A Day in the Life

Living in a new place, specifically somewhere that is the opposite culturally and socially from the United States, my every day life in Malaysia brings with it new challenges, new experiences, and new things to eat and drink. Even 6 months into my grant, I still learn something new every day. At the beginning of my grant, I would tell people that out of the things I know will happen, about a third of them actually do. Out of the the things that I should have known would happen, I know about a third of them. And about a third of the things that I was suppose to do or know, I found after I missed it. My life is a constant stream existence. I used to joke that I am only existing in Malaysia. A sponge, gathering information as I go along.

Our coordinators tell us that it would get better and eventually we would stop existing and begin to grasp the societal norms, school rules, and how to make the impact we want in our community. However, in my opinion, I think it is that we all come to a point where we accept our existence in the country, as an outsider. As someone that will never fully understand and therefore, the impact is limited by the invisible impenetrable wall cemented by western civilization’s history of colonization, my white physicality, and the impressions, stereotypes, and opinions (whether positive or negative) of the western world.

For better or for worse, this creates an interesting life. I receive lots of “white” benefits. I receive free gifts, but because I am the judge and MC of the bobur competition since I am one of 5 teachers in my school not fasting. Sometimes I pay double or triple for a price of nasi lemak because the white person must earn quadruple of that of a Malaysian (the irony is I make 2/3 of a starting teacher in Malaysia as an ETA).

For better or for worse, I end up staying after school for 30 minutes because I did not realize school ended two hours early and I am one of the last teachers in the bilik guru. For better or for worse, I am not questioned when I am late to the Monday morning assembly because I probably did not know.

Some days life seems mundane. I get up. Make my coffee. Teach. Go home. Take a nap. Go to drama practice. Go to the local market. Then back to school for dance club. Then to sleep.

Some days I show up to school on a Saturday because the MOE changed school to be on a Saturday instead of the following Friday to have an extra break day. But instead of teaching, I walk around the school and hang out with students as they do arts and crafts while the teachers have a bobur (pudding) cook-off and then I test them for an hour and judge.

Some days I am at an English Camp encouraging students to be confident in their English while making a fool out of myself. But sometimes

Basically, there is no normal. I don’t know what normal is anymore.

So, I decided to outline a “normal week” for me. So you can see what a day in the life of me is.

Monday, June 12th, 2017: Boracay, Philippines. (End of the two week mid-year holiday)

8:00 am- Wake up, shower, eat the free hostel breakfast of eggs and toast, and check-out. Bailey (my housemate) and I take a 150 peso trike to the ferry.

9:00 am- Arrive at ferry, buy tickets, pay terminal fee, and pay environmental fee.

9:15- 11:30 am- Take ferry and van to Kalibo. MacKenzie forces the driver to stop at a public restroom which is locked so she uses the police station’s next door where she prances, points, and smiles to gain accessibility before she bursts.

11:30 am-12:30 pm- Wait outside of Kalibo airport and buy a shake to spend the rest of pesos so I do waste any money.

12:30- 1:30 pm- Check into airport with Air Asia. After 15 minutes of attempting to make the 7 kilo weight and her charm, the airline secretly allows her to pass without payment. (I learned my lesson- two books, one towel, and three shirts less).

1:30-3:30 pm- Bailey and MacKenzie attempt to use the free airport wifi, write in journal, talk with the random Swedish man they met at the club two nights prior, and then board the plane.

3:00- 7:00 pm- Fly plane from Kalibo International Airport to Kuala Lumpur.

7:00- 7:30 pm- Move through the airport, find a Grab to take us to the Mayflower car rental to pick up our car, and buy our dinner, a smoothie.

7:30-8:30 pm- Causal conversation with the Malaysian cab driver to the outskirts of KL where we pick up our rental car that has been serviced and ready for pick-up since we were at Mid-Year with MACEE (Our American bosses) two weeks prior.

8:30 – 9:00 pm- Meet at Mayflower car rental, find our car, find that our coords and TouchNGo card had been stolen, and make a claim.

9:00- 11:30 pm- MacKenzie drives Bailey and her back to Bera.

11:30 pm- 12:30 am- Unpack, shower, and go to sleep.

24 hours after I had the worst food poisoning I have ever had in my life. But hey, I bounced back.

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I went to some beautiful falls in Cebu. 


Tuesday, June 13th, 2017: Bera, Pahang, Malaysia 

6:50 am- Wake up, get dressed, grab an apple, and my coffee cup.

7:10 am- Drive Bailey to school and then myself to SMK Mengkarak.

7:30 am- Arrive at school, sign-in, drop off my bag, and grab markers and sheets.

7:30- 8:10 am- Teach 2C by doing a lesson on a “Dream Vacations”. I asked the students what they did for vacation and then asked them to draw their own dream vacation and write a story about it.

8:10- 8:50 am- I take a break in the bilik guru where I check my group messages (since while I sleep, the United States is awake). Then I prepare the next lesson.

8:50- 10:10 am- Teach 1A, where I do the same lesson. This time, I have the students stand and tell each other their dream vacation to practice English.

10:10 am- 12:10 pm- I do my daily rounds to the principal’s office, through the bilik guru, to the canteen, and through the halls to say hello to anyone and everyone to 1) find out information on what is happening at school that day, 2) make sure everyone knows I haven’t forgotten them and tell them about my holiday and 3) make sure everyone knows I am at school because otherwise rumors start. I then go to the canteen to grab some nasi ayam with cik ma where I attempt to talk in bahasa melayu and she smiles at all of my mistakes. I pay my 3 ringgit and move on. I then move on to the principal’s office, where the only two public computers with internet exist at my school, and I check my email.

12:10- 1:50 pm: I teach 3C- where we do the same activity, however I challenge them to elaborate on their story and include some new vocabulary. They complain that they are tired because they are fasting, and I tell them that is why we are coloring. I then yell at the students that did not write an essay on their English exams and make them promise me they will always write something in the future.

1:50- 2:30 pm- I head to the canteen where I hang out with the non-Muslim students. I bring tic-tac-toe sheets and puzzles and teach students how to play.

Some of my Orang Asli students that played tic-tac-toe with me.

2:30 pm- 3:30 pm- I wait for Bailey to come back and pick me up. I talk with our canteen lady and hang out in the bilik guru.

3:30 – 4:30 pm- Bailey and I head to TF Mart to buy groceries for the following week. I buy bread, eggs, tomatoes, pasta sauce, noodles, apples, and lemons.

4:30 pm- We change and chat.

5:00 pm- 6:00 pm- We head to the basar Ramadan- a huge market occurring exclusively for Ramadan. I buy Roti Murtabak and some kuey which includes sambusas, spring rolls, and stuffed tofu.

6:00- 11:30 pm- I check my email, attempt to be productive, spend some time on Twitter, respond to messages, and catch up on US news.

11:30 pm- I head to bed.

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017- Kuantan, Pahang. 

6:50- 7:30 am- Normal morning ritual.

7:30- 8:00 am- Today is the YES Program Interviews. YES is a program supported by the AFS and US Embassy that sends Malaysians to the US to study for one semester at a high school after they graduate from Malaysia’s high school and before they start university. All 5 of my students were accepted to the first round of interviews. I then give my students a rough break-down of what I know will happen at the interviews and advise to the best of my abilities what they should answer to the interview questions.

8:00-9:00 am- We find out my hostel students did not bring their IC cards and so they run around school to find a teacher to make a copy. I head to the canteen where cik Ma makes me a peanut butter sandwich and some kopi for breakfast while I wait.

9:00- 9:30 am- We wait for the van we ordered to come and pick us up.

9:30 am- 12:00 pm- We drive to Kuantan, the capital of Pahang, for the interviews.

12:00 pm- We arrive to find out we must return an hour later as they are running late. We go to get food for all of our non-muslim students. Have issues finding somewhere that is open, but end at a Chinese restaurant down the road. I spend the hour encouraging Bailey’s students and my students to become friends over fun facts.

1:00 pm- 2:00 pm- We arrive back at the interview location where we wait for the interviews to commence, I encourage my students to do their best, listen to some guy tell me to go find some sea turtles, and then listen to the commencement of the program’s interviews.

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Here Bailey and I are at the YES Interviews with our students, mentors, and others across Pahang interviewing. 

2:00- 5:30 pm- The teachers exit and go hang out in the mosque while our mentors pray. I journal, take a nap, and surf the internet on my phone while we wait.

5:30- 8:30 pm- We drive back to Bera.

8:30- 11:30 pm- Bailey and I chill in our house where I surf the internet and attempt to load some shows.

Thursday, June 15th, 2017- Bera, Pahang 

6:50- 7:30 am- Morning ritual

7:30- 8:10 am- Teach 4I- Geography Lesson. A huge map of the world was hung up a couple months ago in my school and after being asked so many times if I drove to Malaysia from the United States, I decided we needed to do a lesson. I wrote continents, oceans, and countries on some cards. I split the students into two teams and lined them up at the map. They originally raced to find all of the above, but when they couldn’t find South America, it turned into an explanation of continents, a compass, and oceans.


4I’s Geography Lesson.. obviously, before we discussed continents.

8:10- 8:50 am- Bilik guru morning ritual. Make my coffee and read my messages.

8:50- 10:10 am- Teach 2B- Geography Lesson. Same lesson, but add in geography of Malaysia and major cities around the world, and then I wrapped some cloth around their eyes and had them post “Post-Its” where they thought some countries were for fun. We ended early and played hang-man in the classroom.

10:10- 11:30 am- I prepared the following day’s lessons, spoke with my mentor about programs, and began to organize drama club for the evening.

11:30 am- 12:00 pm- I ate lunch in the canteen.

12:00-1:00 pm- I went to the library and brought a puzzle because that is where all the students go when they do not have a teacher.

1:00- 1:50 pm- I went to the computer to work-out some proposal work and details of my up-coming Survivor Camp.

1:50- 2:30 pm- Non- Muslim activity- where I brought my puzzle and took selfies with the non-Muslim students.

2:30- 5:00 pm- Went back to the house where I watched a t.v. show and read.

5:00 pm- It began rainy hard, so I received a message that drama club was canceled and so is dance class.

7:00 pm- Bailey and I head to my school as we were invited by one of my teacher’s, Big Arif, and our canteen lady, Cik Ma, for iftar- the dinner to break fast. She made all of my favorites, her famous omelet, tom yum, sayur, lamb, and spring rolls. We break the fast at 7:22, eat, and then sit and talk until 10:15 pm.

The Iftar dinner that my canteen cooked for Bailey, Big Arif, and I.

10:15 pm- Bailey and I say our thank yous and head back to the school.

11:30 pm- I go to bed.

Friday, June 16th, 2017: Bera, Pahang

6:50- 7:30 am- Morning ritual.

7:30 am- 8:10 am- “Fun Time”- I head to the canteen to entertain all the non-Muslim students while they pray. I force some boys to do a puzzle with me, since I knew they wanted to hang out with me and talk, but didn’t want to be “lame”.

8:10 – 9:50 am- Teach 1C- Where I give them their journals by answering the question “What did you do during your holiday?”. We then proceeded to do the dream vacation lesson. Where they shared, in basic English sentences, where their dream vacations are. I was excited that the quietest student actually stood up and shared without prodding, like usual.

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Harith Zakwan, of 1C, shares his dream vacation to Kelantan to see the traditional game of wau.

9:50- 10:50 am- Made coffee, checked my email, talked to the teachers to find out that school will be happening the following day because the MOE gave a free day off the following week to elongate the Hari Raya holiday. I then gathered my next class’s resources.

11:10 am- 12:15 pm- Taught 4E. One of my favorite classes. I normally do not get to teach the upper streams, so I teach more basic English than ideas and lessons on life that I would prefer to do, so I take advantage of this class because they are energetic, curious, and intelligent. However, they tend to bully each other and ignorantly racist. So we did a lesson on name-calling and bullying, where we discussed what it feels like to be called names from “Fat”, “Black”, “Pig”, “Dog”, “Mosquito”, and others. We discussed what it does to people psychologically and how we can improve it, by not name-calling and instead, supporting each other. I gave them each a piece of paper where they put their name on it and put it on their back. They walked around the class and wrote compliments on each person’s. In between, we talked about travels to the Philippines, what they did over break, they briefed me on the 5 accidents that resulted in Bera during the break, and how they are now always going to wear a helmet and not drive after midnight and before 6 am, where the lorries drive fast and dangerously.

12:15 pm- 6:30 pm-  Bailey picks me up from school. We head back where I take a nap from the week, work on some cover letters to apply for jobs, and wait for my friend Dakotah to arrive for the weekend.

6:30- 7:00 pm- Dakotah arrives and we all head to our basar Ramadan. We buy some food, I see about every one of my students and teachers, we say our hellos, how are yous, and return home.

7:00pm- midnight- We chat, drink some beers (things we don’t get to do outside of our home in our Muslim- Malay neighborhood), and then play rummy. Then head to bed.

Saturday, June 17th, 2017- SMK Mengkarak 

7:15 am- I wake up and take Bailey to her school and me to mine because the Ministry of Education (MOE) decided to make the following Friday a break day, so Malaysia has to make up the day and so school is on Saturday. I do not have to come since it breaks our contract, but I volunteered to be the bobur judge as my school decided instead of teaching they would occupy by the students by cooking porridge and have a cook-off (even though it is Ramadan and half the school is fasting).

8:00 am- I head to the assembly where I sit and wait for instruction. I watch as all the students are moved around by their teachers. I smile and wave to all the students as they move around me.



8:30- 10:30 am- I am handed some leaves and the students teach me how to fold them into small bouquets where nasi will eventually be placed into them. I entertain questions from students that I have never talked to before and finally have the confidence to approach me. I answer questions like, “Where are you from?” (Still, yes.) “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “How many children do you have?” “What are your favorite activities?” “How much do you weigh? You are chubby.” “How tall are you? You are so tall.” “What is your favorite vegetable?” Where then I ask them questions in return like, “Where do you live?”, “What is your favorite hobby?” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Promise me you will study hard and go to university?”

10:30 am- I head to the canteen for some breakfast. I eat some ayam and nasi and chat with the non-muslim students who are not fasting.


Bobur competition- teachers cooking.

11:00 am- I head over to the bobur competition to begin judging. I walk around until I find a teacher that is suppose to give me instruction. We then walk around with the three Chinese teachers and the one Indian teacher and taste every bobur. I judge them on cleanliness (even though they are cooking on our school parking lot), decoration, ingredients, and the taste.

11:35 am- The best part of the day.. a huge truck shows up and everyone stops what they are doing. Everyone rushes to the truck. They start taking things out of it and placing it in bags. I find out it is a milk truck with yogurt. It was a surprise stop, but everyone wanted some milk, so the competition was placed on hold.


The random truck that everyone stopped to buy milk and yogurt from.

11:55 am- 12:30 pmThe competition is back in order. I am pulled to a room to tally results. I am told to head to the assembly room to make the announcement. I proceed to the assembly room to find no students. The Vice Principal calls me over to the canteen where the bobur is assembled. I sit while I figure out what to do. In the mean time, realize I had forgotten to top-up this month and my messages had not gone through all day and was late picking up Bailey. I ask my mentor to send her a message to find out Dakotah already picked her up. The student then come in a filed line and each grab some bobur. I then realize no students are there and teachers began disappearing. I turn around and ask when the assembly will happen, and find out that school has been over for 15 minutes and they all left and so did the teachers. I ask what we are doing there, then and they told me resting until they decide to go home. I ask if I can go home and they said yes, I could have gone home 30 minutes ago.

All the bobur given to our students.

12:30 pm- I head back home, pick up Dakotah and Bailey, and we head to “In Vege” my favorite and only coffee shop 15 minutes away in the town over from ours so chill and drink a coffee while I type out this blog post.

And there was my week. Exciting or not, it is a day in the life of ETA MacKenzie Bills. Full of surprises and random routine. After I finish this post, I will probably do some internet surfing and then we will head to the basar Ramadan. Tomorrow I will read to some Chinese students and eat dinner with one of Bailey’s teachers and then prepare for the following week.

The world is alive and spinning on the other side of the world.




One thought on “A Day in the Life

  1. I love your posts. Thanks for sharing! What a great experience. You certainly keep a busy schedule and I am sure you are never bored. Those students will always remember you and you truly are making a difference in their lives! Be safe.

    Liked by 1 person

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