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Expatriate in Kuala Lumpur – a woman's walkabout – Elizabeth Goodhue

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. – Sandra Cisneros

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e-learning

In case you were wondering


IMG_0408Getting out of the elevator is still my favorite time of day – stepping into the waft of refrigerator cold air, relishing for the few moments it takes to turn the corner and get a greeting of a hand across the heart from the doorman before the heat sucks me out the door.

On late days, I cut across the street. When I see a flood of motorbikes in the distance, I find my space and dart to the median, switch my purse to the other side of my chest, and dart the final distance to the never-ending construction site on the other side. I walk along with the traffic until I get to the newly completed construction project. Since I have been here they have constructed the buildings that I cut through to get to the five pristine avenues where I work.

On the unusual morning that I have 15 minutes to get to work, I take the skywalk. I walk past the unopened shops while the workers Zamboni the shiny white floors for the first time that day. Leftover wine bottles and cigarettes rest on the tables of bars that closed before the clients left the night before. Baristas bustle behind locked café doors. The faces that I pass all seem the same, but they aren’t. People come and go in this city, nothing stays. Buildings continue to rise, stores close and new ones open. Workers finish their contracts, head home, or move on to another one.

By the time I swipe in at work, I have worked up a sweat. I say good morning to the guard, who is a constant and trudge up the three flights of stairs to my office. Most people take the elevator, but I have to earn the milk and sugar in my tea. On the third floor, I park my shoes with all of the others and check them to see who has arrived before me. After the computer responds to my second card swipe – verified – I complete my trek with another waft of cold air. The office has 10 columns of cubicles. You may think that I would be the last person you would find in a cubicle, but I like it; it fits. I am in the last row by the windows, and I can scan the whole room when I want to give my eyes a break from the computer. I sit with all of the members of the English team, the graphic designers on one side and the subject matter experts on the other. We work well together. Our Instructional Designer, advisor, and the person who knits the loose ends of a module together sits a cubicle-row away within hearing range.IMG_0371

From 8:30 to 10:30 I create modules (lessons) for English language learners. I am learning that e-learning is not a matter of transferring your classroom lessons to a storyboard PowerPoint. I am still learning this detail. . . slowly. I realize how verbose we classroom teachers are. Take away our voices and we tend to flounder. I always claimed that my teaching was not teacher-centered, but the very act of explaining things to students is enough to disengage them. I have had to learn to use graphics, repetition, and other visuals to give direction and to engage the student. It is a challenge that I enjoy.

At around 10:00 in the morning, the tea girls bring in the milk tea and coffee. The tea is meant to be enjoyed at our desks as we work, and usually, it is unless my friend Dito and I get to talking, but we never cross the 15 minutes marked for tea-time. The tea is delightfully sweet and lukewarm. I try not to drink gallons of it, but it is hard to resist.

When we do return to our desks, we either continue with what we were creating, or review it with Jennifer and, in my case,  do some major revisions. Sometimes I get a call to the sixth floor to do the voiceover for Maths. I am Jesse, the young girl who narrates about square roots, and triangles, pi, and all of the most nightmarish math terms you can think of. Sometimes the English team does VO’s together, which is a bit livelier. Doing the voiceover on the sixth floor also gives me a chance to visit with my programming buddies.

My one o’clock lunch hour varies from day to day. I love to sneak back to the pool at my apartment and read. I am reading everything that I can about what I need to do to become an on-line writer (copywriter, blogger, SME, ghost writer). When I don’t isolate myself, where I go depends on who I am going with. Lim likes the cheapest possible Malaysian food he can find. I have learned to ask him where he is going before we leave. We all love to have our 8 ringett (2 USD) lunch at the outdoor Indian/Malay restaurant, where I always get roti and dahl. Otherwise, I find someone to get a Sizzling Hog burger, or some other attempt at western food.

The rest of the day is the same. A module for an SME can take three days to create, maybe more. In my case, more is usual, but I am improving module by module. Currently, my modules have been for English Language Learners at about 14 years old. I created a short story unit, poetry unit, writing process unit, letters and emails, and an essay unit. Once the GD’s do their magic, the presentation is impressive.

My workday ends at six. I return to the Capri happy that I do not own a car. If I was driving home, it would take an hour. Walking it takes 10 minutes. I am at the gym looking down on the traffic within a half an hour. There, I practice yoga and balance before I return home, read by the pool, and go to bed.

It is a solitary life, which I love. On the weekends I hike with the Happy Hikers, who are as intense about hiking as I am, if not more.  I will have to lay low in Malaysia until I get a new passport, which is too full for me to insert my work visa. Then I will travel to Nepal to travel to base camp with the Happy Hikers.

There is no dew on the grass here


In three weeks I go home to sell my house. A breaking point in my journey. Job offers are beginning to come in, which makes me thoughtful and a tiny bit flattered. To all of them, I want to say yes.  A job helping teachers teach in Columbia, another job helping American teachers problem solve on-line, another on-line job teaching English at a Vietnamese university. How can I do them all and not leave my job here behind? My ultimate goal is to juggle all of these jobs remotely, which means scaling back on the one I have, which I am not ready to do yet. There is so much to learn. I want to learn how to be an instructional designer, but all of these opportunities would support that as well. Once I opened the door and left ConVal, the world opened up and it is hard not to grab it all up at once.

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Expatriate living pulls people like me together. People who do not quite fit into the routine world of one culture. The sensitivity that we have to the logic of the world turns us into introverts in the rat race careers that we hold until we realize this.  During my walkabout, I have deep connections with people who, like me, feel as they do not belong in this world. I have always struggled to wrap my mind around what people do and the decisions that they make especially in education.

I do not understand why educators pile students into little slots like pigs for the slaughter and lie to them about their future. School is incomparable to anything they will ever experience when they leave it.

We tell them that they need school, when what they really need to do is hold onto their curiosity and wonder.
IMG_2540I once taught at a school that everyone considered was a dump. It was in a small factory town where everyone knew everyone else, where some parents did not have teeth, and some did, some students had no parents and were living with friends, some students came from hard-working middle-class families. In my first year, four of my students were pregnant, one probably by a family member. This was a town where the nation had decided to dump its nuclear waste. This was a town with that kind of reputation.

But this was a magical place to teach. This was a place where brainstorming sessions were simple: what do you mean you have nothing to write, one student would say, remember that time your father lost his finger in the logging accident or the time you tried to shoot the deer that hopped over you with a bow, or when your father left you in the woods alone all day to turn you into a man? And the girls had more tender stories to tell about boys, about sneaking out of the house, running away, school, being homeless, under the surface girl stories.

vietnam biking girlsFotor
Girls in Hue, Vietnam traffic

This was a school that solved the chronic scheduling problem that schools have. The reason why so many students sit in classes that they did not sign up for: scheduling. Early in the morning, each teacher would set up a table in the gym with one list for each course that she taught and on it twenty slots for the number of students who could sign up for the class. At 7:35 on the Monday of arena scheduling, the gym doors would open and the seniors would stream in to sign up for an essential course, or a favorite teacher. Students got what they wanted, teachers got students who wanted to be there and all was harmonious. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of classes where six out of the twelve students dropped out the minute they were 16, but if students made it to their senior year, this system worked. The beauty of it was that the students chose who they wanted to teach them and what they wanted to learn.

Ten years later, after four years of being a full-time mother, I taught in a school with a good reputation. It was not a community; it was a farm. Small communities were set up in classes, which dissolved after 18 weeks, never to be formed again. Students were from rich, middle class, poor or no families at all. They were separated economically under the guise of intelligence. Students with disabilities were in one room, emotionally disturbed in another, the middle class took the mediocre classes and the rich took the honors classes. The teachers were segregated by departments. Great teachers and a great principal taught in their own bubbles that rarely touched.IMG_2906

So I gave up because I just couldn’t accept working in isolation. My passion for teaching students to take responsibility for their own critical thinking was too strong. My intolerance for mediocrity was too strong. I was too strong. People wanted to sail, but to me, they were setting off on the Titanic. I got off the boat as it sank — perpetually.

 

IMG_2926
Ferry boat woman in Hue, Vietnam

 

I hung in there for 24 years while the ship kept its bow above the water. And then I set sail for Mexico and then to Malaysia. And it as if the world has opened itself up to me. I can keep my ideas to myself; I can support e-learning, which I think is the answer to education. I can live in the world community and embrace what it gives to me every day.

In the House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, the three witches tell the protagonist, life’s a circle, you understand. You have to leave in order to come back. The protagonist had to leave the world in which she was stuck, the world in which her cousin’s Cadillac couldn’t escape because the streets were so narrow. Sometimes you need to step out of the cycle to understand it. I am coming to the understanding that my physical journey will take me back to the states, but spiritually, emotionally, maybe my place is just right here with me. Maybe I can be my place. My place, my bliss.

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