Indiana, Meet Malaysia

Yoong Wen's International Education Week in May

I remember vividly the afternoon that I received the email about GYSD. I broke into a cold sweat (not really) wondering what I was going to do. But since arriving in January I had assimilated well into my host community of Fort Wayne and Ossian, Indiana and was ready to undertake a full volunteer project.

After a week of deliberation, I decided to give a presentation about Malaysia to a class at Norwell High School (my school). About a month before receiving news about GYSD, I prepared a presentation about Malaysian culture for my sociology class, so I repurposed the presentation. I consolidated the presentation and added parts here and there that were lacking, because holding the attention of 25 teenagers for 40 minutes is no small task.

It was hard to find a teacher who had space in their schedule to accommodate a full day of presenting with finals fast approaching and a syllabus not yet fully covered. I ended up working with a U.S. history teacher.

Teenagers are probably the hardest demographic to entertain since we’re plastered to our phones and social media. I brought extra materials to help command, create, and maintain attention. I brought Malaysian clothing, candy, and money for my friends to inspect and try. In my opinion, giving someone candy makes them much more willing to listen. On top of that, clothing and money are things we take for granted in our daily lives, so much so that it’s almost mind-boggling that people have such different money and clothes.

In my opinion, giving someone candy makes them much more willing to listen.

Initially, I was petrified to present—being faced with a group of simultaneously expectant and nonchalant teens was definitely intimidating. However, as soon as I began to present, it was almost like my brain went on autopilot, simply talking about the culture and things I held and loved most dearly. I spoke for 40 minutes in six different classes about Malaysian culture, holidays, schooling, tourism, cuisine, and many other topics. The day just zoomed past like it was nothing.

Highlights of my day included putting a sarong, a kind of Southeast Asian traditional loungewear, on all my friends (and willing teachers). My natural mom randomly called me during my fifth presentation of the day. I picked up the video call despite the awkwardness and people in that class got to meet my wonderful mother for a few minutes!

My favorite moment that day was when a veteran entered the class in the middle of my final presentation to thank the U.S. history students for writing him letters thanking him for his service. This impromptu visit was so incredibly wholesome with students getting up to shake his hand and thank him for his lasting service to the nation, bringing some students to the brink of tears.

I am so thankful that I decided to present to this U.S. history class. Embarking on this GYSD project showed me how keen Americans are to learn about different cultures. As someone who is insecure about his voice and pronunciations, it brought me great comfort hearing people say they could understand me loud and clear and loved my presentation.

I also gained a massive amount of respect for teachers who can teach the same thing six times to six different groups of people every single day. It was no doubt fun to present, but the amount of preparation needed and the repetition of the routine makes it so draining that I can only imagine how teachers feel.

I hope to continue presenting about Malaysia to students at Norwell High School and make the most of the remainder of my amazing exchange experience. Thank you, PAX!

—Yoong (YES, Malaysia), hosted by the Hapner family (IN)

Yerkezhan Kazakhstan GA international night2 800x450 1

Having not been able to participate in November's International Education Week (IEW), second semester student Yoong Wen turned Global Youth Service Day into his own mini-IEW—Ms. Gaier got into the spirit too!