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, January 12, 2013

Getting Where You Want To Go

The SMK PNZ Choral Speaking team performing their prose entitled
"Getting Where You Want To Go."
Choral speaking consists of a group of 30 to 35 students speaking in unison. In essence, it is a speaking ensemble in which a group often uses various voice combinations and contrasts to bring out the meaning or tone of a passage of poetry or prose. It is a well-known art and activity in Malaysia, and students striving to learn and master English often join their school's choral speaking team. It is highly competitive, and it takes a great deal of dedication, patience and practice.

An English teacher approached me in late February and said, “Cikgu Rachael, so...you coach choral speaking this year?” I looked at him quite confused, which was a common occurrence in the early days of teaching at PNZ.

“Um… what is that?” I asked. He tried to explain in English, but, I must admit, that I was quite uncertain about what it entailed. But, never mind, I responded and said, “Of course I will.”

The Form 5 SMK PNZ performers!
He went onto explain that I needed to compose lyrics for the group and that practice would begin in March. Thus, it was no surprise that I spent that night searching Google like a mad woman trying to figure out what the art of choral speaking entailed and what lyrics needed to consist of. 

Within a few days, I composed four pages of lyrics, successfully titled them and presented them back to the teacher. Several weeks later, we hosted try-outs, chose students and began practicing. Although I was the coach, I was definitely learning as we went along. Choral speaking was immensely new and different to me, so as the students learned new words and  sayings from the lyrics, I was learning the art in itself.

Form 3 performers and I!
My roommate, Nina, and I after the competition.
Nina's school competed as well!
In late April, the competition was held and our school was chosen to perform first! The students were extremely nervous. However, after a group pep talk, they took the stage with their heads held high. As they performed on stage in unison, I beamed. I was so immensely proud of them. It was not long before at our first practice that they had struggled with pronunciation and tone. During the competition, they pronounced the words fluently and spoke with incredible inclination and voice.

The lyrics of the prose I composed were entitled “Getting Where You Want to Go.” All in all, it was about believing in oneself and staying true to one’s dreams. I wrote it as a way to set a positive tone for the remainder of the year! In fact, several of the lines became quite infamous around the school and students used them as inspirational quotes in their classrooms!

I am so proud of you, SMK PNZ Choral Speaking! 

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Dress rehearsal. The girl who is standing on the chair is known as the conductor.

Track and Field - Malaysia Style

Although I started several new projects and clubs at SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah, I also became involved with previously existing groups at my school. In March, I helped coach the school track team for their district meet, and in April, I coached the school’s choral speaking group.

In America, track teams train for months on end and compete in multiple meets and tournaments over the course of several months. In contrast, in Malaysia, students train for approximately two months for one, four-day district meet. Then, the track season is over.

When the male track coaches discovered that I was athletic and liked to run, they reached out to me to help coach the team. I was absolutely thrilled. At this point, I had only been at the school for about seven weeks and the students were still intimidated by me. However, at the track meet I simply hung out with the athletes, spoke to them in English and Malay and encouraged them.

Team huddle after the meet! Of
course, it was in Malay, but I
got the gist of it!

Four days on a track, in the heat of the Malaysian sun was tough. In fact, I am pretty sure I sweated out my body weight. However, it was so interesting to compare and contrast track and field in Malaysia versus America. For instance, Malaysia’s high school track teams do not have pole vaulting, but they do have speed walking. I was in awe as I witnessed over thirty students speed walk sixty laps around the track in the heat of the day. In addition, another aspect of Malaysian track and field that caught me by surprise was that many track athletes choose not to wear their shoes. They have them but simply choose to compete without them.

It was a fun few days of running in the sun. Although I finished the week with some rough sunburn and a particularly sweaty wardrobe, it was one heck of a memory. And, the team even presented me with a team polo during awards on the closing day of the meet!

Way to go SMK PNZ!

The SMK PNZ Track and Field team!
We walked away with quite a few medals, and I got an official
team polo!

The girls' relay team!

The athletes hanging out after an event!
Team huddle on the track in the bright sunlight!

Hanging out under our SMK PNZ tent!

Banagrams, stickers and pictures... Oh my!

The daily Banagram group!
My Ultras Redside Chicago Fire
Soccer Team scarf and my old
Chicago Magic soccer jersey!
Litte things proved to be incredibly
useful with my students!
This past year I learned the importance of finding inspiration and wonder in the small things. The three greatest resources that I used with my students this year were Banagrams, stickers and pictures! These three items never failed when it came to entertaining and encouraging my students to speak English.

Practically everyday, I had a group of six Form 1 boys that would come to my desk and curiously look around. I always knew what they were looking for – Banagrams.

“Teacher, where Banagrams?” they would asked.
“Do you want to play?” I would respond.
“Yes!” they shouted in excitement.

Making dominoes with the letter
For twenty to forty minutes, the boys would crowd around my small desk and make sentences and words with the little blocks. Little did they know that while they were constructing the pieces into words and sentences, they were learning English. Of course, after several weeks of making words with the pieces, they got a better idea – Banagram dominoes. So, after creating some words, I would let them form a domino chain around my desk. I am not sure if the other teachers appreciated that, but for me, it allowed the students to open up to me. As we played games at my desk, they would magically start talking without hesitation.

A finished Banagram domino sequence!
In addition to Banagrams, stickers and pictures always interested my students. In fact, more than a few times, I received generous care packages from home that contained stickers. I would walk around the school and hand the stickers out to students who would say, “Hello!” to me or “Hi, Teacher!” Of course, word would get around. Before I knew it, students would be running all around the school trying to find me to say something in English and get a sticker. Sticker days were some of my most favorite days!

In class, pictures were incredible resources. Pictures really allowed my students to open up their eyes to my life back home. I would show them pictures of my family and friends, and I even brought in a picture of me with my high school soccer team!

“Teacher, you play football?” many of the students would ask.
“Yes, but in America we call it soccer.” I would explain.
“Oh…” they would comment hesitantly.

My students and I with stickers!
Part of my sticker collection -
thank you to my family and friends!
Whether it was pictures of America, my home, my family or my friends, the pictures allowed them to get to know me. To add, the pictures would bring about many questions, and there was no way for the students to gain answers to their questions without asking me in English!

Through my experience teaching, I have learned the importance of simplicity and creativity when teaching English abroad. Banagrams, pictures and stickers were so simple, yet so useful! 

My Form 4 students with some of my special things: high school soccer photo, Chicago Fire scarf, my Singapore 16K running bib and medal.