By Erin D’Amelio
There are certain aspects of my daily life that I’m starting to take for granted, like the way the mist coils around the hills surrounding my school in the morning, even as the sun begins to desiccate the ground below. Or the laughter of my students when my somewhat awkward humor finally clicks with them. Or the tangy, sinus-clearing kick of a steaming bowl of tom yam soup.
Unfortunately, this newfound nonchalance of mine is a very bad thing.
This taking things for granted indicates that I’m starting to get used to this new life I’ve adopted, that I’ve been able to settle into a groove here. While I can’t complain about this comfort, I should also be cognizant of how ephemeral these moments are. I am only in Malaysia for eight more months, and though I can enjoy eight more months of that mist, of my students’ laughter, and spicy food, time is cruel and fleeting; sooner rather than later I will be back in the states and have only memories to talk with.
I recently started reading the novel The Gift of Rain by the Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. In it, the protagonist laments, “If one steps out of time what does one have? Why, the past of course, gradually being worn away by the years as a pebble halted on a riverbed is eroded by the passage of water.” When I have more than just 22 years to my name, I know I’ll still have fond memories of these months in Malaysia, but how vividly will they appear before me? I fear that they’ll be reduced to a single sense, an image, or a phrase. I don’t want that to happen, despite their seemingly inevitable fate. So, I’m resolved to begin every day as though I have first gotten to Malaysia; everything will be novel and fascinating. I will take a moment to appreciate the mist clinging to the hill, I will throw in an extra chuckle with my students, and I will savor my meals more slowly.
There is good reason to celebrate the everyday: these days have been good to me so far. There have been struggles with teaching, of course, but thanks to some strange gust of wind everything seems to be on the upswing this week. I’ve actually started getting a decent amount of sleep. But more importantly, my lessons this week were a smash; the students were fully engaged and incredibly creative (something that a song and drawing will allow you to be). And the best of all, my students are more comfortable with me, and I with them, which leads to more joking, more talking, more connection. This only makes me more confident in the classroom and outside of it, which only brings more success, and more confidence… It’s an ever-improving cycle.
This country surprises me everyday, and I find myself learning constantly. There shouldn’t be anything that I am taking for granted, and I should be appreciating all of the aspects of this trip as though they happen for the first time each day. When I’m 82 instead of 22, I want to be able to describe the faces of my students and their personalities, and how we played cards every other night. I’m realizing that this grant quietly promised more than just a method to get travel and work experience. I’d be a fool to not pay attention to everything it shows me.
My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey
How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
(Almost) Hitting the Ground Running
Language and Tennis