Chee Gee Keat is currently a 2nd year Chemical Engineering reading at University of Bath. He was a volunteer for Project KL 2014.
As I await my lab session to start, I decided to check my email and Facebook updates on the computers located in 9West. On Facebook a certain share caught my eye. As I remember it, it was a UKECharisma advertisement shared by our dear Didier Chai. “Volunteering project in KL huh? Well… I do have 3 months of free time. Why not?” Being in the lab half an hour early for class (don’t ask me why), I filled up the form with as much information as I could. It was relatively easy to be honest as I have always wanted to experience being a teacher.
A few months later, I got an email saying that my application for Project KL was successful. I was in Paris at that time and the news totally made coming home more exciting. What shocked me when I finally confirmed my place as a volunteer was how serious the project was. I thought that we would just be going to the school to teach English. That’s it. After that we would be free to go right? Wrong. Turns out there was much more commitment to be had. Being a KL boy myself, I thought I didn’t need accommodation and that it was more for the outstation volunteers only. Turns out that it was recommended that all volunteers stayed in the lodging provided as a lot of planning will be going on from there. Our friendly director Jon Lee told me all of that when I asked him if I could go home every night.
Our first Skype meeting before the project came with some surprises for me too because of all the familiar faces (or voices). Firstly, our fellow Bath students Chin, Shu Ting, and Darrion were also involved as volunteers. Secondly, my secondary school mates Maxine, Jon, Kharenee, and Suan Yean were also part of this project. What a coincidence. All together we had a team of 16. After having talked to them, we were split into groups and had to get our lesson plans ready. My teaching partner was a Malaysian girl from Warwick named Nabila. Together we made a total of 10 teaching plans (which later ended up in the bin) for our lessons.
Finally on the 6th of July, we met at Fernloft Hostel in Petaling Street. I finally recognized and remembered all the volunteers names in our official introduction. Darrion, Chin, Shu Ting, Ashikin, Serena, Victoria, Bhavna, Riyana, Nabila, Aisyah, Maxine, Kharenee, Suan Yean, Ika, Jon, and myself. Wonderful people all of them. After a night of dinner, awkward introductions, and planning, we were ready for tomorrow.
The school SK Seri Setia can be described in one word. Familiar. At least for a Malaysian student that is. Tight corridors, tiny staircases, tiny washrooms… Everything was… Child sized! The scene of students running around chasing each other with hints of physical violence, the weird games that they play, and the energy that radiates from them all bring back memories from a time long ago. The principal was kind enough to give us a whole tour of the school as well. We were given the library as our work station to plan as well as rest in between classes. With that, the teaching can now commence.
Being on your first days as a teacher is tough and most of us learnt that the hard way. Most of us dumped the lesson plans we had initially as they were too difficult for the students. We forget that many Malaysian students do not have a high level of English like we do and struggle to understand even the basics. This can be seen as a double edged sword for us. It became easier to plan our lessons because we didn’t have to go too deep in terms of difficulty, but at the same time the disparity between strong and weak in a class lead to trouble for us. The strong classes had a higher number of English proficient students and vice versa with the weak classes. Both classes posed their own problems as well as similar ones for us inexperienced teachers. The strong tend to finish their work earlier than the rest but that leaves them restless and with the potential to cause trouble. The weak on the other hand take so much time to comprehend whatever we say that it pushes our plans further behind. Both sides of the coin can equally be rude to you. The strong would say “this is too easy” while the weak would say “meh I don’t want to do this anymore”. This has led to many of us losing our tempers at the students before. However, as the days go by you start to adapt to the classes and their students. The strong classes would be given harder material while the weak classes would be given just the basics. In the afternoon after school hours the team would hold workshops for the students with the aim of increasing their interest in learning. The workshops would be led by a certain group of volunteers per day and it would run from 1:30 to 3:30pm. I feel that we learn more about each other through the workshops rather than the classes because of the increased level of communication between us and the students when we have workshops.
After school we would have a post mortem session to discuss the pros and cons of the workshops we held each day. Once we get back to the hostel many of us crash while some of us go out to get some food and drinks. There has been more than one occasion where a few volunteers and I ventured into KL Central for a Cha Time or two! Dinner would normally be had after the Muslims have broke fast. We had a lot of fun showing the British students our way of life through our food. It was even funnier when we recorded them eating durian.
Sad news is, just when we got used to teaching the kids, the two weeks have gone by. As the last day draws by, each of us have amassed a huge number of fan mail, gifts, as well as “autograph sessions” from the students and if you’re popular like Darrion or Maxine, you would probably have a fan club to chase you around. Leaving the school after the last day was difficult and seeing the students cry over us leaving just makes it even harder to go. None of us wanted to leave and until now we are still talking about how much we miss our project (its been a week!). I have to say. I have never met such a group of unique and fun loving people as the ones from Project KL as well as get the opportunity to teach a school of enthusiastic, energetic, and naughty but fun students. Project KL 2015, I am coming for you.