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.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

친구 (Friends) and Pen Pals Take on KL

My dear friend Clement from Singapore came to visit me in Kuala Lumpur during my first weekend here in Southeast Asia. I met Clement while studying at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea. Although the university is a women’s university, their well-known international student program is co-ed, which generated a group of over 480 men and women from all over the world. Clement and I became wonderful friends while in South Korea, and since we left Korea in December 2009, we have remained dedicated pen pals, skype buddies and most importantly, friends. Therefore, it was definitely an added bonus to hear that I would be doing my Fulbright Scholarship in Malaysia, his neighboring country.

Clement arrived later in the evening on what was my first Friday night in Southeast Asia. After he met me in KL, I knew immediately that I wanted to go get Korean food to catch up and enjoy one of our favorite cuisines! So, we jumped in a cab and set out for Korea Town, Kuala Lumpur. It was fun to be amongst Korean writing again and familiar signs I once saw regularly in Korea. We enjoyed fantastic Korean BBQ that had fresh, familiar flavor! I think I need to get Korean food at least once more before I leave Kuala Lumpur.

Buddy Bears in Pavilion Plaza
On Saturday, after I ran around the city doing the Fulbright scavenger hunt, Clement and I met by the “buddy bear” exhibit. The buddy bears are close to where I am staying and right in front of the upscale Pavilion Mall. There are hundreds of bear statues that are painted with a vast array of pictures, symbols and colors. Every bear represents a country and it symbolizes all countries coming together to create beauty and peace. The street of bears is a temporary exhibit that attracts people from all over the world posing for photos in front of the bears they connect with the most. Clement and I definitely posed with the Korea Bear, USA Bear (which is a bear Statue of Liberty) and the Singapore bear. Sadly, the pictures of us by our favorite bears did not download off my computer correctly and have been lost in translation.
Statue of Liberty Bear

After looking at the bears we set off for Chinese food. Clement would not just let us have any Chinese food. He wanted it to be good stuff, since his family is Chinese and he knows good Chinese food. We finally found a restaurant that he thought could most likely live up to his standards of real Chinese food. He was right! It was the best sweet and sour chicken I have ever had in my life, full of rich sauce and the perfect crunch. With the chicken we had some leafy dish with prawns of some sort (I have no idea what it was) and a fried egg dish that was so satisfying, with a Carlsburg Beer to complement it. The ladies that waited on us were so nice as well, and for some reason were fascinated by me. I still am not entirely sure what it was. Many of us Westerners here have people staring at us, and although it can be a bit blush-provoking, uncomfortable and unsettling, I guess you just have to get used to it.

Dragon Dance
With yummy food in our bellies, we went and saw a Chinese New Year Dragon Dance Performance that was truly impressive. We sat on the stair steps of the Pavilion with hundreds of other people while young men created a fascinating dance with a dragon float –like balloon. Together, the men synchronized their movements to relay a sort of beautiful, fluid motion for the dragon. The Pavilion was filled with “Ooohhs” and “Ahhs” as they created a lovely dance filled with bright yellow and red colors.

From there we grabbed the KL monorail to head to the KL Menara, which is the tall overlook tower in Kuala Lumpur. I feel as though every city has their “tourist, skyline tower.” For instance, I have seen the Eifel Tower in France, London Eye in London, Toronto Tower in Toronto, Seoul Tower in Seoul, Tokyo Tower in Tokyo and of course the Sears Tower, so I had to see this one. I understand that many people do not like to pay money to go to the top of a structure to simply see a view, but I just feel, “I’m here right now. Why not?” Of course I want to see the top of the KL Menara!

Our firework picture
Clement and I were so busy talking that we got on the monorail that was going the opposite direction, which of course put us behind a little bit time-wise. By the time we made it to the ticket booth for the tower, it had closed nine minutes earlier. But, there is no raining on our parade. We took some posed pictures in front of a large picture of fireworks and the skyline we could have seen. Although we did not get to the top, we sat at some available tables on the deck and overlooked the Petronas Towers. We ended the night with some drinks at a nice bar with outdoor tables before we wandered inside to see a lady sing popular American songs with a crowd of Australians. It is moments like those when I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I am in a foreign country. To add, while we were walking back that night, we saw a group of five men jamming out on the corner to Eric Clapton.

Men jamming out to Eric Clapton
Sunday I had my first non-Asian meal in Kuala Lumpur. I suppose I gave in a little earlier than expected. I mean it had only been five days in Kuala Lumpur at that point. However, I justify it by reminding myself that at least I have the option now, because in just over a week, I will not have any Western food at all. So, I have ten months to enjoy Asian food, and therefore, I gave in to Italian soup at a little Italian place at the Pavilion. (Like I’ve said before, Kuala Lumpur is not the Malaysia I will be experiencing in a short time) And, for the record, I savored every bite of that soup. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly, vegetables are extremely hard to come by here. It is mainly fruits and very sweet things. I could use some vegetables in my life, but this soup certainly curved that craving. And, it came with a side of garlic bread!

From there, Clement and I wandered to the crowded fruit stands located a block from Bukit Bintang. He thought it was important that I experience some new fruits. In Korea, he always introduced me to new foods as well, such as bananas. I never ate bananas before I met Clement. So, here in Kuala Lumpur, he introduced me to mangostines, which are redish, purple fruits in roughly a shape of a circle. To open them, you place them on the table on their sides, place your palm on them and gently apply pressure. It slightly cracks it open and inside is a white ball, which is the part you eat. The first one I opened on by myself ended up exploding, because I throw my entire arm strength into applying pressure. It ended up splattering, dripping and being destroyed. Lesson learned: Less is more in this case. The fruit is so immensely sweet, and I am pretty sure we sat at the plastic table at the fruit stand eating them for at least 20 minutes. Right next to us was a huge cart of hundreds of durians, and I kept eyeing them up.

“I really want to try them Clement!” I exclaimed.

Clement has always been keen on me trying new foods and new things, so I was surprised that he adamantly discouraged it. “I like durians Rach, and I want you to like them too. But, these are not the durians to try. You need to try them when they are at least at season and when you are in Singapore. I do not want you to try them here and hate them and then not try them when they are actually in season.”

The curiosity was killing me as the big plastic table next to us had a Chinese family digging their teeth in the mushy fruit and making yummy sounds. Although the smell was distinct, I just wanted to experience it myself. However, I trusted Clements judgment and we agreed that I would try them in Singapore. Until then, the curiosity is going to kill me. I may just give in and get one, but I will keep you all posted on my durian status.

Two o’clock on Sunday came quickly and with that Clement headed back to the airport to catch his flight. Afterall, he had work that night. It was such a fun weekend, and it was so heartwarming to see such a familiar face in such a new place. Thanks for the visit Clem!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Selamat Detang Malaysia and The Harley Language

For Christmas, all I wanted was some snow in Illinois before I left for tropical, steamy Malaysia. My wish did come true, because as I fit the last of my belongings into my suitcases, it did flurry. Although one had to squint to see it, it was there. And, with that, I said “see you soon” to my home, my family and my friends.

The last time I traveled abroad to Seoul, South Korea for a semester, I went entirely alone. I sat at O’hare airport alone, got off the plane in Seoul, South Korea alone and initially experienced the first moments in Korea with the only fresh set of eyes around, as my hosts were native Koreans. Although it is nice and empowering to experience new places and people alone with your own thoughts and words to explain them, I forgot what a gift it is to experience a new place with a companion set of fresh eyes, as I did when I traveled to Rome, Italy. For this Fulbright experience, I flew from Chicago to LA with three other Fulbrighters (Katia who my parents were able to meet, Jordan and Katie) and then I traveled to LA to Hong Kong with at least 12 additional Fulbrighters. To add, from Hong Kong to LA there were even more Fulbrighters. When I stepped off the plane in Kuala Lumpur International Airport after 26 hours of travel, I took in my first moments with fellow companions who are bound to become some of my dear friends throughout the next year. It was so nice to have someone to share excitement, anxiousness and curiosity with, and it has been nice to share the same zest for experiences during the first days of training.

We all were surprised to see that we made Malaysian papers by January 4th, within less than 24 hours of actually being in Kuala Lumpur. The Prime Minister of Malaysia has made English language a top priority of his, and recent conversations between President Obama and Prime Minister have been reason for much publicity. Therefore, us 50 Fulbrighters from the United States are a direct result of the Prime Minister’s goals and mission. Therefore, in the paper, they featured a picture our Malaysia 2012 group, taken within an hour of departing the plane when we all were at our finest hour-jetlag that is.

Here is the link to the article, which was also posted a few days ago:

Us three in the van on our way to KL!
As all Fulbrighters were gathered onto a bus to head from the airport to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur where we are staying for the first few weeks. Somehow I ended up in a van with only two other Fulbrighters, Norma and Chelsea, instead og the bus. We drove in front of the bus, and us three together stared out the window as the chilliness of our hometowns in America was replaced with beaming sunlight, green landscape and most foreign to me…palm trees and rainforests.

Surprisingly the jet lag never fully hit me and I have been able to wake up promptly every morning to enjoy a breakfast buffet at the hotel that consists of literally any breakfast food you could think of, from sushi and soups to French toast and hash browns. The mornings are an excellent time to sit at a table with fellow Fulbrighters, get to know one another and even more so, discuss the fact that we should load up on food of this kind now, before nothing of the sort is available in a few short weeks.

Our Orientation Room!
After breakfast, we all head down to the Malaysian-American Commission on Educational Excellence (MACEE) office where our orientation is being held. Our two points of contact are Jim and Meena, who we all were fortunate enough to meet during our Orientation in D.C. last July. In addition, 2011 ETA Alum Olivia as well as a Malaysian man named Raymond are people for us to reach out to, as Olivia has experience with the ETA program and Raymond is familiar with Malaysia and the culture.

Since January 5th and until January 20th, we have training Monday through Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm, with some exceptions and some additional special events, such as High Tea with the Ambassador. I will say that the Fulbright Orientation has been extremely thorough and I feel comfortable knowing that we have such a support system with the MACEE, as well as the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy.

We have learned a tremendous amount about the culture and people of Malaysian, as well as a great deal about what we can expect in our placement areas. One thing we have been told, and one thing that I try to remember everyday is that this is Kuala Lumpur, a huge, somewhat modern city, this is not the Malaysia I will be living in for the rest of the year.
View from my hotel room

We are being housed right in the center of KL (Kuala Lumpur), and within a two minute walk we have access to at least three Starbucks, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Auntie Anne’s Sephora, beer gardens, four malls, two movie theaters and so many other places that could be found in any American city. Within the immediate area of where my hotel is, the only few things that remind me I am in a foreign country are:
 1) dangerousness of crossing the street-motorbikes, scooters and cars literally do not stop
2) the doormen of the hotel great us with Malaysian greetings and take their hand to their hearts to say “welcome”
3) the fact that the hotel does not have free wi-fi, which I always take for granted in America
4) elevators are crazy crowded beyond any American city-goers imagination- there is always room for more.
Modern buildings in KL

Palm Trees in KL on Jalan Bukit Bintang
5) While some clothing is modern and trendy, there is a lot of conservative wear, especially Muslim dress for women. Other than that, I need to walk for about five minutes in any direction to truly comprehend and understand that I am not in America anymore.

With staying in such a modern place, it would be easy to say and make assumptions about “Malaysia,” but the fact is that these aspects I am experiencing currently are not “Malaysia.” It’s Kuala Lumpur. Therefore, myself as well as some others are trying to not get too comfortable here. For instance, there is nothing I would love more than to get Starbucks everyday, enjoy Western food and nightlife and say, “This is Malaysia,” but instead, I am slowly but surely starting to get mentally prepared for no longer being in city life.

While there are these Western amenities within easy access to where I am staying in KL, within a five minute walk I do break through into an area that is full of new foods, new places and things I have never experienced. As you walk down the main street of Jalan Buit Bintang, after you pass the modern Pavilion mall (with literally any store you could possibly imagine…name it, it’s there) and pass under the KL Monorail, no matter what direction I go I am surrounded by a place that definitely is not familiar. I see many people everywhere, some Westerners, some Indian, some Muslim, some Chinese and some Malay. The streets are very crowded and it is very loud, with some occasional people on the corners playing music or posing as glittered-up statues. I see people trying to sell me things, some people trying to lure me into their store or restaurant, people sitting on curbs, people leaning against walls and people talking.

Scavenger Hunt (David took the picture)
Hop onto the monorail and I have the city at my fingerprints. On our first Saturday in KL, we had a Fulbright scavenger hunt where we were broken down into groups of 4 or 5 people and had to spend 4 hours searching and experiencing things in the city. My group had myself, David, Julie and Patricia and we ran around the city doing everything from getting a person from Malaysia to sing an American song with us, to having David try on a Baju Malayu (native Malaysian dress for men) and asking someone if we can “pull” the teh tarik, which is a thick, sweet tea here in Malaysia. It was one of my favorite memories so far in Malaysia, because we got to see and experience so much of the city as well as interact with locals.

One place my group went through was the China Town of Kuala Lumpur. It literally “blew my mind” is the best way to describe it. I had experienced Asian streets markets in Korea and Japan that were busy, had many things and so much color and flavor. I used to wander those markets with dear new friends and eat in hidden kitchens and dig my teeth into the juiciest fruit. I loved those markets.

A taste of what I saw in China Town
However, this China Town market was possibly the most chaotic and unbelievable array of mass chaos I have ever seen. I describe it as mass chaos, but my ETA friend Blake explained to me that it is actually organized chaos, because believe it or not, someone actually manages the market and organizes the stands, sort of like a manager. This is definitely something I find fascinating as a business major, and I definitely want to look into it more.

As my group walked through the crowded streets, there were stands after stands of knock-off bags, Rolex watches (bargained one down to 30 ringitt which is roughly ten dollars- it was a scavenger hunt duty) , LeSportSac bags, clothing, perfumes, gadgets, hats and shoes as well as people soliciting DVDs to us. Even more, there were stands after stands of food, drinks and snacks. We tried a Malaysian snack called Kuih, which was sweet and peanut flavored, but it is available in many flavors such as banana and apple. My senses were captivated and my taste buds were intrigued as there were heavy fish smells followed by the smell of roasted sugar and topped off with a scent of fresh apples and mandarins. My eyes were drawn to all the colors, the soothing colors of the varied fruit, the bold and bright colors of the garments and the faded colors of the rusted umbrellas that stood to block out the hot sun.

My group also stumbled upon a durian stand. Durian, for those of you who have not heard of it, is a fruit that is generally, immensely disliked by foreigners to Asia. The scent can be identified from blocks away and the taste is supposed to be potent to untrained taste palettes and will make one’s pee smell for days. I surprisingly did not find the smell as bad as I was warned, but we did not dare to try it yet. However, as part of our scavenger hunt, we did have to make up a poem about it:

Durian is a fruit
O my, it’s a hoot
The smell of it will make you cringe
Like being poked by a syringe
A porcupine may prick you,
But the smell of durian will stick with you.

David trying on Malaysian dress
Next we wandered to the Central Market, which was a short walk from China Town. Masses of people ran across the street to beat the motorbikes that were coming quickly. Quite frankly, I just do what the locals do. They run across the street. I run across the street. They leave their plates and napkins at a market table. I leave my plates and napkins at the market table. In this mass crowd of people in the shuffle from China Town to Central Market, I just squeezed my bag close to me and bolted through like they did. As we entered the Central Market, we were greeted by the heavenly feel of air conditioning. “Ahh…” In this market, we kept asking around to find out where we could find native Malaysian dress and we were directed to “floor 3.”

On floor three of this indoor market, we were greeted with smiles and “hello’s” and we tried to explain both in words and gestures that we needed to find a Baju Malayu for our “kawan” (friend) to try on. We ended up meeting the nicest people, and they actually were from Terengannu, the region in which I have been placed. The one gentleman even told our group, “I have two wife.”

We looked at one another not knowing how to respond. “Huh?” we said together.
“Me have two wife,” he repeated.

I just smiled, because out of habit when I have no idea what to do or say, I just smile. Someone could tell me something very bad in a different language or heavy accented English and I will just smile. I probably should work on that.

“I have one wife for home, and this is my second wife,” he said pointing with a fist, since Malaysians do not point, at a Harley sticker that was plastered to his wooden workbench.

“Ohhhh…” I said laughing hysterically, for his beloved Harley was his "second wife." 

The man with "two wives"
I could not help but think that if my dad would have been with me there, he may not have understood a word the man was saying and they probably would not have understood one another. However, no matter what culture you are in, I am beginning to realize that Harley speaks one language. It is a language I am starting to feel that any Harley rider can understand. I laughed for a good five minutes. Even in Malaysia, even a shop owner of a native Malaysian dress shop, speaks the language of Harley.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Phone Call followed by Seven Months

It is hard to believe how quickly the time has passed since the day I found out I earned a Fulbright Scholarship to Malaysia.

It was a Friday, in early June 2011 about two weeks after my college graduation, and the 1996 green Volvo I drive had been checked out by the mechanic and I had numerous boxes packed and some even loaded into my hearty, reliable car. But, these boxes were not an attempt to begin packing for Malaysia seven months early in over anticipation. Rather, these boxes were for my sought after and planned out move to Arkansas to serve with Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta for two years. I was expected to be in Arkansas on Monday, and therefore, I was leaving on Saturday, the next day.

That is until I received an email and followed-up with the Institute of International Education to discover that I was indeed selected for a Fulbright Scholarship to Malaysia.  I obviously had a decision to make, and I needed to make it by the close of that day. I could either fulfill my two-year commitment to Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta or seize the opportunity to embark on a Fulbright Scholarship to Malaysia. It was the hardest decision I have made thus far in my life, but thanks to the support of my family, friends and mentors, I decided to pursue the ETA position with Malaysia. Although I had no knowledge of Malaysia, besides the fact that it was in Southeast Asia and adjacent to Singapore, I knew deep down that this opportunity would best align ME with MY passions and MY goals in life.

My biggest concern was having seven months of “down time” before departing for Malaysia in January 2012. However, I ended up enjoying my seven months at home with my whole heart, and it definitely was not "down time."  I loved my time at home with my family and in my own room. I loved knowing every detail of what the “Chesley’s were up too” instead of hearing it via text and phone calls. I loved reconnecting with friends from childhood and high school. I loved having time to reconnect with my roots. By the time January 2nd came, I had a very tough time saying “see you later” to the people, home and place I love. My time at home was filled with rich experiences, irreplaceable memories and great fun. During my seven months, I worked for my aunt during the summer months and then earned two part-time internships with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk in his Chicago Office, as well as a fantastic internship with State Representative Renee Kosel. In addition, I took on a position with my dear friend and mentor, Lauren, for her newly established company. Moreover, I joined a SpinClub where I met awesome people, had fabulous, challenging workouts and took time to focus on my health after four years of less healthy routines and all-nighters during college.

Everything does happen for a reason.

And, now, after those fantastic seven months at home embarking on a geographically closer, yet equally as rich, journey, I am happy to say, I am in Malaysia in the initial stages of my Fulbright journey. 

Fulbright ETA's to Malaysia

Here is the awesome group of Fulbrighters that are in Malaysia with me for the year!


Fulbright ETA's Arrival in Malaysia

We attracted quite a bit of attention when we arrived in Malaysia!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Significance of the Title "Take It With You When You Go"

In September 2010, I came home a Friday afternoon from college for the weekend of my sister’s Homecoming. On that Friday night, before heading to the local high school Homecoming football game with my parents, I strategically worked at a fast-pace to complete my personal statement for Teach for America, a national teaching corps for low-income, high-poverty schools across the United States. It was an organization I strongly considered being part of, was accepted to and planned on pursuing after graduation until I was awarded my Fulbright Scholarship.

All week while working on my application, I had not been able to convey on paper exactly what I wanted to say and I could not put into words why I wanted to be part of this well-known, honorable organization. Finally, at home, as I sat squinting at the computer screen and anxiously trying to get my words down into the essay box for the online application, I strived to make the 7pm deadline. That’s when my mom introduced me to an analogy that I ended up expanding upon in my personal statement and an analogy I continue think about today.

Each individual has a tool- box and we obtain the tools in our tool- box from experiences we have had and through people that have invested in our lives and well-being.

I am incredibly grateful for my tool- box.

Since I was little, I have been raised by parents who have encouraged me to try new things and to challenge myself, while providing me the comfort of a home in which to lean on and turn towards. I have incredible siblings who have added so much love and energy to every moment of my life and who I see as my best friends. I have immediate and extended family, rich in experiences, personalities and interests who support one another, encourage one another and take an interest in one another, allowing every individual to believe in their abilities. I have the absolute best network of friends and family friends who stand by one another, whether near or far, and who are the most loyal, steadfast, fun and thought-provoking people I know. I have a community with a small-town feel where I grew up, played little league softball and soccer, got ice cream from the local soft serve joint, learned to drive and always look forward to coming back to. I have a high school degree from Lincoln-Way Central High School, which I believe is the best high school I could have ever and would ever dream of, filled with ample opportunities to be involved and excellent educators. I have not only a college degree, but a rich college experience from Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame where I was continually challenged to set higher goals and explore my passions both on campus and abroad in Rome, Italy and Seoul, South Korea. Individuals in my life have given me the confidence to believe in myself, whether it was a two-year summer internship with benefit services, studying abroad or taking on a leadership position as Student Body President.

No matter where you go or what you do, these people, places, experiences and lessons-learned are never left behind. You carry them in your toolbox, they guide you to new discoveries and you continually build upon them.

Thank you to all my parents, siblings, friends, family, teachers and mentors, as well as my home and college communities both in South Bend and abroad. I hold you all near and dear to my heart. Your love, your inspiration and the lessons you have taught me have played a part in leading me to this Fulbright Scholarship in Malaysia. I immensely appreciate your support and encouragement. You are my rock, and I cannot wait to share my experience with you. 

What is Fulbright?

Fulbright is one of the most prestigious and widely known worldwide scholarship programs.

Senator J. William Fulbright established the program in 1946, because he believed it was important for students and professors to move back and forth and have rich, intercultural experiences. President Truman accepted the program and believed that the program would facilitate mutual understanding, which would ultimately promote security and peace.

Now, over 65 years later, the Fulbright Program operates in over 185 different countries and 200,000 scholars have gone through the program.

The United States’ government takes the program very seriously. As budgets have been cut for other programs and initiatives, Congress continually votes to allot funds for the Fulbright Program because they believe in the benefits and long-term results of encouraging cross-cultural exchange. Overall, the Fulbright Program is directly related to the United States’ foreign policy, as it improves U.S. foreign relations.

For more information: