Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Orientation Almost Over

NOTE: pictures finally added!  Thanks for keeping in touch, everyone!  You're awesome :-)

It's weird; home is like a dream now, but so is being here.  In about three weeks of orientation, we've covered a lot of material, but what we're here to do still seems so unreal.  We're getting pretty seriously pampered right now - staying in nice hotels with free meals and internet, free trips to sights around the city, plenty of time to explore the beach and the markets, people coming in from all over to meet us and help prepare us.  With all the bonding that me and the other ETAs are doing, and all the talk about where to go and what to see on breaks, it's hard to believe that this isn't just some big vacation in which the teaching is a secondary detail.

However, the closer we get to going to our schools (only a day away now!) and the more we get to talk to specific people from our schools, the more real this job seems.  With a bit of effort, I can remember that in spite of how relaxed this whole program feels right now, we are actually here to do some pretty concrete work, starting very soon.  As a matter of fact, I can't wait to get down to business; all this relaxing is starting to take its toll on me.

Which isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed it.  We've been reasonably busy doing awesome things - visiting the science center to see a show in the planetarium, exploring the museum and its history of Terengganu, visiting the immense city library with its computer labs and children's centers, touring the mini model mosque park with the full-sized Crystal Mosque (in the picture here) that lights up in the evening.  We've even visited local primary and secondary schools - none that we'll be teaching at - to meet the students and see how the classes work (that's what fellow ETA Megan is doing in the picture just above).

We've had daily talks and classes on the Malaysian education system, the teaching of English as a second language, and an introduction to Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language).  The language class actually just covered several key phrases and a lesson in haggling, which culminated in a field trip to the market for a scavenger hunt and some real-world practice.  (Actually, last time I tried bargaining with anyone here, they kept bursting into laughter, which was a pretty good psychological ploy I guess, because I was really losing confidence in my commitment to a certain price.)

A few days back, we had something like a sports day - we went bowling in the afternoon, then played "futsal" in the evening.  Futsal is basically mini indoor soccer: you have a small field that's less than half the size of a soccer field, enclosed in netting, and a small soccer ball, and six people on each team.  The rules are pretty much the same as in soccer.  It was ridiculously fun, and I surprised myself with how well I could keep up.

Speaking of sports, we've made friends with a group of surfers that hangs out down the beach from our hotel (They're in that very relaxing picture at the top of the blog).  Apparently the surf season here is in full swing, and we see them out in the waves almost every day.  Most of them are Malay, but there is one very well-traveled German named Jan.  He talks like a vocal chameleon - if he's speaking with an American, it would never enter your head that he wasn't American too.  But if you hear him talking to a Malay, the broken English he uses makes you wonder whether he's just a Malay without a tan.

We invited the surfers to our full moon beach bonfire a few nights ago, which was completely awesome.  We spent some time during the day gathering up random wood and dead palm fronds lying on the beach, then me and two other girls dug a small pit in the sand and successfully lit the fire using only a few matches.  By the time the guys got there with a carload of firewood, they were very impressed with how big it was already.

We did a little "Letting Go" ceremony that one of the girls knew, where you write things that you want to let go from your life on a piece of paper, then set the paper on fire, run to the water, and drop it in.  Mine burned me slightly, but was successfully destroyed.  We spent the rest of the night hanging out, getting to know the surfers, singing random songs, and talking to the random group of kids who came up all curious about us.

The surfers did this awesome thing with a ton of steel wool that they bought, where they stuffed it into a little wire basket on the end of a rope, dipped the steel wool in the fire, then when it caught, spun it around really fast, making a sizzling pinwheel of sparks.  It was incredible, and I got some pictures that don't even nearly do it justice.

Anyway, it's not all fun and games here, I did get to meet my mentor the other day, and we spent hours just talking about the school, the students, what I'll be doing, getting to know each other, etc.  I've been gathering ideas for class activities like a maniac; if anyone has anything that can help, I would love to hear about it.  Especially things like camp games and fun activities that get everyone up and talking.

Time to get working and packing - the handing over ceremony is tomorrow, then we go off to our schools!

I'll add pictures later.  Oh, here's a deal: I'll add one picture for each person that comments or emails me and tells me what they're up to these days.  Seriously, I want to keep up with you people, not just chuck paragraphs into the void occasionally.

So, here are some extra pictures I thought were cool:

Me in a baju kurung, the type of women's garment that I'll be wearing to teach class pretty much every day at the school.

Me playing around on the supports of a traditional house-on-stilts at the museum (there are still plenty of these in the countryside).

Fellow ETA Ani eating a restaurant's take-away dessert, "ice cream sandwich."  Which was, quite literally, vanilla ice cream on lightly toasted brown bread.


  1. Wow, sounds like a ton of fun! I imagine they want to give you guys a chance to relax a little and get to know each other before the hard work starts. I can imagine you trying to haggle and the person cracking up haha ;) I'm sure you'll get the hang of the language more and more as time goes by!

    I facebook messaged you about what I'm up to, does that mean I get two pictures? :D

  2. Hey Elise! It's Sarah Oates. I love reading your blog, it sounds like you are having a blast. I just started my final semester and I am doing a full time internship at a Health Center/Nursing Home. I can't wait to hear more about your awesome experiences!!!!

  3. It's Caitlin

    Once things start settling down for you, let's start actually planning my visit! It'll be fantastic!

  4. Elise,

    I have my own image of the full moon bonfire on the beach - its rich and vivid. I can imagine being there - the singing, dialogue, camaraderie...the distinct smell of the fire smoke mixing with the warm salty air breezing off the water. A daydream that momentarily transports me out of the office world...shall I thank you!? I suppose so.

    I'm sure challenge abounds on a trip like this, even as you bask in the luxury of orientation...what have you had to face so far? Have your challenges been predominantly internal or external? Feel free to email me a separate response if you deem it necessary (nvengels@gmail.com).

    By now, your role as teacher has already commenced, I'd be curious to hear about the experience in its early stages. What are the kids like? What are your expectations of yourself...of others? What about your living quarters, is it uncomfortably hot? There is a bottomless treasure trove of questions stored in my cerebrum...it's a damn shame (for me) we can't have our usual exchange here in the office...

    I have been diligently protecting your 'cat' sketch on the chalkboard here at work - it has not been erased. I'm hoping to preserve it's integrity until the end of your trip.

    Anyway, I hope this response is good for at least five pictures.

    Keep the updates coming...you're well missed and well followed on the home front.

    Much love, respect.

    Chaz Darwin