There’s just over a month left of my placement at the Malaysian Social Research Institute and time is simultaneously frozen and in hyper-speed. Can one look back, forward, and yet cling to each moment as it slips by without losing their mind? I certainly hope so! It may be far too early to look back on an internship when it has yet to end, however, with departure looming near, I cannot help but contemplate the roller coaster of a ride this experience has been. It feels as though it was split into three parts – each vastly different.

Before this whole journey truly began, our group of CAPI interns discussed the effects of culture shock: how its generally divided into a “honeymoon” phase, an “awareness phase” and a “adaption phase”. I can see clearly now how my first three weeks here fit perfectly into the “honeymoon” phase. Every challenge, every experience was beyond exciting and the more different it was from my Canadian Life – the better! (This period ended rather abruptly when I found that I was not accustomed to consuming rice for three meals a day).
One might expect that the next phase was “awareness”; where homesickness and irritability become difficult to manage and it’s harder to adapt to challenges. I’d like to challenge this and suggest that, for my own personal experience, rather than “awareness to adaption”, the next four months was a time of redefining myself in relation to Malaysia. I had known who I was in Canada, accustomed to routines and lifestyles that were familiar and route. While much of that did not change (worklife is worklife), who I was and how I interacted with the world in my own time was open to redefinition.

The second phase I speak of – where redefining myself began – was shaped by the arrival and departure of new and old friends. It is said that you are shaped by the 5 people you spend the most time with…and this is true and confusing when you find yourself in a constant state of flux. One of the few constants was my new workplace, MSRI, which comes with all of it’s owns joys and challenges. However, the deeper and more complex my interactions with the organisation and the refugee communities in Malaysia, the harder it became to balance my own life outside of work. I became desperate to create new habits and experiences with strange fear of running out of time. It’s easy now, to look back and recognize that desperate fervour and its cause. As always, hindsight is 20-20. When the majority of my new friend group departed MSRI/Malaysia all within a month, I would have struggled once again to redefine myself outside of work if not for one, truly unlikely saviour.

I was introduced to Muay Thai at Kambiz Warriors Gym by a few coworkers about 2 months into my placement. I had been searching for places in Malaysia. Safe and comfortable spaces, groups to join where I could develop new skills, and somewhere I could be active and healthy. Here, amazingly, were all of these things packed into a neat little gym and an incredibly inspiring woman who seems absolutely fearless. When my coworkers dropped out, I remained and found a small and fierce community of refugees, fighters, and friends.

It’s difficult to express what Muay Thai represents for me in Malaysia without sounding corny and emotional. How strange it is that something so simple became so vital so rapidly. There’s a power in developing a skill, a confidence and strength within oneself that appears slowly, then all at once. Finding somewhere to workout and work away stress was an underestimated saviour all in itself. It can be emotionally draining at times to see and hear first-hand what life is like for refugee communities in Malaysia and frustrating when you feel powerless to make lasting change.

Beyond the sport itself, becoming welcomed by the community and gym network was a huge portion of my experience. My coach was one of the first people to truly welcome me in that space. Her encouragement, protectiveness, faith, and friendship became a new part of my life. Muay Thai also introduced new friends, connections, and continually expanded my networks. While communication with the regulars – the long-term members of the Kambiz gym community – was slower to engage, an invitation to become part of the group was extended recently and continues to expand my horizons. In addition, something as simple as a group t-shirt was a powerful symbol of inclusion and being further embraced into the fold. The sheer joy and power of being part of this sub-culture, this community, was something I had previously underestimated.

Much of my time here has fit into what I had imagined a SE Asian internship to be like; new foods, new friendships, new hardships and successes, new sites and adventures – but I can safely say I never would have imagined myself watching and cheering on friends in a rooftop cage match. May I continue to enjoy being surprised!

My Muay Thai at Kambiz Warriors is something that I hold dear and will continue to do so. While I could say something simple about how maintaining or creating hobbies is helpful to adjust well to new environments, it undermines how powerful these creations, these communities are. It is through looking back on this time and recognizing similarities in the experiences of others, that I can see what an impact having a space and passion outside of work has had on my mental and physical health. I see similar examples with other interns, where the groups they join outside of work are consuming and inspiring and ignite new passions.

Although I am 100% addicted and in love, I do not know if I could have had this experience anywhere else. It’s a culmination of time, opportunity, and need which has caught my passion and I encourage others to continue to search for communities and networks of their own. If I could share some of the joy I feel, now, that would be a true success.