There are so many things rushing through my head every second of every day. Some of these thoughts are positive, some of these thoughts encourage me to be a better person, some of these thoughts are critical, and some of these thoughts are straight up debilitating.

Sometimes ignoring our thoughts is easier than acknowledging them.

Here, I hope to recognize my thoughts. I hope to work through them. I hope to dissect them and lay my brain bare for all to see. 

That is the best way to grow, right?

…Also, I simply cannot structure my thoughts. Warning: This blog will be all over the place.

Thought #1: Temporary Presence

“Promise me that when you go back home, you will keep in touch. Everyone always promises that they will keep in touch, but once they are gone I never hear from them again. All I want is a simple hello.”

“That will actually be my last day here.” “What? Why do you guys always do this! You people come, we get attached, and then you leave! Do you know how much I cried when Charlotte left? This is the worst day of my life.”

Why do we do this?

I have been raised in an individualistic culture that promotes temporary relationships. I have been taught that people and experiences simply “come and go,” but to what extent is this a healthy teaching?

I have never felt less lonely in my life. Of course I miss home, but I have never felt so connected to the community. Every single day I interact with hundreds of students who have warmed up to me enough to make jokes and to tell me stories. The number of times I hear “Hi Teacher!” in a day is astounding. If I run into students or parents anywhere in the community at any time of the day this exchange takes place. It is absolutely heartwarming. 

Our educational visit to UNHCR

I am scared to go back to the place where those you kind of know, but aren’t friends with, pretend to not see you so that you don’t have to have an awkward interaction. I am scared to go back to Victoria, somewhere I feel lonely and isolated. 

Of course it is obvious that I am not a local here; my appearance, the language I speak, and my behaviour all reveals my foreignness. Even with these differences, there is a sense of community here that I have never encountered in Victoria. 

Maybe the simple fact is that we are taught to reject community, to remain isolated, and to focus on your own individual wants and needs. Here, I have been welcomed into a community, yet I have failed to take into consideration what this really means. 

The students learning to draw

I have been trained to come and go as I please, to begin and move on from relationships for my own benefit. For many people, their community is their support base, their family, and what makes them feel at home. For many, relationships are not so expendable. To simply abandon a community for your own selfish desires is unthinkable.

When beginning this internship, I did not think about the impacts that my presence, followed by my immediate departure, might have on others.

How does the never-ending cycle of temporary workers impact the staff and clients of an organization emotionally? How does this impact the effectiveness of the organization more broadly?

Selina being a great teacher!

When it comes to employment, education, and the like, interpersonal connections and their impact on the work itself is so often overshadowed by ideas of ‘professionalism’. This is not only sad, but simply unrealistic. It does not matter how ‘professional’ someone is in the workplace, people become attached. Teachers, students and co-workers become friends and family. It’s only natural.

One part of me is thankful for the welcoming presence from everyone at MSRI. The other part of me is questioning the ethics surrounding temporary placements given the context of friendship and community building. I think this is especially the case for populations in precarious situations who are dependent upon people and community to provide stability and a sense of home. Does our temporary presence have a negative impact on the community due to the constant coming and going of interns? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Was our presence worth it?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but this is something to think about as I say goodbye to the community that has welcomed me.

Thought #2: Privilege in Language

One of my biggest regrets during my placement is the fact that I have not learnt conversational Malay.

Before I arrived, I was determined to learn Bahasa. Once I arrived, I rationalized the reasons for why I didn’t need to.

Everyone speaks English! Not everyone can speak Malay! Most of the people at work cannot speak Malay! It would be more beneficial to learn Farsi!

It is true, I didn’t need to, but it is important to think about the context in which this is the case — colonialism and globalization. The fact that I can get by without learning the local language is not something that should simply be accepted; it must be engaged with critically. Learning the local language is a critical way to challenge the normalization of the English language.

I speak English, and English is the only language I can speak. I have had people apologize on numerous occasions for not speaking better English in places where my language is foreign. It breaks my heart when this happens, because it is not fair. Why should I, as an English speaker, be catered to all across the globe?

I was lazy. There is a bit of truth to my rationalization, the key argument being that those we work with do not speak Malay, yet I did not take the time to learn basic Farsi or Arabic either.

If I was to go back in time, I would seek out lessons in Farsi, Arabic or Malay right from the start. It is not fair of me to expect those I interact with to speak English, yet this is an assumption and expectation I hold in my everyday interactions. I have to hold myself accountable, because laziness is not a good enough excuse.

Thought #3: My Everyday

I don’t think I have simply taken the time to provide fun highlights of what it is I have actually been doing here (other than staying in my room, that is).

Potluck time!

My mom would think that all I am doing here is getting sick. Every time I talk to her I seem to have developed some new health issue that I have never experienced before. Oh, and I have had some “stomach issues” the entire time I have been in Malaysia. We talked about this extensively in pre-departure, but its true… bring diapers when you go abroad! Message me for details if you’re curious. I have some sort of reputation to uphold, right?

The interns and some of our co-workers at Coley

Other than pooping my pants in places people might call paradise (oops, there goes my reputation), I have also spent a lot of time making new friends. From co-workers to fellow bumble bffers, I have widened my social circle. Me three years ago would be proud.

Getting ready to eat some of the YUMS from the Ghan!

I hoped that I would spend more time in the great outdoors, but unfortunately never-ending summer gets exhausting! Selina and I tried hiking in the middle of the day early on, and we barely made it back! Rookie mistake I guess? I can finally understand why everyone here loves malls. As a tourist, you just really do not understand the appeal. It all makes sense now. Now that the heat has gone down, it rains at 4:30pm every evening, sending everyone running for the malls for a different reason.

Sarah and I exploring the “waterfall”

Of course, I have spent a great deal of my time in Kuala Lumpur eating. There is such a wide variety of food here. Friendships are made over Milo and Roti Canai! I found one of my favourite restaurants in Ampang about two months ago. Take a look at that photo above to see what I am talking about. Afghan food has got to be my favourite thus far (home cooked or restaurant)!

This placement has provided a lot of opportunity for me to learn, meet new people, try new things and make new connections and friendships. I am so grateful to CAPI, QES and all the little (big) people who make these internships happen.