Kuching SarawakBy Erin D’Amelio

I had both the fortunate and, I realized later, unfortunate opportunity to go back home during the mid-year holiday break for my sister’s wedding. To be honest, I was the most excited to visit my country, despite my planned trips to Myanmar and China the two weeks before I was to land in the states. Call me selfish, but it’s true.

Perhaps the joy grew from what the trip had meant to me leading up to my holiday: knowing that I was to go back kept me from wallowing in homesickness that inevitably affects anyone living abroad. I could easily remind myself of the time remaining until I was going to see them, which, in this grant’s time period, sped by very quickly. I continuously told myself two things: “Why feel blue? You’ll be home in three months!” and “Wow, I will be able to sleep in my own bed, take hot showers, and most importantly be with my crazy family!” (Bonus: Because a wedding was to take place, I’d see both immediate and extended.) Not to mention the fact that it would be the first time seeing my nephew, who was only four months old at the time of my departure, already developing so much from what I could see through Skype calls and Facebook photographs.

These glittering realities buoyed me throughout the first half of the grant, and when I finally set foot on US soil, a wave of relief flushed over me. There’s something intoxicating about being surrounded by the people that love you, and you drink from the warming atmosphere until your cheeks are rosy and laughter bubbles easily out of you. I gave myself a week in America, partly because of, you know, jet lag evasion tactics, and also because I was a bit greedy. So the week was spent in an indulgent stupor, a decadency to my Malaysia-conditioned mind and I gave so many hugs that my arms almost began to hurt.

It wasn’t until I had to return to Malaysia that the gravity of my return affected me. Suddenly my family wasn’t simply in another room. Their laughter altogether stopped as soon as I entered the airport. And when I got back to Malaysia, the homesickness I had managed to avoid up until then pummeled me into the sand as a tidal wave would, almost eradicating the tenaciously amazing experiences and attitudes I had about Malaysia so far within a few days of being back. I struggled with motivation both in and out of the classroom, and trying to get back into the routine I had established before I began traveling in May was difficult with all of the shortened weeks following my return. All I kept thinking to myself of how I so desperately wanted to be back home, to pass through my warmly-lit kitchen, to sit down at the smooth wooden island, and to listen to my family share stories and suggest all manners of silly things. Instead, I could only pass through my darkened peach-colored hallway, turn on the flickering light of my kitchen, and stare at the crowded yet empty space around me. Finding the energy to walk into a classroom and perform for my students was, needless to say, a trying task.

It wasn’t until I finally got back from my mid-year program meeting that I managed to stabilize my swaying state of mind. I suppose my dwindling energy had been supported by the bustle and excitement of having all 100 ETAs together once again- an experience unrealized since orientation in January- and I began to rediscover the reasons why I have been enjoying my time in Malaysia. Returning to class was additionally beneficial, as my lesson on Monday went amazingly well. Fortune turned in my favor, it seemed. Why yes of course I still miss my family, I long to be home, but I recognized that dwelling on what I miss will actually make me overlook the wonderful experiences here.

And I suppose that’s the lesson that I‘ve truly gained from this past month. I have a separate life here in Malaysia than the one I have back in America. My family is growing and changing without me, and I without them. I can’t long for what I cannot experience, because that simply sets me up for failure. I need to focus on Malaysia right now, and that includes getting out of bed and telling myself that it will be a good day. Of course I am allowed to feel angry or frustrated or melancholic every now and then, but my attitude must remain positive overall. Thankfully, there are few days when I feel any of those negative emotions, so I think I’ve got a pretty easy task ahead of me. Also, when I consider that there are only four more months to go before I return to America, I immediately think of that cliché, “Enjoy it while it lasts.” Which I better do, for obvious reasons.

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
Sensory Overload
(Almost) Hitting the Ground Running
Mercurial Days
Language and Tennis
Land of the Wholehearted People
A Mighty and Powerful Mango Tree
The Beauty in Spontaneity
The Eternal Battle: Communication Versus Grammar
My Family is Awesome, But Destructive