Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

9th October 2016

Louisa Crookshanks: Final Report from Malaysia

Home | Footprinter Reports | Louisa Crookshanks: Final Report from Malaysia

On the 20th August last year I got on a plane headed to Malaysia about to start the greatest adventure of my life so far. I spent a whole year living in a boarding school, teaching English and travelling around South East Asia. It was an unforgettable year filled with many valuable lessons and experiences.

I will always be grateful for the people who helped me with my fundraising and blessed me with the chance to see a side of the world I never thought I could and immerse myself in a completely new culture.

I am now home from a whirlwind of a year so I can finally sit back and reflect on all I have achieved and learnt over my time in Malaysia. When you teach, live and work with 600 students they  become your family. This made it extremely hard to leave MRSM Mersing, the school I was at, after a year- there was certainly a lot of tears from both the students and I. This alone I think shows just how special the relationships I made with the students were. I wasnt just their teacher and mentor but also acted as their big sister which was very important for them being so far away from home and only getting to see their family once a month.

Some of my fondest memories of the year are sitting up late at night simply chatting to girls in their dorms, and this is one of the things I miss the most. One of my major achievements from the year was building up the students confidence enough so they could easily converse in English with us and comfortably share their problems.

I really enjoyed teaching during my year: there was never a dull moment in the classroom and no two lessons were ever the same. It definitely kept me on my toes and was not as easy as I first thought. Being a teacher you have to constantly think of ways to keep lessons both interesting and informative and getting that balance was something I definitely struggled with during my year. It did however massively increase my confidence and allowed me to push myself to try out new ideas, which before I would have been too afraid to do, as I have an inherent fear of failure.

Through teaching I could test out all the crazy ideas I had in my head and not be scared to see them fail as I was able to learn from my mistakes and adapt lessons to suit both my capabilities and the students. As a result I am now much less scared of failure and more likely to pursue my ideas, no matter how strange they may seem.

Although I had an incredibly enjoyable year this didnt come without its challenges. As a western girl coming from a very independent background one of the main things I found difficult was integrating into an Islamic community. When I first arrived we struggled to fit in as everything, from our clothes to our food, seemed to be different. It took a little while for me to feel comfortable in my new setting and it took them a while to feel comfortable enough to tell us if we were doing something wrong.

Malaysian culture is very un-confrontational so at first, when we were not sure what to wear around town, they wouldnt tell us if they thought it was too tight or revealing so we just went on guessing. However when they eventually felt comfortable around us they felt they could tell us which meant we could then learn from our mistakes and adapt to our new environment. This reserved nature of Malaysians is something I struggled with a lot during our time away as sometimes you just want to be told what to do and what not; but it is something I ultimately learned to love as the year went on!

One of my hardest times of the year was a 3 month period when the whole town had no water. It was during a huge drought period and left everyone in the school with no water to wash ourselves or our clothes in. We ended up washing from buckets of water delivered to the school from another water reserve. I definitely missed home and my hot shower a lot during these months but it made me appreciate the true value of community spirit and coming together in times of need. Not one person was left unthought of during this time and it really showed the compassion of the Islamic community in times of need.

Over the year I was lucky enough to travel around 7 new countries: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, The Philippines and of course Malaysia, all with something new to offer. Travelling is such a crazy thing, especially at such a young age, with so much to take in everywhere you go but the utter joy you get from snorkelling with turtles and sharks or marvelling at temples in Cambodia is unforgettable and stills seems unreal.

I have been on countless planes, buses, ferries and tuk tuks, learned the importance of visas,  planning ahead and most importantly having adequate medical insurance while overseas. After spending a week over Christmas in a Thai hospital looking after my friend who had been in a very serious motorbike crash, I dread to think what we would have done without concrete insurance.

All of this will undoubtedly help me in the future, whether Im travelling or not. I have much greater independence now as well as a strong desire to travel even more, once youve had a taste you cant help but want more! My daily life in Malaysia was made so much more exciting with the thought of going somewhere new every month and getting to plan all my own trips with little to consider but having fun. This essentially stopped me from becoming homesick as there was always something to look forward to and before I knew it I was getting on a plane home.

Travelling gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, widening my horizons, and try something new everyday; but it also forced me to learn from my mistakes and instead of just accepting something is wrong, actively changing it. I think some of my greatest moments happened when I was travelling but so did my greatest lessons.

One of the things that made my year so enjoyable was the people I got to spend it with. I had 2 great partners who I had immense fun with throughout the year but it was the people in the community, who made us all feel so welcome, that made Malaysia feel truly like home.

We were particularly close to the deputy principal of the school- Mr Nizar- and he was actually one of our major achievements. At the beginning of the year he was one of the people who picked us up from KL to take us to our new home. Luckily he was accompanied by an English teacher because we couldnt understand what he was saying even when he was trying to speak in English! As the year went on Mr Nizar tried very hard with us and took us on many little adventures across Malaysia. This meant that by the end of the year we hadnt even realised just how drastically his English had improved as not only could we now understand him but we could have long, detailed conversations with him as well as many laughs and jokes. It is little aspects of our year like Mr Nizar that stand out the most to me and make me feel proud to have helped, even if it is just in a small way.

I have undoubtedly just had the best year of my life and that is thanks to you. To everyone who helped me fundraise and donated money to my cause, I couldnt be more grateful. You have allowed me to stretch my potential and gain so much confidence that now I feel like I can take on anything that life throws at me. Without you I wouldnt have met so many beautiful people who I am proud to call my friends, I wouldnt have been able to travel to incredible places and create amazing memories but most of all I wouldnt have been able to grow as an individual into a person who now appreciates the world a lot more, never thinks negative of a situation and wants to share stories to encourage other people to do the same.

It was a challenging year where I learned a lot about myself and the world but I wouldnt change a thing about it.

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