Sometimes I believe things come at the right moment. One year ago I would not have thought of volunteering in a school, but when the opportunity came, without even searching for it, I looked forward to the experience.
So how did I end up in that school in a remote area of Malaysia? By chance! This is the magic of the trip, the unexpected, the discovery. I met a girl with a very inspiring story. She left her corporate job in Kuala Lumpur to teach English in a small village, and had the initiative to invite volunteers for a few days in the school.
In Laos I saw kids walking several kilometers a day to go to school. In Siem Reap, around the temples, there were children as young as 5 years old selling postcards and magnets instead of attending school. At that moment, I felt like doing something, if only for a few days, to help. So I contacted A and we agreed on the dates. I would go for a couple of days, at the same time as another volunteer, P.
First day: teaching
We arrived at the high school at 7:20 am. It was composed by two main buildings in addition to the playground and the canteen. The students were 13-17 years old, and for each age level, they were divided in 5 classes according to their academic performance. Most of them came from families with limited resources and some had never been out of the village.
I was nervous since I had never worked with children nor teenagers. P seemed to be nervous as well, but when we were introduced to the special class teacher and kids, he took a pen, approached the blackboard, and spontaneously started a class.
I went with A to her first class. She introduced me and asked the students to introduce themselves and tell us which was their hobby and job ambition. Most girls liked reading and wanted to become teachers or doctors, while most guys liked football and wanted to be politicians, business man or engineers.
Then we encouraged them to speak English and ask me questions. The first one was a complex one: “which cultural differences are between Spain and Malaysia?”. Wow! After that I got simpler ones, as which was my job, my age, or how I liked Malaysian food. I ended the class by teaching them a few sentences in Spanish.
After that first class I felt more calm and starting enjoying more the experience. The dynamics was always similar: we asked the students to introduce themselves, I talked a bit about myself, and finally taught them some Spanish. Sometimes, to make the class more interactive, I asked them to teach me Malay or recommend me which food I should try.
Evening: sports and sunset
The classes finish at 2:30 pm so we went back home to take some rest. In the evening, we went again to the school since P wanted to play football with the kids. They were pretty good! I played frisbee with some girls. After that, we went to see the sunset at the beach. A relaxing way to finish a long day!
Second day: inspiring
The second day I felt more confident and started leading the classes in a different way. The first class was a common one with P, and we did a kind multilingual exchange. We asked the students which sentences they would like to learn in Spanish and German, and teach us how to say them in Malay.
In another class I asked them which countries they knew in Europe and America. It was interesting that one guy named several of them (France, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay…). These countries sounded familiar for some reason, as there was a connection. “Do you like watching the football world cup?” I asked him. “Yes”. Ha! I never thought that football would be useful to learn geography!
For the last class I did an inspirational talk. Without preparation. Spontaneous. Interactive and participative. I talked about my story and my dreams, how I worked several years and planned this round the world trip for a year, and I told them about the things I learnt by traveling. I mainly wanted to pass two messages:
believe in your dreams, and follow them
people from all over the world are not so different from each other
It was a very interesting and rewarding experience.
Interesting because it confirmed that we are not so different, their hobbies and job ambitions were very similar to those of any group of teenagers their age.
Interesting because it gave me a small glimpse of Malaysian education system and how kids interact with each other.
Most interesting of all, it showed me a new dimension of teaching. I had always thought of teaching in the more practical sense: mathematics, history or literature. But there is more than that, which is the reason why we were invited to volunteer at the school. My objective was not to teach English (they have teachers that do it better than me). The idea was that the kids meet people from other cultures, to bring them a small piece of outside world to their class, to inspire them to open to the world, to dream and work to make their dreams come true.
Rewarding, because I was welcomed by everyone, including the director and other teachers. Two friends of A asked me to join their classes too.
Even more rewarding, the kids enjoyed it. A and the other teachers asked them to write me small notes with some feedback, so I learnt that they enjoyed the experience and would like to repeat it (a few of them even asked me for my signature!). These are some of the messages I got:
- Thank you for coming to my school, I learnt a lot from you.
- Encantada de conocerte. I hope I can learn more about Spain language.
- Thank you for coming to my class. I want to be an engineer like Ms Laia.
- Thanks for visiting my class. I think I want to travel around the world.
- Thank you Laia because you share your dreams.
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