my life still hold and will always hold a special place in my heart.

As my blog title suggests, “Take it With You When You Go,” I brought these experiences here to Malaysia with me. These experiences motivated me to set a goal for my Fulbright experience, “host a girls’ leadership camp," in order to pass on what I have acquired, learned and experienced. Consequently, since the first day I arrived at my school, I knew I wanted to make a girls’ leadership camp a reality.

From September 5, 2012 to September 8, 2012, I hosted SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah’s First Annual Leader to Leader Camp in Penang, Malaysia for 34, 14 to 16 year old girls. In May, I started drafting proposals and planning, and with the suggestions of my mentors, we decided to host the camp in Penang. Penang is a historical, British city  located within an island in the northwest corner of Malaysia. 

Ready for the eight-hour bus ride to Penang sporting their camp t-shirt!
Despite the eight- hour bus ride from Besut for the students, the road trip across the country made it even more rewarding of an experience. Although Penang is in Malaysia, it is home to customs and culture that are quite different than Besut. Therefore, some of my students faced culture shock, which added tremendously to this leadership experience. For example, the strong Chinese presence in Penang means that people dress different than in predominantly Islamic Besut. In addition, are many dogs in Penang, while dogs are practically non-existant Besut for religious reasons. Finally, Penang is a busy city, which is quite different from the more rural, fishing community found in Besut.
The students on Penang Hill!

The two-day, three-night camp, consisted of many activities focusing on English and leadership. Each student was given a journal to fill out throughout the course of the camp. The journal consisted of reflective questions to challenge them to think deeply and independently while using English. What are the qualities of a good leader? Who is your hero? What are ten things you want to do in your life?

A student trying to think of what to write for the
"I Love Me" activity

Students working on their "I Love Me" project at the
Penang Botanical Gardens.
The questions were challenging for the young female students, but it was amazing to witness the power of thinking. As students thought deeply about questions, I realized many of them were never asked these questions before. Along with the journal, we played charades and other fun English games. Furthermore, we conducted a “I Love Me” session in which students had a friend trace their body on a big piece of white paper. Then, students had to draw arrows to perspective body parts and answer complementing questions. For example, on the right side of their head they had to write something they were
good at, and on the other side, they wrote something they wanted to be good at. For their mouth, they had to write down something they loved to eat.

For our wrap-up activity, every student got a little, rectangular sheet of paper. On the paper, every student wrote a word that represented what they loved about themselves. The word could not be anything to do with looks, rather something deeper. After every student decided on their word, we all formed an inclusive circle. Every student had to smile proudly and step forward. Each student had to say “Hello, my name is __________ and I love that I_____________.” For example, one girl from my 4A1 class said, "Hello, my name is Mimi and I love that I am so happy!"

Two students from Class 2A proudly showing what they love about themselves, patience and pride.
Students from Class 4A2 proudly showing what they love about themselves!
Of course, it is easier said than done. Surprisingly it is not easy to share with the world or even your friends, what you love about yourself. More often, it is easier to critique yourself. However, by being proud of themselves, they allowed their light to shine. What started off as being a somewhat awkward activity, had every student sincerely beaming by the end. After, each young woman traced their hand on a big, communal piece of paper to represent that they loved themselves and that they promised to support other young women as well as their friends.

Students tracing their hands on our camp poster! 
Sight seeing, activities and relaxation were a few of the many highlights of the SMK PNZ Leadership Camp. The students, as well as myself and fellow teachers, had a memorable time. Looking back, the camp did not consist of many words, as there were no lectures or speeches, and that is because it did not need to. Actions speak louder than words, after all. The camp merely opened up my female students to reflective thinking and goal setting. Most importantly, it demonstrated the importance of young women supporting and encouraging one another. Obviously, one weekend cannot produce self-esteem, self-love and well-being. However, I know this camp was a step in the right direction towards leadership and empowerment for these ambitious young women!

I look forward to seeing where these young women lead their lives. 

Students striking a pose for the camera and sporting their cards stating what they love about themselves!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Message From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Press Statement
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
August 29, 2012 

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the Malaysian people as you celebrate your fifty-fifth Independence Day this August 31.

The United States and Malaysia share strong bonds of family and friends. This year, our two countries are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps program in Malaysia, a program that has laid a foundation of friendship and goodwill between our peoples. We are proud of our new Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program that brings talented young Americans to help teach English in Malaysian schools. I look forward to working together to expand U.S.-Malaysia trade, investment and educational and cultural relations to bring greater prosperity to both our peoples.

As you celebrate this special day, know that the United States is a partner and friend. I wish all Malaysians around the world a Happy Merdeka Day. Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan.
This is a Press Statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that mentions the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program in Malaysia.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Power within a Pen

 At the age of ten, I received my first pen pal, Joy. Joy was from England and I was assigned to write to her for my fourth grade class project. Not only did this childhood project spark my interest in the world abroad, but every letter brought a little of the unknown world to me. Thirteen years later, I am still in touch with Joy, although I am somewhat disappointed to say it is through Facebook messages rather than beautiful, handwritten letters. In addition, I still have a little portfolio that is home to the letters and pictures I received from Joy so many years ago.

Remembering the interest fueled within me through my pen pal experience, I knew I wanted to give my Malay students the same opportunity. Moreover, I desired to bring it closer to home, by connecting them to students at Lincoln-Way West High School, where Hannah, my lovely sister, is currently a senior and my al mater school district. As if it could not get any closer to home, I decided to reach out to Mr. David Gallagher who was my Western Civilization teacher during my freshman year of high school at Lincoln-Way Central!

Since February, Mr. Gallagher’s freshmen Western Civilization class at West has partnered up with my 2A class at SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah in Besut. Initially, drafting and writing the first English letters to send to America was a daunting task that required hard work and patience from not only myself, but my 14 year old students as well. 

In fact, when I introduced the project during my third week of teaching, I spent at least thirty minutes of the eighty minutes class trying to explain the rationale of "pen pal." Then, we outlined together on the board about things they could say and talk about. We started with names and ages, and eventually, I taught them how to write questions to ask their pen pals. After three weeks of drafting and writing, the students finally finished their first letters. With big smiles, they posed with a West Warrior t-shirt for a picture and I sent the letters off to America! 

With the lengthy time that passes with each piece of snail mail, it was April when my students received letters back from America! The enthusiastic reactions from my students when they received letters back from their new American friends were incredible. It was as though they had just received the secret key to a whole new place. The energetic students at West wrote about their hobbies and families, as well as places in New Lenox such as the well-known Ranch Frosties and popular New Lenox Commons. 

“What is Ranch Frosties?” asked a student of mine after reading her letter, which definitely put a smile on my face. "Teacher Teacher, what is summer vacation?" "Cikgu, what is this word?" "Teacher, what is a pep rally?" "What is homecoming?" "What is a cornfield?""What is poms?" 

It was an incredibly powerful feeling to have my world brought to my students through fellow American students' eyes. 

Together, I first worked with students to help them understand their letters from America and then to draft responses. Once again, this was a lengthy process, as it took a whole 80 minute class to consult with each student and explain letters, and then two additional classes to write letters back! However, it was beyond worthwhile.

All in all, throughout these 8 months, with each new letter received and each new letter sent, I have not only witnessed a drastic peak in my students’ interest for English, but a newfound motivation for learning more about the world outside of what they currently know. This program has also provided me with the unique opportunity to dive into cultural-exchange and story telling with these 14 year old students. It has proven to be a remarkable outlet for my students to express their thoughts in English both in their writing, as well as for them to develop their ability to ask me for help and clarification. Overtime, the students have acquired more ease drafting and writing letters, as well as a stronger ability to draw meaning from the letters they receive back.

Throughout the entire school, Class 2A is now known as the "Pen Pal" class. Moreover, the administration at the school continues to mention that Class 2A can now write just as well as the 16 year old students in Form 4.  Honestly, I would have to agree. Not to mention, the Pen Pal Program has attracted attention and praise from the Terengganu State Education Department, as well as by Representative Scott Rauland from the U.S. Embassy, Malaysia.

Mutually, the students in Malaysia and America have enjoyed the experience. As my students bring Malaysia to Lincoln-Way West students, the West Warriors bring America back to them. More than anything, it has been a blast and such a special opportunity for me to connect with my Malay students while reaching out to my roots back home in New Lenox, Illinois. Sincere gratitude goes out to Mr. Gallager and his students, as well as the Warrior Community! Thank you for supporting a fellow Lincoln-way graduate's Fulbright initiative and for making this cultural exchange project possible.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Article #3 - A Life without Seasons

Here is an article that was featured on July 11, 2012 in the Southtown Star!


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ramadhan is Upon Us

Ever since my arrival in Besut, Malaysia in January, the Malay people in my community have enthusiastically told me about the highly anticipated Ramadhan. I had heard of Ramadhan before, but never did I think I would have the unique opportunity to live within a community that honors and recognizes this custom.

Ramadhan began on July 21st, and during Ramadhan, Muslims all over the world fast daily from sunrise to sunset. They call their fasting, “puasa,” and they fast to remind themselves that others are not as fortunate as they are. This is a time of deep prayer, charity and reflection for the Muslim community.

Ramadhan concludes after one lunar month, with the sighting of a new moon. At that time, Muslims then celebrate Hari Raya Puasa. Hari Raya Puasa is a festival that can take place for seven or more days, and it is a time of joy and celebration after one month of fasting during Ramadhan. Family and friends visit each other and every family usually hosts an open house to invite friends and relatives to join in celebration.

As many people in my American hometown anxiously prepare for Christmas during the Holiday Season, similar anticipation can be experienced and witnessed as Muslims are busy buying new beautiful Hari Raya clothes, ordering special desserts, preparing elaborate meals and doing all they can to prepare for Hari Raya. In fact, during Hari Raya stores nationwide host huge sales and promotions. Even the Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur run a “Buy 1, Get 1 on Us this Ramadhan” promotion, and include Hari Raya in their advertisements stating, “Wishing you a safe journey this Hari Raya!” The cities and larger towns of Malaysia are filled with traffic and heavy shopping crowds.

This is "Ayam Satay," which translate as chicken satay. It
is delicious, seasoned chicken on a skewer that is grilled.
It is my favorite Malay food, and it is especially popular
for Hari Raya!

Meanwhile, as I wait in anticipation to witness my first Hari Raya, I can definitely sense the presence of Ramadhan currently underway. All the restaurants that were once busy from morning to night, as well as the school cafeteria are closed to honor the daily fasting. In addition, my students are no longer sipping their juices and actively eating their snacks during recess. Instead, they are napping. Moreover, the fields that once were filled after school with boys playing soccer are now home to wild dogs and cows grazing, as children are tired and resting after school.

Much work to be done at the Bazaar Ramadhan!

However, while the town may seem sleepy, everyone can be found at the local Bazaar Ramadhan buying food and ingredients for the large, special family dinners they enjoy every night after the sun sets during Ramadhan. In fact, my female students and female teachers prepare huge feasts for their families everyday after school, and often they try new, special Ramadhan recipes during this time. When the sun sets, usually around 7:30pm, the town is absolutely empty as families are at home “buka puasa,” which means “breaking fast.”

Bazaar Ramadhans are very busy with people buying foods
and ingredients for their "buka puasa" meals! 
Personally, it has been an interesting experience to be in the heart of an Islamic community during Ramadhan, and it is an experience I could never have elsewhere. In Besut, Ramadhan may seem like a calm, reflective time of sacrifice, but when Hari Raya arrives next weekend, the town will ignite and explode with people, celebration and of course, food! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Building Muscle and Building English.

My mom and dad helped me lace up my first pair of soccer cleats at the age of six. After eleven years of playing consistently and seventeen years later, I never thought my love for soccer, as well as running would be beneficial during my time in Malaysia.

Every Monday night at 5:30pm, my roommate and fellow English Teaching Assistant, Christina Chavez, and I, lace up our running shoes and head to the nearby track at her school, SMK Nasiruddin Shah, for weekly jogging club.

Jogging Club with honorary members, Hannah and Zach, during their visit to
Malaysia in June!

Catching a break after a run!

Christina initiated this active club with students at her school back in April. Christina’s school is about a five-minute walk from our home, and a two-minute motor scooter ride. In addition, many of Christina’s students are from our village, live very near to the school or live in hostel (dorm) accommodations at the school. So, there are always students around wanting to participate!

After participating in Jogging Club with Christina and her students, I decided to open up the club to the students at my school, although many live quite a distance away from my village as well as from the track. However, despite the obstacles for my students to attend, my students have come to participate as well!

With our gym shoes on, we stretch and get our muscles warmed up with the students on the red tar track. Believe it or not, many of our students choose to run barefoot even though they do have a pair of gym shoes. We continually ask them if it hurts, but they always say, “No, no. It’s fine. Fine.” So, with shoes on or off, we set off running laps in the hot, yet setting sun.

Some students take it quite seriously, while others just use it as a means to simply chit chat with Miss Nina (Christina) and I. After the running session, Christina has the students write down their number of laps in hope that they can improve, while I unleash the soccer ball.

With my legs a little tired and sweat running down my face, I start dribbling the ball around and attempting to juggle it. Within minutes, students come to join. 

Now, the first time I brought the soccer ball out, the boys were a bit shocked. Girls do not play football (soccer) in Malaysia, so the idea that an American, and especially a female American, could do something with a soccer ball was a bit mind-blowing to them. However, slowly and steadily, I would kick the ball to one of the boys and he would kick it back. At first, they were trying to kick lightly to be easy on me, but with the power I kicked the ball back with, they got the point. Girls can play.

Since April, we run and then play football (soccer). The boys will now play with me, and I even got some of the girl students to play as well. Remembering the days back when I wore my little blue and yellow soccer jersey when I played on the team my dad coached, I take time to show the girls how to kick the ball and what part of the foot to use. A few of them have gotten it down!

While the activity is fantastic, a natural benefit from having jogging club has been channeling an outlet for students to speak English in a more kinesthetic environment. Through jogging club, and especially through kicking a soccer ball around, I have been able to get through to students that I otherwise have a difficult time connecting with in the classroom. Running and football are two so-called “languages” the students and I both speak, which allows them to be relaxed and comfortable. So, while I use basic English conversation with them on Monday nights, they do not even realize how much they are learning.

While strengthening their legs, enhancing their football skills and getting energy out, little do they know they are building their English. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Terima Kasih"

“Terima kasih” means thank you in Bahasa Malaysia!

And, a big “terima kasih” to you- all my friends, family, readers and supporters

Your unwavering support has allowed me to better spread my wings and fly while here. Of course, any experience in life comes with some high peaks, as well as some low valleys. You all have allowed me to navigate the successes as well as challenges that have I encountered while here.

A package from America! Whenever I receive a package or
letter, the principal puts it on my desk! Such a nice surprise!

Your words, emails, phone calls, skype dates, Facebook wall posts, letters, cards, pictures, support, prayers and kind thoughts have made all the difference to me. They definitely do not go unnoticed. Thank you for giving me the inspiration, strength, motivation and confidence to take on every new day here, as well as reminding me consistently that I have a lovely home and wonderful community to come home to in November. In fact, every piece of mail I receive goes on my "Happy Wall" in my bedroom, where I hang up every card, every letter and every photo I receive from home. It is the first thing I look at every morning when I awake, and last thing I look at every night before I go to sleep. In addition, every email I receive goes in my special "Happy" section within my email!

At the same time, I want to comment on the fact that I realize I am two months behind in my blog posts! No excuses, other than the fact that I was in complete “heaven” when my courageous and beautiful family came to visit me in June :)  In addition, sometimes I have a very difficult time finding the exact words to convey what I do here! However, it is my personal goal to keep my blog updated weekly throughout the four months ahead! So, continue to stay tuned and thanks for your support!

Thanks for joining me during the first six months of my Malaysian adventure, and I look forward to having you right there with me during the remaining four months.

See you all soon!

I always let my students look at the envelopes of the mail I get from home! They love to look at the stamps and see English addresses! It really thrills them and gets them excited to speak English! Here are two of my students with an envelope!

Southtown Star Article #2 - The Art of Equalizing

This is my second article for my Reporting from Malaysia Guest Column with the Southtown Star!

Stay tuned for more each month!


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Southtown Star Article #1

Stayed tuned for more throughout the next six months!

I am reporting as a Correspondent for the Southtown Star throughout the remainder of my experience here in Malaysia. I am so excited for this opportunity, and I am incredibly humbled.

Thanks for the support everyone, and pass the link on!


Step 6: Realizing that "There are no Dinosaurs Here"

One of my first, in-depth experiences with Malay
culture! Fellow ETA, Michael, and I at a Malay wedding!

Marie Curie was a Polish-born scientist, and she was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 for her work in Physics. In 1911, she even became the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, when she was awarded another Prize for her work in Chemistry. Marie Curie was quoted several times in her life for saying, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

 It is part of human nature to have fear or to fear something. I believe even the risk-takers, even the bold, have at least an ounce of fear somewhere within themselves when they take on a new challenge. Some individuals may vocalize and express their fear more than others, but at the end of the day, even the smallest kindle of fear brews somewhere inside each of us. Some of us acknowledge it, while others look past it. 
4A2 students taking on their fear of English public

I would be lying if I said that I came to Malaysia and adopted and adapted to a new culture without fear. There were moments of fear or moments when I simply could not understand, whether it was the language or cultural norms. Sometimes moments of uncertainty made me nervous, and sometimes they made me feel overwhelmed. But at the end of the day, isn’t that what this experience was and continues to be all about? It is about branching out, leaving the well known, familiar and comfortable in search of new discoveries, new perspective and new ways of understanding.

Sometimes the moments of fear, uncertainty or misunderstanding are what ultimately allow us to learn more about our selves and the world we live in.

In fact, my dear childhood friend, Natalie, who just graduated from nursing school, reminded me a couple months ago while we were having a phone conversation:

            “Rachael, people are always capable of more than they think… 
And then you look back and say, I did it.”

Isn’t that the truth?

Whether it is a family setting off on their first, cross country road trip to Yellowstone National Park with three children, a family getting ready to travel 33 hours overseas with new passports in hand, a new fireman saving a child from a firey home, a new nurse witnessing a person in dire health, a young teacher managing his or her first classroom of young children or a young woman living and adapting to a new culture overseas – there are moments of fear, but then at last, there are moments of discovery.

After an exciting, nerve racking and somewhat
intimidating hike/jungle trek at the waterfalls in Besut,
this was the beauty I was able to witness with my friends!
In fact, Marie Curie’s words often come to mind when I find myself frustrated or overwhelmed in moments of misunderstanding. However, one of my 4A1 students put it into even easier, more heartfelt words.

One day I was telling my students (in slow spoken English) about how I was nervous to come to a new country for 10 whole months and how I was nervous to learn to ride a motor scooter. I was trying to relate to their hesitation and nervousness about learning English. As some students nodded in understanding, one boy shook his head and said,  “Teacher, do not worry. There are no dinosaurs here.”

So it’s that simple I suppose.

No matter what fear you may sense within you, just remember, “Do not worry. There are no dinosaurs here.”

A shout out from my students to let you know
"Do not worry! There are no dinosaurs here!"
I bet if you think about this the next time you are hesitant or nervous to take on something, you will find yourself smiling with a new sense of energy. Works for me. Everytime.