My Fulbright experience is and will always be memorable. From getting that acceptance letter on March 22nd 2019 to coming home unexpectedly on March 18th 2020, I will never forget my time in Malaysia and all the new friends I made.
Moving to a small town called Kuala Krau in Temerloh,
Pahang was very new and different. The first day of school I was excited to meet my students and fellow teachers at SMK Kuala Krau. I was greeted by huge smiles. I got to introduce myself to the students more times than I could count. Every classroom, every new group of students. My name is Alia Belle Flanigan. I am 22 years old, my birthday is April 5th, and I am from New Jersey. I have one sister, a mom, a dad and a cat.
My first time really bonding with students was creating a creative movement dance with 30 female students. The positivity and excitement I got from these girls allowed me to have more confidence about my placement at SMKKK. I was co-teaching 14 classes a week where I mostly played creative games with Forms 2 and 4, and helped prepare Forms 3 and 5 for their exams. I never taught before, as I majored in International Relations so it was something new and exciting. I eventually became a tutor for a group of Form 1 Setia students. My mentor Ruby said no students have asked for tutoring before. Tutoring became a daily activity.
My Speaking Workshops became more popular as the weeks went by. We did a scavenger hunt, board games, jeopardy, singing and crafts. These students were filled with energy and we had so much fun together. I wish I had said goodbye to them at our last workshop instead of ‘see you after break’.
On weekends, we stayed busy by going to different places around Malaysia. We went to Penang for Chinese New Years, the Cameron Highlands, Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, Kuantan, and explored our town. My roommate and I became really close as did the Pahang ETAs. I was placed in a lucky location: the center of Pahang. We were not far from everyone else (farthest drive was 2 hours). The town of Temerloh and Jerantut, both 30 minutes from us, provided us both with nice restaurants, grocery stores, and street/night markets.
I thought moving to a tiny rural town in Pahang, Malaysia would be a challenge at first but instead, we were welcome instantly and we started to thrive. We attended a Zumba dance class in Temerloh, ate roti canai with students, had custom-made baju kurungs made, and planned English Camps. Maddie and I submitted our proposal for the Elephant Sanctuary Camp in April the day before we got offered voluntary leave.
When the voluntary leave offer came out on Friday March 13, all Pahang ETAs decided to come together in Jerantut for one last big night together on Saturday. The next morning, while we were finishing up our roti breakfast, we were notified that airlines were closing flights in the near future. After everyone made calls to family members, almost all of us decided to go home.
Deciding it was time to go home was a really hard decision. I was not ready to say goodbye to a new world that I just said hello to. None of us were. Since it was break for the school, I was able to say goodbye to a few students that were in town and I saw my mentor the morning I was leaving. Maddie and I packed up everything, said goodbye to our mentors and drove to KL Tuesday to leave Wednesday morning.
Flying out that Wednesday still feels like a daze. Being at an airport around 4:30 am where there were no people, no lines, and everyone had gloves and a mask, it was scary thinking this will be the last memory of my experience. I had such a wonderful time over the 2.5 months, I decided to only think about the positive moments to keep it that way.
Even though my Fulbright experience was cut, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to go. As the days go on, I think about what activities I had planned for my school and the goals the students and I had together. I hope Kuala Krau and all the families stay safe and healthy during this time.
I am grateful for Fulbright for getting me home during a world pandemic safely and quickly. With one layover in Tokyo, I was able to fly straight into Newark Liberty Airport where my parents were waiting for me to take me home. Now that I am home, I keep in touch with my mentor, students, and fellow ETAs through social media and Zoom calls. As everyone is unsure of next steps or looking for jobs, I was able to contact my grad school. I started my Masters in International Relations at Central European University in the fall of 2019 before Fulbright and I will be able to return in the fall of 2020. I am lucky to have a plan for the future.
I hope to return to Malaysia and Kuala Krau down the road and see those huge smiling faces again.
Fulbright Malaysia ETA 2020