A Travellerspoint blog

Beginning to Belong

“Miss, want to hang out?”

  • Disclaimer, this post is about two and a half weeks late in getting posted*

This past week has had its fair share of frustrations. Our time table is changing so all of my classes are
changing as well. It means getting used to new classes, different times, learning new names, and attempting to gage the levels of three new classes of students. Planning for my English camp is also a chaotic nightmare. The camp is over a month away and I already can’t wait for it to be over (probs not a good sign).

Despite those two rather large hiccups in my Malaysia routine this week, this past week has probably been one of the best that I have had here. This was the week where I finally noticed that I’ve begun to fully feel like I belong in my community. I no longer feel like simply the novelty in the community. Instead it’s coming to feel like a home. Relationships are beginning to move past superficial levels and become real friendships.

I wish I could say there was some big moment this week that solidified the feeling, but really it was in lots of the little moments. The little moments that I demonstrated to me just how far things have come since my first day here over two months ago. This post could probably turn out to be a novel, but I’ll limit it to just a few of my favorites from the past week:
• Being able to walk into the kantin and feel comfortable to sit with any group of teachers (assuming they’re female teachers of course, I think the school might have a heart attack if I ever sat in the male teachers’ half of the kantin). I no longer feel like I have to follow around the other English teachers like a puppy and feel confident interacting with anyone at school on my own.
• Managing to find all of my classes without having to ask students once for directions (this will no doubt change with the new time table, but hey, it’s a small win). Figuring out the six school blocks and where each classroom is located was daunting in the beginning, but I’m now able to navigate it fairly easily (the location of the library is still a vague mystery though).
• Going for my evening run and recognizing the other runners. We certainly are far from friendship level, but it’s still nice to just be able to exchange a smile and a wave with the fellow runners as we put ourselves through the self-inflicted torture of running in 80+ degree heat and 90% humidity.
• Having the neighborhood children feel comfortable enough with us that they are now willing to come approach the house and come sprinting down the street to our gate when they see our car coming home at the end of the day.

The biggest way in which I have felt the change though is with my students (not particularly surprising considering that I spend the majority of my time in Malaysia with them). The success story that I think most exemplifies my transition is with Haikal, one half of my favorite twin duo.

When I first arrived at school he wouldn’t even smile at me, let alone approach me or try to talk with me. This seemed odd to me since all of his friends would, but he would just hang back, watch them talk with me for a bit and then walk away. I asked some of the other teachers about it and they said not to be insulted, that’s just the way he was. He was quiet, reserved, and as one teacher put it “not particularly friendly towards any teacher.”

However, over the past few weeks I’ve slowly been trying to win him over. It started with small things such as always smiling at him when I saw him, even if all I got back in response was a frown. Over the weeks of playing soccer with the boys, spending time with them at the district track meet, and talking with them during recess, I could see him begin to warm up to me.

By this week, you would never know he once avoided me like the plague. I now can’t walk through the school without being met with his smiling face (teachers have a tendency of not showing up to teach his class, 4 Kreatif, so most of the time the boys just kind of meander around the school). During breaks he’ll come up and try to say a few words to me (he’s in the lowest class in Form 4 so his English is a struggle, but he’s trying), if a teacher doesn't show up for his class he'll come sit in on whatever English class I am teaching at the time, and at the end of every day he and his friends make sure to stop by my desk and ask if I’m coming to the hostel to play soccer with them that night.

The change in him is truly remarkable. Even the teachers noticed. Multiple of them have come up to me and expressed how surprised they are that he is friendly towards me or that he is trying to use his English with me. I’m excited to see how he progresses over the year and I hope that the change for the better continues (although last week he and his twin spent the night in jail after getting caught as part of a planned fight between two groups of boys at the school. Ironically, most of the boys involved in the fighting were my favorite 4 INO students. We had a good long chat this week about fighting and how dumb they all to get involved with things like that. I doubt it made much of an impact on them, but I had to try
Some of my favorite Form 4 boys
Aqmal, Haikal (it's a really common name), Tuan, and Haikal (the one the story is about)

While I’ve also had similar breakthroughs with other students that became apparent this week. Haikal’s is certainly my favorite and I think a good representation of the progression I’ve had thus far at school. The students are beginning to open up to me. They’re willing to talk to me about their lives, ask questions about mine, and are finding more and more ways to let me into their inner circles.

Hopefully as the weeks continue, I’ll have more and more stories such as Haikal’s to share (fingers crossed I’ll have no more jail stories to share with all of you). For now though, it’s just nice to feel like I’ve found my place.

Posted by remullin 05:18 Archived in Malaysia

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