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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.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Coming to a close: Saying "Jumpa lagi!"

Class 4A1 and I taking one last picture together! It was definitely difficult to say goodbye to my students.

My final days in Besut are still difficult to describe in words.

My heart was yearning for home after almost a year away from my family and my blessed country. In my final month, I often found myself lying awake at night with images of my hometown playing in my head. I tried to remember how my bedroom, my town and my house looked when I left. I often had images of driving down Cedar Road in my town, as well as the local the New Lenox Commons where I always loved to spend time. I wondered if my dog and cat would remember me, or if the team at my local Starbucks would be the same. I wondered if I would have tough ‘reverse culture shock,’ after a year living somewhere so different. I would toss and turn all night with excitement, as well as a little anxiety in anticipation of home. In fact, on one occasion I caught myself signing off an email to my parents using, “Love you and see you soon!” It literally made my heart beat faster.

While excitement brewed, there was an ounce of sadness. At school, I started looking around and wondering what would become of some of my students- students that I had invested so much time and energy into. Students who improved both in terms of spoken English, as well as overall enthusiasm towards education. I thought of Syatirah who worked hard everyday and dreamed of studying in America someday. I thought of Mustaqin who would run away and hide when I first started teaching but who now spoke to me everyday. I thought of Amanina who attended the girls’ leadership camp and who was dealing with the sadness of her recently deceased father, who passed away while I was her teacher. I thought of Sukri who was from a very poor family and who was in the lowest level class for his age group, but who literally learned to speak English with me. I thought of the energy and enthusiasm I was eventually able to extract from each of my classes, and the confidence my students built towards me. Although I was their teacher, the students were actually some of the best teachers I ever had.

During my final days, I had something of a heartache filled with a yearning of home but a longing to somehow stay in my students’ lives. Moreover, in the midst of sincere loneliness at times, Christina and I managed to create such a happy house that hosted root beer float nights for students, as well as a kitchen perfect for introducing the neighbor kids to microwave popcorn. Our yard had been a soccer field, as well as learning ground for how to ride a scooter. That home in Kampung Amir, Besut did not only house Christina and I, but it will forever house some of our deepest thoughts and emotions.

On my last day of school, I made my rounds around school to say "jumpa lagi" (meet again!) to my students, as well as the teachers. My school also hosted a Farewell Ceremony where I played a slideshow of photos, and teachers and students gave speeches in English about me. I do not think I have ever cried as much as I did on that last day, and I do not think I have ever allowed my emotions to pull at me as intensely as they did that day. 

Class 4 Science hosted a picnic on the beach for me before I left Besut!

A fellow teacher and I saying "farewell!"
Class 2A (pen pal class) and I taking one last photo together.
Photo Courtesy: Amanina, Class 2A, SMK PNZ
I gave each and every student a handwritten note.
Although they did not understand all of it, they understood the general message.
The fellow teachers provided me with a Friendship Book, that
contained pictures of my favorite things in Malaysia. They wanted me
to remember Besut forever.
Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ
The principal and I exchanged flags as a symbol of
cultural exchange and mutual understanding.
I received the Malaysian flag and he received the U.S. Flag.
Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ.

I said a few last words to my students and school community before
I departed. I gave my speech in both English and Malay.
Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ
My mentors and I after my farewell ceremony.
Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ

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