I tightened my tie and stepped outside greeted by the 91 degree dawn and 80% humidity. After nearly a month of preparatory lectures, state orientations, and bureaucratic gatherings, I was eager to finally meet my fellow teachers and students. My car pulled up to SMK Mahmud, a sprawling multistory campus cropped out of the heavily treed Malaysian jungle. The students had gathered in an assembly hall that was constructed in 1908 during the British colonial era of Malaya. As we entered the hall and took the stage the students grew silent. Several rounds of introductions were made in Bahasa Melayu, until they handed the mic to me and told me to describe myself. After sharing my family background and personal interests we proceeded to take several rounds of photos and I shook hands with all of the boys in the school. The students and faculty greeted me with genuine hospitality, in fact I have never felt such a warm welcome. As I was then taken on a full tour of the school, at every corner I was greeted with "Goodmorning Chikgu" and a warm smile (Chikgu translates to teacher in Bahasa Melayu).
SMK Mahmud is a secondary school offering Form 1 (7th Grade), Form 2 (8th Grade), Form 3 (9th Grade), Form 4 (10th Grade), Form 5 (11th Grade), and Form 6 (12th Grade). Coming to Malaysia I anticipated a great degree of multiculturalism, and SMK Mahmud is a prime example. SMK Mahmud has around 1000 students consisting of roughly 55% Malay, 25% Chinese, 15% Indian, and 5% Orang Asli (indigenous). The Malay population in general is Muslim and speaks Bahasa Melayu. The Chinese population primarily speaks mandarin (and Bahasa Melayu) and predominantly practices Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, or Christianity. The Indian population speaks Tamil (and Bahasa Melayu) and predominantly practices Hinduism.
Like Malaysia as a whole, SMK Mahmud is predominantly Muslim. Passages from the Quran in Arabic are seen throughout the classroom and Friday is a halfday for Namaz Jumah (Friday prayer time). The female school uniform for Malay students consists of a tudung (Malay: translating to cover or veil). Many class periods and assemblies also begin with a prayer. Students also have the option to take mandrin, tamil, bahasa melayu or Arabic language classes. In Malaysia all holidays are celebrated, be that Chinese, Hindu, christian, or Malay. Amidst this multiculturalism there is a idiosyncratic self-segregation in assembly halls and classrooms where the Chinese, Indian, and Malay students tend to coalesce into distinctive cultural/identity groups.
At the end of my first day I headed to the canteen (the school cafeteria) filled with an incredible assortment of freshly cooked Indian and Malay dishes. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with several students and teachers about everything from Malaysian dishes, islam, politics, to US foreign policy, and Donald Trump. I am sure we will be having a lot more conversations as the year progresses and I look forward to getting to know all my students and really diving into the classroom these next few weeks! Below is a picture of my first successful English workshop this afternoon!