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Better late than never

Yesterday, I stopped by Audrey’s place to visit baby Fighter for a bit, which has become my favourite hobby these days. Tim came home and we started talking about blogging for some reason, and he tried talking me into blogging again. I got inspired a little but that fizzled out as soon as we ended the conversation. But tonight I’m home alone, and I have Spotify on (bought the monthly subscription – best decision ever!) and I don’t know why but the songs that are playing now are setting a very comfortable and conducive mood to blog. So I guess here I am, finally!

It’s really such a pity that I had to write a whole paragraph to justify why I’m blogging, but it just feels so weird to be writing again after 2 whole months of not doing so. I’m sure those of you who are now taking time off blogging will know exactly how I feel. You know, blogging has consumed a large part of my life since I’ve been blogging since I was 16, and it’s so funny that I couldn’t care much about it now. And when that decline has begun, it’s extremely hard to want to do it regularly again :(

Anyway, what’s up everyone? It’s been a pretty good year for me so far, with my new job and new office and somewhat new life. I’m no longer teaching, no longer traveling back and forth for hours every week to my rural school, no longer living in a completely different environment, and honestly, it does take some getting used to now that I’m finally living in KL for the first time in a very long time (4 years in the US, 2 years in Jelebu)

You know, I don’t even know what to blog about anymore! Last time, I could talk about anything I want because I was a student and had no restrictions. Then, I could talk about my experiences as a teacher cos it’s super exciting and I had tons to share. But now that I’m an average person, who is a working professional so can’t be as stupid and silly as before, I really don’t know what to talk about anymore.

That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’ve stopped, but I’m going to try starting again, one step at a time. I actually really love to write, and ever since I’ve stopped, there’s this lingering sense of emptiness trailing behind me and I feel like there’s no way to get rid of that until I actually start writing again.

So yeap, I guess this is a start :) I’m so serious about this that I’m literally putting it down in my weekly goal – to blog at least once every week! Once I start, I’m sure the writing mojo will come flying back!

p.s:

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I finally have my long hair back again! After 4 years of cutting my hair super short, the day is here :D

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Reflections on India

Hello! I think this is my current trend now, blogging once a month. I always feel the urge to blog more when that specific time rolls around so here’s a good long post about what I’ve been up to! (+tons of pictures)

So last month, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a really awesome conference in India! It was a conference under Teach For All, so we got to meet all the other teachers under the Teach For programs from close to 26 different countries!!!

India was an eye-opening, heartwarming, breathtaking experience for me. Before I went, my boyfriend warned me that I will see and learn so much from India, and I’ll experience the best and the worst of humanity there, so I was definitely quite prepared for it. I was very cautious with my food and drinks, and survived on trying to refrain from street food as much as possible (which was super hard for me).

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we were very very fortunate to be able to stay in a REALLY awesome hotel. This hotel (Kempinski) just opened, and gave us a really good rate so it was truly a blessing :)

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This is an autorickshaw, and was my absolute favourite thing ever! They don’t really have taxis there, and the streets are packed with these. You can fit up to 4 people in here (sometimes even more, people will sit on laps etc) and it moves really dangerously on the streets, but definitely an incredible experience.

I was in the auto late one night, zipping around the streets of India with the wind blowing in my hair and the cacophony of chaos around me, and I looked up and saw the full moon shining brightly on to the messy landscape down below. That was when I realized that I’ve truly fallen in love with this country.

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and all its amazing children!

I met some of the most wonderful children on this trip; all of them so bright-eyed and eager, so enthusiastic and full of live despite all the challenges they face.

This kid was explaining to me a project they did in the classroom, and he was so SO full of energy! I was just walking around when he came to shake my hand and to introduce himself *impressed

Teach For India has done such amazing things with their classes and is definitely an inspiration for all of us here too :)

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and this is the ugly part of the country, which I was not quite prepared to see. Children begging everywhere on the streets, slums and slums painting the sidewalks, poverty staring blatantly at everyone.

It was hard to train myself to ignore the beggars but it was so hard when they are very young children with huge sorrowful eyes.

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This is one of the classrooms we visited and it was amazing to see how possible it is to really change lives with a really good strong teacher.

And on our final day, we visited…..

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The Taj Mahal!

What an incredible sight!

I mean, I’ve seen so many pictures of it before, but to see it with my eyes is a whole different experience. It was majestic and soooo beautiful too!

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And the whole Malaysian delegate wore sarees that night! :D (i’m the one in light blue in case you’ve forgotten how I look like T__T)

I was really inspired by my India trip, and I came back feeling like I’ve definitely NOT worked hard enough to ensure success for my kids. There are just so much we can do and I really want to go all out before my year ends!

(this bit might bore readers who are not teachers)

I realized one of the most important things we have to instill in our daily lesson plans is the concept of values. Not just using the term “values” as a catchphrase, but truly internalizing it and getting the students to embody it with their actions.

I’ve been trying to do that more now because I believe that teachers, especially those of us who teach kids from underprivileged and more chaotic and challenging backgrounds, have the biggest responsibility to ensure that our kids turn out to be good people.

Sure, grades are important but I need to make sure that when I leave after 2 years, my kids are on the path to be successful people with strong values, not just A-churning robots.

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Trying to internalize the concept of values in my classes is really not an easy task, but completely do-able. For example, we were learning about road safety and I got the students to stand on both sides of the “road”.

They closed their eyes while I played them a video of a horrific car crash (with super dramatic sound effect – idea taken from my other awesome Teach For Malaysia fellows). Then I read them an excerpt of a news report on an accident, and we stood in silence for a while mourning the death of the people in the accident.

We spoke about the fragility of life, about the real importance of taking good care of ourselves and people around us. I don’t want my kids to just learn about road safety because it’s a topic in the textbook, but because they truly think it’s an important issue to discuss.

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(this was another class but we were learning the same objective)

After all that seriousness, we took a 5-minute break at the end of class to play “On the line”, a game inspired by the movie “Dangerous Minds”

So basically students will be on both sides and there’ll be a line in the middle (the road drawn in the beginning of class). I will read out statements and if anyone agrees, they’ll come forward and stand on the line for a few seconds, then move back for the next statement.

The statements got deeper each time and I encouraged the students to be honest but it’s really up to them if they want to walk forward.

“I have many friends in school”

All of them came forward.

“I like coming to school”

All of them came forward too. This is a pretty good class so it’s not surprising.

I love learning English”

Threw this in just for fun and immediately they all RAN to the line (*heart leaps in joy!)

“I have a boyfriend/girlfriend”

Hehe I’m so sneaky. A very small handful came forward.

“I’ve lost one parent”

About ten kids came forward.

“I’ve seen my mother/father cry”

Half the class came forward.

“Sometimes I cry myself to sleep”

This was a tough one but I was surprised to see about fifteen kids come forward. The other kids (boys especially) started laughing at the fifteen kids. Good, because this is exactly what our lesson is about.

I told the fifteen kids that I cannot believe how brave they are to admit something supposedly so shameful as this, and only the strongest people admit their weaknesses. The other kids stopped laughing.

Now this is where it gets tougher.

“I get abused at home”

Half the class came forward.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a useless person”

Almost ALL the kids came forward.

“Sometimes I feel like I have no hope for a better future”

A handful came forward, some on the verge of tears.

“Sometimes I feel like killing myself”

This was the most surprising one for me. More than half came forward and my heart stopped. These are 13 year olds! It breaks my heart knowing this but I took mental note of this, definitely something that needs to be addressed.

When the game ended, the kids told me how much they loved it because they got to know more about their friends and about themselves too. Though it wasn’t super explicit, the objective of it was to get the kids to realize that despite all their physical differences, beneath everything, they’re all made up of the same thing: flesh and blood. They all experience happiness, heartaches, sadness and pain, and should learn to be there for each other.
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The value that I love the MOST is definitely perseverance. Last week, I went on a Bollywood binge a little and sang “We Shall Overcome” (the song in My Name Is Khan) with the kids.

This week, I gave them the reading diagnostics and it has five levels and it gets harder with each level. I was expecting this class to only reach level 3 or 4 before they give up, so I didn’t print level 5 for them. But they surpassed my expectations and almost all of them asked for level 5!

Although maybe 1 or 2 of them managed to actually do it, the rest worked relentlessly to finish the questions. One boy had his head bowed, brows furrowed, and started singing “we shall overcome..we shall overcome..” while doing the paper.

Amazing. My kids give me so much hope to push on everyday!

Wow ok this has been a crazy long post, but I hope you enjoy a short glimpse of my classes!

Will blog again in a month hahaha (ok joking ha ha ha)

 

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Truth and Hope

My life in a nutshell right now, the reason why I haven’t been blogging religiously lately (not like I ever did this past one year ha ha):

So basically right after our school holidays started, we had to spend days organizing our data of our students’ achievement (in my part, lack of achievement T____T makes me question whether if what I did this entire one year was even worth it) and reporting them on an online portal. It was excruciatingly tedious so I haven’t had much time for anything else.

The week after that, our postgraduate diploma in education’s classes started and life has been crazy since. We have to attend classes five days a week, from 8-5, and we have TONS of assignments to work on just like any other college student. Presentations, reflections, papers to write, readings to read and generally just no time for anything else.

I’m not complaining, since technically I’m getting my second degree but I just really realllllllllly need a break. I need time to plan for my next year and it’s absolutely crucial I enter my classrooms next year very well prepared, but I have NO time now to even think about next year. Not only that, every TFM fellow, in their second year, will have to run a community project and we’ve been up nights thinking about what we want to do next year that can help change the school and community.

I’ll talk about my project later but if you went to my TEDx talk, you’d know!

Speaking of next year, I’ve been feeling really stressed out for a multitude of reasons.

1. My last one year in school has been somewhat….wasted. I mean, I’ve worked extremely hard but it’s so painful to see almost no improvement in my students. I know what I’m doing is not going to be successful overnight, but it’s been a YEAR! A WHOLE freaking year, and what did I do? Absolutely nothing. My best class’ results increased…by 2%. TWO percent.

Lately, I’ve been trying to adopt a more positive way to think of things. I’m going to look at things and compartmentalize them into two categories: TRUTH and HOPE.

So here it is. The TRUTH is, I did not transform my students’ lives. There was little to no progress, and my illiterate students are still illiterate. I’ve failed to be an effective teacher to my students.

But here’s the HOPE part. I’m still going to go back to school next year and I still truly believe in this mission to end education inequity. I still believe that my students can achieve so much more, if I find better ways to help them. I know there are so many of them just waiting for me to help unleash their potential in them. Their hope is me, and my hope is them.

Which is exactly why I’m feeling so stressed, cause I know I can do so much more for them but I don’t know how to. I need to plan plan plan PLAN better for next year to make sure our goals are achieved this time! I need to because it’s my last and only chance. And I hate to think this, but it might even be their last and only chance.

2. It might seem like it’s too early to think about it, but I’m really thinking of what I want to do after the fellowship. I know when next year comes, we will not have time for anything else. I need to think about what I want to do after next year and start planning towards it. I want to continue teaching, but at the same time I want to try out sooooo many things as well. I want my Masters, I want to work in a corporate firm, I want to get all kinds of experiences, I want to be challenged in ways I cannot comprehend, I want to do so much, and yet I don’t even know what I want.

These thoughts are seriously driving me crazy! I have a stack of articles to read and papers to write, but my mind is so occupied by all these worries that I can’t even focus on anything. I’ve spoken to people about career options, but the more I talk to people, the more I realize that I want to do everything!

So here it is again:

Truth: thinking about all this is making me go crazy.

Hope: my enthusiasm is what fuels me. I realize that despite all this stress and worries, this is potentially the most exciting part of my life right now! Here it goes, one more year to change lives.

p.s: I want to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for going through this journey with me. I started this post feeling so overwhelmed, but writing about my hopes and dreams make me feel so energized and enthusiastic about everything. Now I feel like anything is possible!

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The ones left behind

I’ve been talking about really positive stories of kids inspiring me everyday, so I thought I’d like to share something else I see in school. I’d like to paint a more..realistic picture of the kinds of challenges plaguing schools like mine (and many more in this country).

I teach Form 1 and 2 kids so they’re 13 to 14 years old. My kids are still young and very much..how should I say this..they’re more untainted. Although some of my Form 1 kids are very very naughty and they have the potential to go on to be terrible troublemakers a few years later, they’re still manageable now and I can still control them.

However, I definitely can’t say the same for the older kids. I enter Form 4 and 5 classes all the time as a substitute teacher, and I teach if they want me to but most of the time I end up just sitting down to chat with some of the kids. I always ask them how they feel about school, what they want to do after finishing school, what are their aspirations, their family background etc. Most of their stories are quite sad but I do try to maintain a certain degree of skepticism too with their sob stories cause they could lie sometimes.

Anyway, there are these two kids that stood out to me. One of them was A. He is the older brother of one of my students (who’s a pretty good student) and this A is in the “last” class. He told me he used to be as smart as his younger brother too but as the years go by, his results got worse and worse and he’s now in the last class and labelled as someone who can’t study anymore. In fact he himself told me that he can’t study anymore. He skips school all the time because he has to work to support his brother, his grandmother and himself since their parents had left them. He gets RM35 a day from working 10 hours in the farm.

A is a really funny kid actually and I love talking to him. He likes singing to the latest English songs and I was surprised that he could understand me perfectly even if I speak English with him. He said he wants to do so many things after finishing school, but he just doesn’t know if he can with his results (he usually fails all his subjects except English).

Then there’s this other kid, B. B is in the last class in Form Five and has always been in the last class for many years. When I spoke to him about his aspirations, he doesn’t have any because he told me he just “doesn’t know how or what to do”. He said he wants to study, but he doesn’t know how since he has never studied before all his life! He lives with his grandparents and nobody cares if he studies or not, so he just…doesn’t. He’s 17 now and realizes that he probably will fail all his subjects in SPM, but there’s nothing he could do because all his friends are in similar predicament as well and it doesn’t really matter anyway in this village.

I talked to him about many things, about having bigger goals and doing something bigger and going beyond the village etc, but he seemed really pessimistic. I can’t blame him at all, because that’s all he has ever been exposed to.

I’m sharing these two stories because they have been running in my head for a while. I’m glad I’m teaching Form 1 because I feel like I can still change things for them, I can still help them. For the older kids, they seem so resigned to their fate and the teachers around them have also subconsciously stopped trying with them. I can’t blame neither of them because I HAVE tried teaching them and it’s just really really hard. They have fallen so deep into the cracks of the failure of the system, and I think it takes a lot more than a teacher who cares to help them get out.

I walked into a form 5 class who’s having their exam today and I see half of them sleeping and half of them trying to do their papers but to no avail. The average passing rate for this class is 40%. 40%! Only 40% of them pass their papers! Not even an A but pass. What is going to happen to them when they finish school only with a pass? What is going to happen to the OTHER 60%?

All this makes me so upset! How did these kids got to where they are today without anyone noticing? Without anyone caring? There are tons and tons of them in my school, and this is such a prevalent issue in all schools in this country, especially in areas outside klang valley.  What does it take to help them? Can they even be helped anymore?

Honestly, I feel so helpless for them. I want to help, but I have my own kids to worry about first. I don’t want my kids to end up in that deep dark abyss and I want to get them out of the rut as soon as possible but even that is proving to be very difficult. So I guess in a way, these older kids’ stories, despite making me feel really sad and helpless, are inspiring me to help my younger kids.

But what’s going to happen to the older kids?

I guess they are just left with the way they have been for many years. They become the faceless part of the society, uncared for, uninspired, and life for them is just waking up each day and trying to make ends meet. They’re victims of the circumstances they were born in and the whole cycle just repeats itself with every generation.

This realization made me really sad today.

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This week’s reflection

This week has been a mix of happy and sad for me. I’m putting in more time and effort in my lesson planning because I realized how important it is for me to be absolutely prepared for my classes. I had 3 classes on Tuesday, and every single class was just amazing!

My stronger class was top notch that day. I prepared an activity for them where they had to move around different stations to solve different clues before they could tackle the final mystery. The topic that day was understanding graphic materials (advertisements, notices, maps etc), but if I just got them to sit down and do the questions, they’ll really hate English. They loved it and moved around seamlessly whenever the timer (Mr Chicken) rang.

My second class was a weaker class and we did pronouns. I realized, while explaining the different rules of when to use what, that ENGLISH IS FREAKING CONFUSING AND DIFFICULT TO LEARN. So I decided to scrap the whole explanation and just played a pronoun game with them. We sang Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are together and circled all the pronouns. I personally don’t remember learning pronouns (or grammar for that matter) by memorizing the rules but just by gut feeling after seeing how it’s used many times. Then, I put them into groups and gave them a homemade whiteboard each. I put up questions on the blackboard and they have to compete by answering the questions on their own board and raise them up. I use this all the time and the kids love it!

My most challenging class was also super well-behaved that day! I’d given two kids special pens I bought from Singapore because they were amazing in the class before, and they’d gone back to brag to their other friends. So everyone was really good that day because they all wanted special pens too!

It’s hard to explain the special moments I had in that class that day, but I can never forget this kid, Rizal’s face when he became a superstar that day. He completed his worksheet in half the time other kids took, and spent the rest of the time standing next to me to help me mark other kids’ papers! T______T Rizal is the naughtiest but cutest kid in that class, and I was so proud of him. I saw him and his dad that night at the mamak, so I told his dad that he’s very lucky to have such a bright kid. Rizal was just smiling like crazy behind his dad and when I told his dad that Rizal is doing very well and is really intelligent (it’s true, he’s in the “last” class but this kid is brilliant), his dad couldn’t even believe it. I think I made his night :D

So overall, Tuesday was just a really good day for me. I felt like finally, the kids are learning and showing progress (albeit veryyyy slowly but I’ll take it).

Then Wednesday came and it was just a HORRIBLE day I wanted to cry. I found out that some teachers might not like me very much because I don’t help out enough with other work like decorating the halls, preparing for meetings, admin work etc. I’m already super worn out from preparing like crazy for my classes, so I don’t know how to find time to do those things! Apparently I should have brought my kids to the hall DURING my lesson so I could decorate the hall. This made me very angry but I can’t say much because it’s the reality that teachers have to do so much and it’s not the other teachers’ fault *bites lips

And my classes went really bad that day too. The kids were very agitated and tired because half of them went for some olahraga thing and had spent all their energy running and sprinting. I went to this somewhat ok class but that day they were just driving me up the wall. I slept really late the night before to prepare for this class, and seeing how they don’t give two hoots about my effort just made me really sad. I told them twice that if they continue talking while I’m talking, I don’t think today is a good day to learn. I gave them consequences, gave them yellow cards for first warning, put them in the focus chair etc but nothing worked.

So midway through my lesson where only about half the class was listening, I packed my things and told them that’s it, I can’t teach anymore. I told them to just copy the notes and study on their own for their exam next week. And for the first time ever since I’ve started teaching, I walked out of a class. I’ve wanted to do this many times with my challenging classes, but I’ve never actually done it.

Some of the kids came running after me and begged me to come back. They were at the corridor, some crying, some pulling me, some apologizing. I told them to go back in because they were causing a commotion, but they wouldn’t let me go. I was really mad at that class, but I realized I was being unfair to half the class who wanted to learn. So I walked back in, told them to sit down and just do their own work while I sit there to make sure they don’t loiter around.

One boy stood up, said “Stand up class” and tried to get everyone to apologize as a class but they were too afraid to stand/speak. One girl, who is sick that day and whom I spent two hours with at the clinic the day before, came to me with tears and asked me to forgive the class. I was this close to just bawling my eyes out to be honest wtf

Anyway, I took a few minutes to calm down while I prepared the materials for the activity, stood up and pasted papers around the class for the activity. I gathered everyone (who was all shocked and confused – “cikgu bukan tengah marah ke?”) and told them that we’re gonna play a game and the class went alright after that. Midway through, one boy came to me and asked me to forgive him, and I said I already did, that’s why we’re playing a game. (also wanted to cry at this point *crybaby)

Before I walked out of the class, I apologized to everyone for walking out and for being angry at them. I don’t want to be a teacher who likes scolding her students, and I told them to not make me be that kind of teacher. I just want to play games and have fun with them because learning IS supposed to be fun. The kids then came to “salam” me and told me they’ll not do it again.

So I guess…everything went ok…but I was really upset at myself for being so emotional that day. I can’t believe I let my emotions get the better of me and was so unfair to the kids who wanted to learn. I was tired and frustrated, but they are still kids after all.

I’m sorry this post is so long, but I want to record down everything that happened this week!

Today was thankfully a good day. There is this one very quiet kid in my really weak class who can’t read at all. This class is full of very noisy hyperactive kids, and I almost always miss this boy from my radar. Today I saw his work and realized that he hasn’t done anything all day. I got frustrated because he just sat there staring at me blankly despite not understanding anything! I told him (quite harshly) that I will see him in his dorm tonight to teach him what we’ve done today.

I didn’t think too much about it, but I heard from another teacher that he went to her with a huge smile and told her that he’s very happy because I’m going to teach him tonight. He said he wants to be good in English so he can go overseas. When I heard that, my heart melted into a big gooey mess. I can’t believe that despite my frustrated tone, despite my harshness, this silly boy was still so happy that I’ll teach him!

So I sat down with him during my dinner at the local mamak and we went through all the flashcards together. He cannot even read RUN and TRASH and ROAD and we just spent the 2 hours reading them again and again. Even the waitress kakak joined us and did it together with him! I could tell that he was getting frustrated for not knowing how to read but he went on and on. I told him to take a break, but he continued flipping the cards and trying to read them, his milo ais untouched.

Today, Loga has taught me so many lessons to be a better teacher. His patience and determination inspire me to try harder despite my bad days in school. His happiness to learn, despite me being frustrated at him, showed me that deep down inside, every kid wants to learn and wants to experience success. This is why I teach for Malaysia.

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Here are two videos I’d like to share!

This is a combination of three of my classes singing songs and working in groups. (these are my stronger classes)

If you remember, I’m actually tone deaf and I can’t sing to save my life. But I’ve been using a lot of songs and have to always sing the loudest so the kids would sing along. I realize that if you want to have fun with your classes, you’ll have to make a fool of yourself first so the kids would feel more comfortable in class. Everytime I hear my voice I feel like cringing but they have never made fun of me *touched

TV3 came to one of my classes for an interview that day! Thank you Nazrul for this, my kids really enjoyed being filmed :D And the camera really added 10lbs to my face FML T___T

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Stories from the gym

Yes, I finally decided to do something about my incessant complaints about my weight gain and went to the gym for the first time in months yesterday! Woohoo!!

While I gingerly pressed the buttons on the treadmill in the gym (I live in an apartment), I noticed a girl staring at me from afar. She was by the door, curiously sticking her head in to get a small peek at what I was doing. I smiled at her while she walked nervously and stood right next to me. She was one of the cleaners, as I noticed from her uniform. I didn’t know if I should continue running, or ask her if something was wrong, so I said hello kak, sihat?

She was taken aback but asked if she could stand there and watch me, for she has never seen how the machines work before and has never dared to ask. I said sure, but inside I was getting a little annoyed. I mean, how am I going to run when someone’s watching me?? After two minutes, I was already panting and sweating and there she was, still staring wide-eyed at the treadmill and me.

Then there was a man’s voice some distance away and she scurried away immediately, mumbling something about how she’d better get back to work. About fifteen minutes after when I’d moved on to lifting weights instead, she came in again, this time with another cleaner friend in tow. They both smiled widely and stared at me pulling the handlebar down, and gasped when it made a somewhat loud clang when I was done with it. I asked if they wanted to try too, and told them how it works and which muscles I was using. They got excited when they heard me speaking in fluent Malay, and started chatting with me while I moved on to the other machines.

It was a short conversation but I couldn’t believe how fast they’d warmed up to a complete stranger who was merely trying to tell them how to lift weights! The other girl was 17 while the first one was my age, and they were both from Kelantan. They came to KL because they were lousy at school and they thought there wasn’t a point in continuing anyway. “Buang masa je kan kat sekolah, mak bapak kata baik cari kerja”. I told them very cautiously that going to school increases their chances of getting a better job, to which they disagreed politely. “Ramai kawan kite orang habis sekolah pun sama je, buat kerja sapu sampah, cuci tandas semua, asalkan dapat duit lah. Kite bukannya macam orang KL, pandai cakap English, pandai jadi doktor”

Here I was lifting my 20-pound handlebar, listening to these two girls telling me their stories so candidly, and I was left completely dumbfounded. The younger girl had to go back to work, and before she left she said “akak ni baik dan peramah lah, biasanya orang tak layan pun, nanti kite borak lagi ye” which hit me with guilt like a ton of bricks. I usually never speak to the cleaners before, and this was only because I was getting uncomfortable with them staring at me!

Meanwhile the other girl was still accompanying me while I continued running on the treadmill. I had gotten used to her, so I was still chatting with her while I almost died climbing a hill at 6km/h. Sweat was dripping everywhere, I was panting like a dog, my eyesight was blurring up, and there she was saying “cepat sikit! boleh lagi! 5 minit lagi!” T______T what did I do to deserve such kindness and moral encouragement from someone I just met an hour ago?

When I was done, she wiped the machine clean since I had obviously deposited a lot of bodily fluid all over it wtf. I told her I have to go, and she said bye cheerfully and asked me when I would come to the gym again. “Insha’allah esok!” but I never went today cos my legs were too sore and I was busy :(

I just wanted to jot this down because it was probably one of those AHA! moments for me. Aha! I knew I was doing Teach For Malaysia for the right reason, how can people think that kids in KL are smarter, and that there’s no point to school because they will still work as a cleaner after anyway? Aha! I might have wasted more time talking to them than actually working out, but it was a conversation I will never give up for anything. Aha! being fluent in Malay comes in handy after all :D

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I really hate to be overselling Teach For Malaysia, but I wholeheartedly believe in their cause and mission. As someone who comes from a somewhat more privileged background, from a middle-class family that lives in a pretty adequate suburbia that’s within driving distance to everything I ever need, it’s easy to bitch about what the country is lacking and to nitpick on every flaw we have. But I also realize that we have grown so far apart from many of our fellow Malaysians who live in this very same country we’re in. Malaysians who are barely surviving, and here we are complaining while we drive nice cars and have meals in restaurants.

I think this dawned upon me the most when I was google mapping the school that I’m going to teach for the next two years. I’ve been an ardent google map user, but I’ve always only used it to see how I can get to Bangsar, or Damansara. I realized that zooming out of Klang Valley, there really isn’t much and roads become a lot less connected (in fact, only one main road in Gemas). So, when I say the government should do this and that for me, am I thinking about people from these places? They are Malaysians too, but who is speaking out for them? Do we know what they want, or do we even care? Frankly, I have never thought of that before. I’ve been so self-absorbed in this whole pursuit of a better country for ME, for people who are like ME, and it’s so easy to entrap ourselves in this Klang Valley bubble. (sorry I’m digressing a little here)

I’m really interested to know why these two young girls said there wasn’t a point in going to school, was it because they come from families who didn’t think it was possible to be successful? was it because they don’t have someone to look up to? Most importantly, was it because they had teachers who never once told them that despite where they come from, they can achieve success, just like the “smarter people in KL”? (remind self to ask them tomorrow when I go to the gym, which I WILL BE *gung ho)

I have heard first-hand teachers saying that about their students. “There’s no hope for these students, the best thing we can do is keep them out of trouble”. No, there’s no hope for them because no one told them that they can do it. No one has believed in them, or told them that there’s no excuse to not do well because of their origin and socio-economic background.

I have had the privilege to not just go to a university, but a university abroad nonetheless. Many many other Malaysians out there might not even go to a university (in fact, 4 out of 5 working Malaysians are only educated up to SPM level) so education inequity is definitely well and alive. Although I have not seen it in my bubble, I know it’s there so it’s about time I acknowledge it. To be honest, if anything, I feel quite ashamed. Ashamed because I had wanted to leave this call of urgency behind, leave my country behind.

Ok I realize it’s been a long post, and to you it might have been a whole lot of fluff and nonsense but it’s something I believe in so just entertain me lah haha.

On a completely different note, I wonder how I suddenly became this serious person that I am. I was reading my old posts and I used to be so funny T__T. My resolution for the next few months is to get back my sense of humor, and I’ll start by googling for jokes so watch out for a funny post next wtf

556

An education

Life is like a game of Tetris:

Apart from being a fine game, Tetris is also a perfect mirror of the human condition. For a while the game is entertaining, and we seem to have mastered it and are having fun. Then, something goes wrong — a rash mistake, or an unfulfilled wish, and we’re fighting to repair the damage, but we’ve been thrown off-balance, and everything is piling up. Blocks that were once orderly and harmonious are jumbled and filled with holes, and our cup is on the verge of running over. There’s always a point at which we stop planning for the future, and realize that we don’t have one — all we can do is cling to the present and concentrate, focus our minds on what it’s like to be alive, to play the game, before it’s all over.

You were waiting for a four-by-one block that never came.

Sometimes we resist to the bitter end, moving blocks left and right without thought or care, just to hang on, and sometimes we accept the inevitable and pull the blocks down to us, smiling inwardly at the great joke. The rest is silence.

I found a great analysis of Tetris and just thought I’d share it here since it’s too long to post on Twitter wtf.

By the way, I’m home!!!! For good. Forever. It feels so foreign and weird…I still feel like I’m on my usual summer holiday, and still feel like a college student. I guess it’ll take a while for it to sink in.

My parents were here for my graduation and they really were my personal photographers the entire time. Shanshan’s parents had THREE cameras with them and they would use ALL the cameras everytime. So I have about a million pictures to vet through before I can post them up!

But what I have so far:

Aileen and I before the Laurel Parade

My white dress from H&M and the beautiful yellow scarf given by our alumnae!

My best friend Shanshan and I. I don’t want to think about not seeing her for a while and that it’s the end of us being in college together, because if I do I know I will not be able to stop crying. I was very lucky to have someone like her throughout my 4 years in college cos she’s one of the very few people who completely understands me and is extremely supportive of me T___T

Laurel Parade, one of our oldest and most beloved traditions. Graduating seniors will all wear white and will carry the Laurel chain (the chain of green grass thingy), signifying a link that brings all of us together, and we’ll carry it to our founder’s grave.

And then we’ll gather and sing Bread and Roses, a song that supports international women suffrage and appeals for gender equality and women’s rights.

I cried while we were singing that song, it was so beautiful T___T then I looked around and saw everyone crying too T__T Now I really don’t regret going to a women’s college that takes activism so seriously.

Men in kilts performing before the parade

probably my absolute favorite part of the parade! the school spirit is so strong because hundreds of alumnae actually came back for reunion! this is the class of 1961, which means they’re all around 70+ years old!

there was also someone from the class of 1931, she was 102 years old!

the feeling of having so many people cheer you on during the parade was indescribable. Especially when you see the look of pride and recognition on their faces, it was amazing.

The night before graduation, we have another ceremony called the Baccalaureate. It was basically a more personal event where we had our Dean wrapping up our college life. She said soooo many quotable quotes that night, and everyone was tearing quite badly too. She talked about uncertainties, and fear, and anxiety upon completing college and finally going out in the real world. It was so…relatable and so real which makes it scarier.

Graduation!!!!

We were all given a sunflower each :)

Our president insisted on hugging ALL of us when we received our degree. She also congratulated each and everyone of us when she hugged us, damn nice!!!

I’m happy to announce that I received my degree without falling on stage because I chickened out and didn’t wear high heels wtf. Everything is in Latin, I only recognized my name here hahah

Treated myself to a huge ice cream hoho

The next day, I packed all my 4 years in college in 4 suitcases and left my second home.

As the bus gained momentum and drove past my college, I got quite emotional for the first time upon graduation. This picture describes my feelings perfectly. In a blur, scared, excited, unsure, sad, very sad, glad, hopeful. I don’t know what’s in store for me after leaving a place that has changed me tremendously, a place that I was only beginning to really love and be comfortable in.

Thank you Mount Holyoke for making me the woman that I am today.

Thank you for teaching me how to think critically for myself, for nurturing the principles in me that I never knew existed, for being patient and kind when I didn’t quite get the point of a liberal arts education at first, for never giving up when I doubted you.

But most importantly, thank you for showing me that education is never a means to an end, that the pursuit of knowledge is lifelong.

We don’t go to school because we need practical knowledge to help us in our jobs, we go to school to gain knowledge that will help us make sense of the world and our place and roles to play. The past weekend was a culmination of this realization. One of my favorite professors, in his final lecture to us, told us this:

“Look at the person on your left, and the person on your right. In a hundred years, they will both be dead. We spend our lives worrying about things that are in the present, things that are transitory and are insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Spend your life thinking about things that are eternal, not temporary. Spend your life thinking about things that will matter 100 years from today, things that mattered 100 years ago and will continue to be important.

Your education has not ended, in fact it starts right after your graduation. Think about the everlasting effect of your existence, read the great books, read because it matters. Your education starts when you start learning about stuff because it matters and the only questions that matter are why are you here? what’s the purpose of your life?”

This is only an excerpt of some of the most inspiring speeches I’ve heard. Someone else talked about the roles that women should play in the society and urged us to be the women who pave ways for changes and the women who play critical roles locally and globally.

Our commencement speaker talked about the importance of the liberal arts education and how it’s getting underrated these days in pursuit of more material gains and knowledge. She spoke about the role of the humanities and art in democracy and in a more holistic society and I couldn’t have agreed more.

I was never a big fan of the humanities and art, and sometimes question my decision to be in a liberal arts college. Why am I not learning more practical skills? skills that can be applied in my jobs in the future? It wasn’t until I realized at the end that that’s not what education is all about, at least not to me. I can go on about this for maybe another 10 pages or so, but I just got home and I need to eat all the Malaysian food that my stomach can take!!!

The end from the college student Suet. It’s time to be a big girl now.

“Go forth, make a difference, be the change you want to see, change the world”

892

The road not taken

Today I’m feeling bogged down by a lot of different emotions and despite being in the midst of the nerve-wrecking final exams period, I also feel strangely relaxed. I’ve been following my daily hour-by-hour schedule rather religiously and have accomplished most of what I need to do, and while tonight I’m supposed to be revising for my Logic exam tomorrow I just feel like I need to seek refuge somehow from all that chaos around me.

I received my Teach for Malaysia welcome packet the other day and immediately read everything cover to cover. There will be a two month-training before the real teaching begins, and the training will be from 6am to 10pm everyday. (I CAN’T EVEN WAKE UP BEFORE 12PM THESE DAYS) but still, I’m glad that we will have somewhat adequate training since I’m definitely not prepared to teach just yet.

Anyway,  I felt overwhelmed immediately after reading it, because I suddenly felt all that immense expectations on me and all the responsibilities that I will have to bear. There are so many stakeholders here, the students in my classroom, the teachers in that school, the parents, the community, the people who believe/don’t believe in TFM (since we’re the first cohort, how successful it is really depends on us), and ultimately my parents who don’t think this is a good idea. Can I really do this? What if I take on this unprecedented path and ‘sacrifice’ my two years only to realize that it’s too difficult for me?

After really taking some time to think about this, and after talking to Dzameer the cofounder and Chaitra, another fellow in Teach for India, I realized how silly it is for me to even doubt myself and doubt the entire cause. If this wasn’t hard or challenging, why would I even want to do it in the first place? I know I wanted something bigger than a desk job after I graduate, and this is the perfect opportunity to do something about what I strongly believe in, this is my chance to make a difference, and I sit and moan about all the what ifs??

No doubt I’m scared as hell. I don’t think I’m strict or stern enough to control a classroom for sure, and I know I will break down and cry so many times after being “bullied” by my students, but I know I’m so passionate about this I can even feel tears in my eyes when I talk about all the changes and differences I might make. If I don’t do this now, I will forever think about all the regrets I have for not following through with something I have espoused so frequently.

random picture of a cherry  blossom tree in case you get bored of reading all the blocks of text wtf

Random picture of me playing with balloons (yes i know my bag is not closed)

Anyway those are all just preliminary introduction to what I really want to blog about. I don’t know why I’m writing a crazy long post when I have exam the next day, but I just need to talk about it T___T

So yes I’m 99% sure I’m doing it for sure, which brings me to the next issue. What exactly do I do with my blog after this? It’s such a big leap, from being a student who has the freedom to talk about everything she wants and however she wants to being a teacher who isn’t only going to be a role model to teenagers but will have to uphold a certain degree of moral responsibility.

I’ve been puzzling about it for a while and I’m quite unsure how things will turn out. Because of how public my blog is, there will definitely be a lot of things I can’t talk about anymore. What if my students find my blog and all these pictures of me being vain and think of me differently, and perhaps even lose respect for me? What will the other teachers, or the parents, or just ANYone think?

I will definitely not shut down my blog because I think it’s a great avenue for me to talk about my life changing experience being a teacher in a low-income school dealing with a million and one obstacles and challenges, but I definitely can’t blog the way I’ve been blogging for years anymore.

To be honest, that is extremely scary for me. It means I have to be an adult now, I have to censor so many things that is essentially who I am, and will that mean my blog will really not be a true representation of who I am anymore?

Is it even okay for me to put pictures of me kissing a bunny next time? wtf. is it even okay to say wtf?

I know this is a long post, but I really appreciate everyone reading this and giving their opinions on it. I’ve been blogging for 7 years now and this feeling is so foreign to me, the feeling of having to completely switch the contents of my blog. Granted, I do realize my blog has seen major revamps recently and it’s definitely A LOT more serious now than before. Will I lose my readers? Will I lose my secondary income derived from blog advertisements and advertorials? (I probably can’t even do those anymore)

I’m graduating in fifteen days, and I’m extremely excited and scared at the same time.  A part of me wants to do so much, change the world! make a difference! be proactive! but another part of me just wishes my life can go on as usual, be comfortable in my comfort zone, not have responsibilities, not worrying.

I already said it, but I’m going to tell you right now if anything, I actually feel very very scared and unsure about a lot of things. I’d love to be all confident and tell everyone I know exactly what I’m doing and to show that I’m strong enough to weather whatever obstacles thrown my way, but I guess it’s cause this road is so unconventional, so foreign, that I can’t deny that I’m actually nervous about it.

Can I even write honest posts like this next time?

Haih so fan maybe should just make my blog private lah (anticlimatic conclusion after writing this long post for an hour wtf)

696

The spirit of MF

Malaysia Forum 2011 just ended – an annual event that a bunch of Malaysian students in the US have been working extremely hard for- and I can finally sigh a sigh of relief. We’d been on our phones and computers for almost three months, religiously checking and replying every mail, painstakingly promoting the event and getting incredibly inspiring speakers and coordinating a million and one things, and I dare say that this is probably the most well organized MF we’ve ever had :)

MF is an event that I’m very passionate about, mainly because I really believe in all the core values and principles. The premises are simple, create a platform for Malaysians in the states (and globally now) to actively discuss anything and everything related to Malaysia, and through discussions, try to encourage everyone to go out and make a difference in Malaysia or from abroad.

After four years of attending MF, and after four years of being abroad, it really makes me question my identity and role as a Malaysian. I was coerced to be on the panel to speak on my aspirations for myself and for my country (which I think I did very poorly, super unprepared T_T) so I thought I’d just share it with everyone here!

Before I came to college, I too shared similar ideals with many others who wish to be accomplished overseas. I imagined myself to be more of the ambitious, business-suit-wearing financial analyst/investment banker kind of person, making lots of moolah for the sake of helping my family and providing myself with material wealth. I knew even before I came here that I was going to major in Economics, and tailored my first year to finish my major as soon as possible.

Now, a month before graduation, I just dropped my Econ major, and I’m planning to go home to teach in high-need schools (if I get accepted to TFM, that is)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that chasing for material wealth is wrong at all. After all, we all want to pay our family back for what we’ve owed them, and we all want to live comfortably. It’s just that in these four years, I’ve changed my ideals and aspirations so much that I think I want to talk about how it’s totally okay to not conform to the usual stereotypical way of being accomplished and successful.

Being in a liberal arts college has really taught me to look at things very differently, and to challenge my former very rigid perceptions of how things work. Perhaps it has also made me very idealistic, but if idealism is the only way we can change things these days then I’m going to hold on and protect this part of me with all my life.

Someone asked me at the forum: “Why do you still want to go back when there are so many fundamental barriers, so many constitutionalized discrimination, so many political hindrance?”

I think that’s where people are quite mistaken when I tell them I want to help the country. There are lots of obstacles yes, but we don’t have to change the entire country overnight. There are many many small things you can do, small changes that will benefit whatever community you’re in. I think people are too quick to say “Aiya cannot one lah, you see all the corrupt politicians blabla” just so they have an excuse and something to blame, just so they don’t feel bad about not being proactive.

Actually coming to the states made me realize that no matter where we are, we will always have a million and one things to criticize. I used to look at America as the great country of democracy and proponent of free speech, and yet I see so many disgruntled Americans arguing about how bad things are. Granted, there are so many other pros of being in a developed nation, but my point is there is always something you don’t like – what’s more important is if you are going to do anything about it.

Going back to MF, I think one of the many small changes you can make is to first change the mindset of people around you. Instead of complaining about things and saying “aiya that’s how things are, cannot change already one”, try to encourage people you’re with to provide constructive criticisms. Talk about what you can do as an active citizen, go out and look for ways you can change the system, starting from the bottom.

I was so inspired by the other speakers at MF who talked about youth activism, and how they decided that it’s time they do something about the injustice and inequality they see in their everyday life. Be it buying books for orang asli kids, or building a platform for activism in their community, or writing about how to challenge youth to be more proactive. And then I was inspired even further by all these other people who’re also going back home and who want to do so many things given the limited resources they have.

I think this is what is lacking back home – a platform for active discussions. I was once the uninspired, apathetic student who didn’t think changes are possible because I didn’t actively reach out of my comfort zone, until I came to MF and met all these amazing individuals. One of our panel speakers, Johnson, put it quite aptly, “It’s not apathy that’s plaguing us, it’s thinking that we’re alone in this”.

There needs to be a paradigm shift, and not just one of those loosely used “anjakan paradigmas” we end our karangan with when we talk about gejala-gejala sosial. Start with talking about it, end the mindset that nothing can be done without even being involved in the action ourselves, then find other likeminded people who share similar ideals because there are more of them out there that you think.  And if we fail, at least we failed knowing that we’ve tried our best.

Hopefully one day we will all do great things and make our home a better place to live in, and ask the people who will then come back home where have they been all along.

—-

p.s: my liberal arts education has also prepared me to see both sides of the coin, so i know exactly what the counterargument might be. “you don’t know how hard things are because you haven’t been back for long and haven’t worked here” – i know it’s hard trust me, i hear friends and family talk about this all too often. my point is we should try challenging and pushing perceived boundaries first, before admitting defeat due to complacency.

“i know we should all be proactive and change the world, but basic necessities should come first, we need to have enough money to feed ourselves etc etc” – i think the point i’m trying to make is not we should all be patriotic and go back home despite having better opportunities elsewhere. there are so many ways we can be proactive, we don’t have to all quit our jobs and be superheroes. eg: supporting a cause in many ways, engaging in constructive discussions, not succumbing to the mob mentality or jumping on the bandwagon all too quick when it comes to criticizing the country.

actually i can talk forever about this lah. i just want the country to be a better place and wish everyone would believe that we all have a role to play in this too, be it small or big.

234

Someone’s gotta do it

Just realized I haven’t blogged in more than a week..again. There were days when I woke up wanting to blog about a million and one things but never had the time to, or days when I had all the time in the world but not remember what was it I wanted to say.

So when that happens, I guess I have to resort to the lazy kinda blogging where I just post random pictures I have from my camera/ Photo Booth ;__;

This is a small part of my Symbolic Logic homework. It’s DAMN freaking hard!!!! Sometimes I kinda regret taking this class but I wanted to try something completely crazy and different before I graduate, and I’ve always wanted to take a Philosophy class and I was hoping this class will teach me how to reason logically wtf

It’s a combination of Computer Science+ Philosophy+ Math *faints

My hair is so long now!! And to think that 6 months ago it was still the boycut kinda short. I didn’t bring my hair straightener back with me so I have to suffer the wrath of having shoulder length hair :(

(btw, this is EXACTLY how big my room is, from that door till the rack of clothes.)

Bought new pair of shorts for $9 ^_^

I had over an hour to do my makeup the other day for Korea Night so I did a makeup video! But now too lazy/busy to edit the video and post it *stabs self

Trying too hard to be feminine with this hair wtf

I’m procrastinating having to complete my application for Teach For Malaysia and now the deadline is looming closer and I have no time to finish it *HORROR*

Truth is I just don’t know what to write about. We have to write a few essays and the application is actually way harder than I’d thought. Don’t know what Teach For Malaysia is? It’s a non-profit organization modeled after Teach For America aiming to end education inequity. Basically what they do is recruit people who are passionate about making a change in the education landscape in Malaysia. TFM fellows will then serve for two years in high need schools all over the country and this challenging and meaningful experience will hopefully transform both the schools and the fellows themselves.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure if this is the right thing to do. Teach for America is extremely prestigious, and they only recruit the most promising and bright individuals. Teaching in challenging schools have proven to be very beneficial to these fellows who usually go on to be exceptional leaders in their fields.

Teach for Malaysia, on the other hand, is still at its infancy. It was hard enough for me to convince my parents that I want to go back home after I graduate instead of looking for a higher paying job in the states, imagine having to tell them I want to go back to TEACH. and earn probably next to nothing. “But someone’s gotta do it!” I’d argue. “Well that someone doesn’t have to be you!” they’d retort.

I don’t know, I’m still pretty confused about a lot of things. I know I’m incredibly idealistic and I know my idealism will die down eventually once I enter the big scary world of corporate firms and the neverending cycle of materialistic culture of the working world. So I feel like I have to do something like this before I get swollen whole by the real world. Wait, what am I talking about? Teaching in high need schools IS the real world, and it’s probably more real than people would imagine it to be.

Favorite quote by Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America:

We don’t need to wait to eliminate poverty to ensure all children have access to the kinds of education that will ultimately give them a way out of poverty.

IF we make the most of it, the students who overcome poverty to realize their full potential will grow up to become the most inspiring leaders the world has ever known, leaders who have the strength and character that come from succeeding in the face of extraordinary challenges and have the kind of education that will allow them to solve the other problems we face as a society.

We can enable children in urban and rural school to make history. The question is simply, whether we will.

I’m sorry this post has taken a more serious tone than I’d intended it to be, but the more I sit and think about what I want to do after I graduate, the more I know for sure what I do NOT want to do. I don’t want to be caught in the rat race, well not just yet at least, and I need to know I’m going back home for a reason.

Now, I just need to write a kickass application essay so I can fulfill that reason! and kickass essay will have to wait until tomorrow cause I’m dead tired now after finishing my incredibly tedious accounting exam T__T