Extremely Uncomfortable and Utterly Amazing
Liberal studies alumna Trisha Huynh (B.S., 2014) spent a year in Malaysia as part of the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant program in 2015. She shares her experiences in a series of reflections.
To begin my adventure, I took a brutal 14-hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong. As any well-traveled person will tell you, being stuck in the middle seat with a persistent kicker behind you for more than 10 hours does not make for a fun flight. Then, despite everyone's warnings, I hopped on a Malaysia Airlines plane to Kuala Lumpur.
February: Arrival in Setiu
Driving into Setiu, I was struck by the diversity of plants that penetrate the village. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether the foliage or the buildings have the upper hand. Cows, chickens, monkeys and snakes all run freely in the village, making use of the thicket of trees and flat, grassy plains. I lose track of time observing the insects and birds in my little neighborhood. I can count the number of roads on one hand.
March: End of the Honeymoon
Almost three months have passed since I first arrived, and the dream-like vacation world that I once lived in here is long gone. I now see the rusty nicks, ragged tears, and gaping holes that exist in Malaysia. There is disorganization in the schooling system. There is inequality among genders. There is inefficiency.
May: Girl Empower English Camp
Although it seemed like an ordinary day, it was not. Today was the day of my Girl Power English Camp, a workshop focused on building confidence, promoting sisterhood, analyzing definitions of beauty, and practicing English in a hands-on environment.
On the first day of Ramadhan, I rose early to partake in the ritual with my students. At 5 a.m., I ate my breakfast, or suhoor, taking care to eat lots of protein and drink plenty of water. After a quick one-hour nap, I prepared for school. At 9 a.m., I felt fine. Great, even. This was such an exciting new holiday! At 11 a.m., I felt slightly parched and knew that my body would soon need food. By 1 p.m., all I could think about was my rumbling, empty stomach and my dry mouth.
October: Preparing to Leave
If I had known what this year would entail, I probably wouldn’t have taken the grant. I’ll be the first to admit that the last ten months have not been a picnic. Since the day I first arrived, it’s been unbearably hot and humid. I’ve found far too many ants in my food. I’ve discovered a range of emotions that I didn’t know I had the capacity for — who knew I could cry from deep-seated frustration and utter jubilance in the same day? One of the most difficult facets of my experience in Malaysia, though, was gaining an understanding of my limits.
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