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.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Handing Over Ceremony in Terengganu - Press Coverage in Malaysia

This is press coverage of the ETAs in Terengganu, where I am! It was coverage of the Terengganu Handing Over Ceremony on January 31, 2012, where the ETAs were officially "handed over" to their new school, new mentor and new principal!

The individuals interviewed are good friends of mine, and you can see me towards the end of the clip when we are singing a native song called "Gembo Gembo!"

Enjoy :)

My mentor and I at the Terengganu Handing Over Ceremony

My roommate and I before we embarked for our
new village!

Copy and paste the link below:


Meeting with the Prime Minister - Press Coverage in Malaysia

You can see me in the background of this clip about mid-way through!

This is a feature the Nightline News in Malaysia did regarding the English Teaching Assistants!

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What I See and Fresh Baked Brownies

Many of us have a song or two that somehow set a backdrop for a certain place, certain time or certain state we are in life. For those of you who do not know, my favorite song is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo. Coincidentally or not coincidentally, this is the song that is most fitting as the backdrop to my new temporary home, my new community and my new backyard.

The other day, my roommate Christina and I invested in bicycles. Yesterday, after our breakfast of Roti Canai and Teh Tarik at the local restaurant where we have already become a regular, we went on a bike ride through our new village. As we biked along the edge of the narrow, two-laned road, I looked around and really opened my eyes, my mind and my heart to the beauty around me.

The other day I received an email from one of my best friends and past fellow Student Government Association Vice President with me, Laura, who shared with me something her English Professors in college shared with her. Everyday Laura’s professor would say, “What did you see on your walk to class today?” Not surprisingly, most students would have a hard time saying what they actually saw, because it was seemingly just a college campus that they walked through every day. This story that Laura shared reminded me that while I adjust to my new community and the new culture, and while I sink into the routine of my new life, everyday I need to make sure my eyes, mind and heart are open. So, as I biked through my village, I tried to think of all the many words and ways I could describe my new temporary home.

As I biked, and it was tough to ride a bicycle through wind and heat without working gears, we passed many homes. Some were dilapidated wooden houses on stilts and other homes had manicured trees, bright white finished trimmed windows and polished red concrete with big open windows. The many children we passed stared at us. As we waved “hello” with one hand, they would say, “Hello! Hello! Where do you go?” You could say that here in Besut, Malaysia, my roommate Christina, fellow ETA Michael, who lives nearby, and I have something along the lines of celebrity status. Everywhere we go, people ask to take pictures with us, sometimes give us free food, come out of their houses to say “hello” and always comment on our “exotic, unusual and yet unique looks.”

To be honest, it is a bit overwhelming at times, as you feel as though anywhere you go and anything you do, you have interested eyes looking at you. Whether you are eating rice with a fork instead of spoon or taking tissue into the bathroom (because they do not use tissue), someone is looking and someone is asking questions. However, it is neat to be able to have people so interested in what you do, where you come from and who you are. Not to mention, it is comforting to know that just by being well-known and talked about foreigners in town, we consequently have a ton of guardian angels and caring community members looking out for us and making sure we are doing okay.

I am sure that as we become more of a regular appearance around town, our celebrity status will wear off and perhaps we will not be so “exotic and unusual” anymore. Not to mention, I am sure that as we connect and engage more with the community members, they will come to see that although we come from a different culture with different norms, different features and different beliefs, we are just human like everyone else. At the end of the day, all humans, no matter where you come from, are the same at the core. My one hope and one wish is that as people here come to regard us as just “regular people,” they become more comfortable and at ease talking and engaging with us. After all, that is how you exchange culture and facilitate mutual understanding, which is what I am here to do.

Bike ride through the rice paddies in my village

As we biked passed the many waving and even puzzled people, who probably wondered what Americans were doing biking through the village, the warm sun beat down on us as beads of sweat started gathering where my hairline meets my forehead. However, I smiled through the heat to look left and see winding, gravel roads leading far into the heavy jungle. To my right, I saw miles of flat, rice paddies with the dome of a blue Mosque in the distance peeking through the tops of the tree lines and the shadow of mountains in the distance. I kept thinking to myself, “Wow. I cannot believe I live here.” My roommate and I pulled off onto a flat piece of grass, got off our new bikes and took a minute to look around. As I turned slowly in a circle, I took note of the endless palm trees, the vast mountains, and the little, wooden shops along the road selling chicken, ice cream and kuih. Each shop hosted signs that said, “AYaM ProsES,” “ROTI CaNAi,” “GoReNG,” in casual, painted letters. I could not help but wonder who owned the shops, how they stocked their shelves, if their recipes were a family secret. I wondered which of them actually had the best chicken, the best roti canai and the best rice dishes. I guess I have nine months to find out!

Cattle roaming down my street
As we headed back to our home, we went through smaller streets that weaved through the jungle trees, passed two schools and passed even more shops, until we arrived at our village entrance. We turned right onto a gravel road with many potholes and we swirved to the side to avoid chickens, roosters and turkeys strolling the street. We also, at the same time, made a conscious effort to avoid biking to close to the cattle that filled the side of the street as they grazed on the fresh greens that grew in the ditches.

Street in my village

The little bluish, white, wooden, stilted home on the corner that houses 30 plus chickens is our landmark to turn right. After the turn, we always pass a small open piece of land with hundreds of cattle who wander our village and where gorgeous home sits on our right. As we ride down the street while trying to avoid the cow dung on the pavement, we arrive at our own little Malaysian home.

Entrance to our home complete with a
"Welcome" mat.

Our home is much more than I could have ever expected, and I still cannot believe how beautiful and modern it is. Before I left for Malaysia, I was warned about the endless amount of mosquitos, lizards and jungle-like conditions. Therefore, up to the day before I left, I packed as though I was going on a 9-month camping jungle trip. Although my house is definitely not void of lizards and cockroaches and big spiders, it is not to the extent I had planned for.

My house is a white, concrete home with nice big windows and a metal green entry gate to keep the cattle out. As we slide open the gate to allow ourselves in, we put our keys in our quaint little door’s lock to open up to our simple, yet lovely home. Our family room is quite large for just two of us, as well as our house in general. The windows bring in an array of sunlight and allow us to look outside to adorable, bright houses and the tropical trees. Down the home’s hallway there are three rooms, one of which is a guest room with a bath for any potential visitors (wink, wink, knudge, knudge).

My room for the next nine months. The sheets and
furniture came with the house!

One of two squatty potties in my house!
My room has a big, gorgeous window with a big bed and bright blue sheets with bright pink flowers on them. My room also has an attached bathroom with a western-style toilet, which is a big luxury. Most toilets here, and the other two toilets in our home are “squatty potties.” These are toilets that are in the ground where one must squat to do their business. Believe me, it is like being potty-trained all over again. In fact, during our state-level orientation in Marang after Kuala Lumpur, we only had “squatty potties. Consequently, there was a lot of discussion, tips and support that went around through us female ETAs about the best techniques to use, how to use it and who had succeeded thus far and who had not.  The bathrooms also do not have toilet paper, as they use a hose with water to cleanse themselves after use. So, I always make sure I carry a tissue or two with me whether to the market, someone else’s home or even my school.

Our little, cozy kitchen!

Towards the back of our home and to the right, there is an adorable, quaint little kitchen with a little round, black table and four chairs. To the side, there is a little, square window with curtains and a ledge that houses our pink motor scooter’s keys, which we just purchased the other day. It is pink and white and looks similar to a Vespa complete with festive looking stickers on the side. Our little table is home to a little vase with flowers and a little calendar that my Malaysian tutor Para gave me. On the calendar, Christina and I write one thing in everyday to remind ourselves what we did or what we learned that day. One thing, everyday. Our kitchen also is home to a microwave, a stovetop that is similar to a camping stove top from REI, and a toaster oven that we purchased last week.

Our trusty little toaster oven 
When we told some women here that we wanted to buy a toaster oven they said, “Oh, no worries. You have a microwave.” But, we explained, “We need a toaster oven, because us Americans cook a lot with our ovens.” (AKA cookies, cakes and brownies) Our toaster oven has allowed us to make a batch of boxed cookies that we bought in KL, as well as a delicious batch of brownies with chocolate chips in them. When being so far from home, something so simple such as a toaster oven, can make life seem a little more familiar. In fact, I even offered to show some of the female teachers at my school how to bake some American sweets. They definitely seemed up for it!

Eating the warm, gooey brownies! (FYI -my Iphoto would not let
me rotate this photo for the time being)

After our lengthy bike ride, we dug our forks into the warm, fresh brownies we made. The smell, the taste and the enjoyment reminded me and brought me back home to my kitchen at home in America. Back to my rectangular wooden kitchen table enjoying my mom’s fresh baked brownies with chocolate chips with my family and friends by my side.

I think we will get a lot of use out of that toaster oven this year. 

My roommate, Christina, and I cooking grilled cheese sandwiches!
Do not worry! We definitely have been experimenting with healthier and stealthier dishes as well!