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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.

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.