My first placement was at MRSM TAR, which was located on the East coast of Malaysia. After a few weeks of being at the new school, we were eventually given classes to teach ourselves. It was quite hard at TAR as not many people spoke to my partner and I. I put this down to the language barrier and perhaps they were too shy to approach us or reply if we conversed with them.
A handful of the older students really helped to make us feel welcome, they invited us to see how their entrepreneurial club worked and how they set up each week. Some of the girls even showed us round their dorms and this is when we offered the students if they would like any help with homework that wed be happy to help.
During my time at MRSM TAR, we attended a Language Week, hosted by a neighbouring MRSM school. Throughout the language week, students performed 20-minute plays, presented poems, sang and there was also a section for story telling. As the MRSM school system is quite an academically competitive scheme, the students all competed in these events and started preparing for the Language Week a month or so before. This was a great opportunity for us to get involved and try to help them as much as possible as the language week was mainly focusing on the level of English the students had.
The Drama team were feeling particularly unconfident as one of the teachers put a lot of pressure on them beforehand. This was why we tried to help this group, as they believed their drama play wasnt as good as it could be. After spending each night after school with them, I slowly saw their confidence building. Their play was based on super heroes and they had to script the play themselves. They performed at the Language Week and came third! I was so proud of them considering the few weeks before they didnt even think they could perform.
Things got particularly hard at our first placement and we felt that teachers didnt really want to speak to us regardless of our efforts. We decided to leave and volunteer at a FLAME camp for disadvantaged children.
The FLAME camp ran over the course of four days. We helped the children with a range of activities including writing exercises, group challenges and games. It was a great experience to work with a different group of children from varied backgrounds and learn more about the people and culture of Malaysia. We even had a special mention in a local newspaper! One couple were documenting the works of the camp and myself and my partner featured in the article. It was a great weekend working with several different people; teachers, community workers, carers and regular volunteers like myself.
After those first two months – my partner and I were moved to a different school, an hour south of the capital Kuala Lumpur. MRSM Kuala Klawang was a lovely school, with lots of different activities and facilities available for the students to take part in. I was so excited to immerse myself into the school community.
I taught the students quite a lot; normally I would have about 3 or 4 classes to teach each day. This meant preparing lesson plans and investigating what the students needed work on so I could present a decent, relevant and helpful lesson. I tried to vary my topics, whether that be grammar lessons, writing a CV or learning the difference between UK and Malaysian culture. I always found the students learnt better through communication activities i.e. games or having to stand and talk in front of their class mates. They always got excited to present back in groups, I think this was because they didnt feel as much pressure being in a group. Depending what topic I was teaching, I would ask students to produce either a presentation, a poster or a short play in groups using vocab we had learnt. I thought this would be much better than simply writing essays all the time.
As Kuala Klawang was a boarding school, it was a great opportunity to set up a club after school hours to really get to know the kids and teach them further. I set up a few clubs after school on weekdays. My Spanish club ran on Mondays and Tuesdays, the first day teaching the younger years and the later teaching the older years. The students were particularly excited to learn an additional language besides English.
My partner and I also set up a Drama club, which ran on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Our focus was to eventually produce a play for the students to perform in front of their peers at the end of the school term. We thought having a Drama club would be beneficial for the kids to take part in, as the MRSM school system didnt have many creative subjects like PE, Art or Drama. The children were really excited to take part in the clubs wed set up.
On reflection, I really learnt how tough it could be to immerse myself into an entirely new and different culture. Learning the ways of Malaysians was both hard and interesting to adapt to and understanding these traditions was most definitely a learning curve.
I think my biggest lesson from my first placement was that some people in the school community may not be as accepting as I first thought, as in they were very evasive and despite my efforts, there was nothing I could do about it. I found this particularly hard and I must admit I did have a lot of down days at the start because of it. But looking back, there is always a way you can improve a situation and this proved to be the case by moving project.
A fresh start did myself and my partner the world of good. I also thoroughly enjoyed the volunteer work in the camp and seeing a different side to Malaysia and the different cultures and traditions. The second project although only there for a short time proved to be extremely welcoming and we were able to fully immerse ourselves into the school community.
I really enjoyed the experience I had in the second school and it was a shame it was so short lived. The students were great and really showed enthusiasm at joining our clubs and trying new learning techniques they werent used to during class time. I would love to do something similar to this project in the future.