My Form 1 Wawasan class and meBy Erin D’Amelio

It was inevitable. Time doesn’t stop when you’re engaged in something that you enjoy. In fact, it’s the opposite: it runs away from you and you spend most of your time either trying to catch it or in full amazement at its speed. It’s that nasty, not-so-secret yet still surprising phenomenon that occurs any time you undertake a wonderful experience. And now I’m starting to really feel its impact.

It started with the lasts. Back in September, I was pulled out of my Form 3 classes so that the English teachers could fully focus on their upcoming PMR exams. Therefore, I had to have my last class with them a full month ahead of my departure from SMK PGAS. I don’t think they fully understood the unhappiness I brought to class, as I wasn’t actually leaving school yet; they would still see me around campus. Of course there were frowning faces following my announcement of our final class together, but it didn’t necessarily feel like the last class. But it was a determined reminder of my imminent departure.

It started to get serious when my students began asking me when my last day here would be. With my head tilted down and a slight pout, I had to reply heavily, “October 27th.” In September it was easy to envision that date as a far away blur that had yet to realize, but once the beginning of the month happened it snapped very clearly into my radar. Suddenly my classes started to drop like flies, thanks to the numerous exam schedules, and the time I spend with my students during school wilt away like the grass in our sports field on a scorching Tuesday afternoon. I’ve been so grateful to be living at a school with a hostel, for I’ve been able to have memorable and valuable interactions with the students who live here outside of the stuffy school environment, but it still hasn’t erased the reality of “The End.”

Before I would gladly go outside of Benta for the weekend, either to travel or to help out with an English camp, but now the desire to savor the last weekends here with teachers and friends stays me. I very much enjoyed cooking nasi lemak with my mentor Nazima a week ago, because that’s just one more day that we got to spend together. I actually just spent the entire day with some teachers, going to nearby waterfalls an eating way too much delicious Malay food. But, I realize, it might be the last time I get to do that.

It’s a weird confluence of emotions, though, I’ve found. There’s one side of me that is so very ready to be back home, ready to return to the way of life I know, ready to see my family and friends again. Yet a larger part exists, one that recognizes all of these lasts but doesn’t want to acknowledge them. Another part too wants to continue challenging me, pushing me to grow more as an individual. And I know that these emotions are not singular; anyone who’s ever been in my position understands and has struggled with these feelings too. I still have found the solution to deal with this all. My current strategy is ignorance and blissfully savoring my time with my students. But it’s still hard to deal with the fact that we won’t be seeing each other again for a very long time, if, and it hurts me to write it, ever.

I’m trying not to think about it, but I know I will have to say goodbye to these kids. I won’t be able to play “volleyball” with a semi-deflated bouncy ball in the dusty field next to the hostel canteen with my adorable Form 1 students. I won’t be able to get educated in various K-pop bands while making chocolate bars with leftover chocolate from my English camp with my Form 2 girls. I don’t like this inevitability, and I know it’s going to kill me when I’m sitting at home one day, looking at my American backyard during a moment of reflection. And I don’t think I’m ready for that.

But lasts can be wonderful. They sometimes are the moments that stick out to you the most, whether it’s a heartfelt goodbye with a statement of your impact, or the laughter, or that final image of your students as you wave goodbye. They can be satisfying, a rousing symbol of your experience. Sometimes they are even neat enough to secure closure, wrapping everything up so that there are no lingering worries, fears, or questions. That’s really what I am hoping for, wonderful lasts. They’ll finish my time here in Malaysia on a high note, to sum up my experience here with only the truth: that I’ve had an incredible, life-changing adventure.

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
Breaking Fast
The Beauty of English
Student Reflections
A Series of Lasts