Erin with her Bahasa Malaysia class.

Erin with her Bahasa Malaysia class.

By Erin D’Amelio

Us ETAs have finally left the big capital of Kuala Lumpur and have made it to our respective states, but that still doesn’t mean that we’re done with orientation. For the past two and a half weeks, we have been sitting in a conference room of our very nice hotel having people share with us the various aspects of our upcoming months teaching English; everything from safety to Malaysian culture to classroom management have been covered. Exhaustively. While I do appreciate the thoroughness, there’s been an agitation amongst the ETAs to actually get into our schools and get started with what we’ve been assigned to do. But, according to our program, we can’t do that just yet.

I think the problem us ETAS have with this orientation lies within the fact that our experiences are so independent of one another that it is difficult to listen to blanket advice. “It depends on your placement” is a phrase we’ve heard attached to the presentations countless times, and even before we boarded our planes to Malaysia. It’s an awkward paradigm to work within, because you both want the information and you don’t. Naturally you want to enter your school completely prepared, yet you cannot guarantee that everything you’ve heard for the past month will be applicable to your experience, nor can you really understand what you need to do until you meet your students and gauge their level of English. This constant barrage of instruction has put a lot of stress on our patience, especially when the information becomes repetitive and negativity pervades the presentations given to us.

Besides that, our schedule here has been nonstop since Day One. Our orientation schedule has looked like this: we have Bahasa Malaysia language class from 8:30 to 10, followed by two or three presentations (be it TEFL training, cross-cultural adjustment training, or life as an ETA sessions) that typically last between one and two hours, usually punctuated by breaks. We normally end our orientation day around 5 or 5:30, after which we decompress in our rooms before going out to dinner or exploring the city. By the time 10:30 rolls around, for me at least, I am entirely exhausted. You wouldn’t think that sitting and listening takes a lot out of you, but you’d be surprised. This situation is so particular, with information flooding me at every angle (I alluded to this in last week’s article), that nothing seems more comforting at the end of the day than simply sleeping.

However, there have been some positives coming out of orientation. Since the first week, I learned where I would be spending the remainder of my time here in Malaysia: I will be teaching in SMK Panglima Garang Abdul Samad in the town of Budu, located in the state of Pahang. It’s a secondary school surrounding by a palm oil plantation in a very rural area. I’ll be living in a house on the school’s campus, so I won’t need to withstand a tedious commute, but I also will have to deal with less privacy (there are some students who live on the school campus as well). There are potential scorpion issues there too, but I will be a short distance away from the Cameron Highlands, an area known for fresh strawberries and tea. I’m quite excited to be living in this area, despite it’s rural nature, because I get to be surrounded by trees and wildlife and also have the opportunity to develop strong friendships with my students. Thankfully, orientation hasn’t been too much of a drain, but all I can say now is that I cannot wait any longer to begin working with my students.

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