What has been the most fulfilling part of your time in Malaysia?
It can be hard to narrow such a novel and diverse experience into a singular, “most fulfilling part.” I would say that the relationships I form from new experiences typically offer the most fulfillment, and it has been the same case here. In Malaysia, it can sometimes be difficult to get past the surface level with people because of the language barrier: “What is your name?” or “Where are you from?” are the only questions that are possible in some situations. However, when I have managed to connect with locals, it has been absolutely wonderful! Learning that, even across thousands of miles and in a totally different culture, people are ultimately the same despite outward differences has been an important insight for me.
What are some of the most memorable interactions you’ve had with your students?
My experiences with Teach for America (2010-2012) and Fulbright have taught me that spending time with smaller groups of students outside of the classroom … opens up opportunities for more meaningful and memorable interactions. One of the requirements of the Fulbright ETA [in Malaysia] is to run two or three “English Camps” throughout the year. These camps have been a fantastic way of building relationships with the students since they get to connect with you on a more personal level in a less formal setting. My most recent English camp was located at a favorite beach in our town–Pantai Bukit Keluang. Afterschool clubs have been another effective way of connecting with students in memorable ways. Music Club, English Movie of the Month, and Public Speaking Club have been a lot of fun. It’s been great to see students develop their English speaking and comprehension skills through these clubs. Student confidence has also shot through the roof!
Why did you want to teach English in Malaysia?
In many ways, English is becoming (or already is) the language of the world. If students are able to develop the skills necessary to communicate effectively in English, they will have more opportunities in the future. Further, I can’t articulate all the ways in which I’ve grown from my travels and interactions with different cultures; the ability to communicate in these cultures only adds to that personal growth. And since traveling has been life changing for me, I want to help other people experience the same in any way possible. Giving my students English-speaking skills and perspectives from an “outsider’ are good ways to promote traveling and cultural awareness in their own lives.
Since what I mentioned above can really be accomplished in any setting, I applied for the ETA program in Malaysia mainly for practical reasons: I had some previous experience with Southeast Asian (and Pacific Island) culture through Teach for America in Hawaii, the program in Malaysia was growing (and is still growing) very rapidly, fluency in another language wasn’t required, etc.
How have your interactions with other Fulbrighters been? What sort of interactions do you have with them?
Besides the two ETAs that I live with, I don’t see the other Fulbrighters too often. There are 75 of us in Malaysia, and I only see them when we have full group meetings in Kuala Lumpur (the capital). I do see the 20 ETAs in my state more often than the rest of the group, however. We sometimes get together to help each other with English camps. I will say that opportunities to see the rest of the group are possible if you pursue them. Personally, I’ve spent more time in my local community, so my experience has been slightly isolated.
Which part of the application process was most difficult? Which was the most rewarding?
I found it difficult to compress the two essays [the statement of grant purpose and the personal statement] into short, one-page summaries. But at the same time, maybe that limitation is best for those of us who would never stop typing if we weren’t forced to. Overall, I didn’t find the application process to be bad at all. I especially enjoyed my phone conference with the panel from MU (I couldn’t physically be there since I was working in Hawaii). Talking to the panel helped me to clarify and articulate my thoughts and goals for the upcoming experience.
What do you intend to do when you return to the United States?
The Fulbright ETA program in Malaysia will end at the beginning of November. I plan to travel in Southeast Asia for three weeks before heading back to St. Louis to be home for Thanksgiving. In January, at the start of the spring semester, I will begin a Master’s program at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. After finishing the program, I hope to jump straight into a doctoral program and eventually teach theology, history, or philosophy at the collegiate level. That’s the plan for now at least!