MEET A CLUTCH OF YOUNGSTERS WHO HAVE PASSED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION SYSTEM IN MALAYSIA, AND HEAR THEIR VERDICTS ON THE EXPERIENCE OF STUDYING AND GROWING UP ABROAD.
Name: Simon Gartner
“I’ll admit it, I’m an expat brat; one of a privileged few who’s had the opportunity to grow up abroad without any real worries. I use the word ‘real’ with a grain of salt because, despite having numerous experiences all over the world and my fair share of problems, up until this point in my life, I’ve never really been faced with the trying situations of your average Joe. Like most of my expat brat peers, I’ve never had to worry about earning a pay-check, paying rent, affording food and clothing, or the prospect of not being able to go to school. Despite this rather negative title of ‘expat brat’, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Had I been raised like a ‘normal’ child, residing in the nation stamped across the front of my passport, my educational experiences would have been vastly different.
Because of my different upbringing, my educational experiences were not limited to the traditional classroom setting: rather, the world became my classroom. Everyday, just stepping onto the streets of the various cities and countries I’ve lived in has taught me something new. This constant first-hand exposure to new customs and heritages has allowed me to appreciate and understand more than any number of textbooks ever could have about the people and places of this world.
Despite the obvious differences outside the school walls, my formal education at international schools around the globe has also been like night and day compared to students who have remained in their home nations their entire lives. The international schools of the globe are unique, in my experience, and not to be found anywhere else.
A melange of different cultures and upbringings in a small, interconnected community forces students to interact and befriend those from different cultures. This experience instinctively makes international school students more knowledgeable and more open to those of all different creeds and cultures. In my experiences at various international schools around the globe, I’ve found that the attribute of general acceptance of others is not limited to a particular school in a particular country. Instead, children from any international school with a mix of nationalities are taught early on the benefits of internationalism.
My high school experience and entire formal education career in Malaysia took place at the International School of Kuala Lumpur. What I found is that my school, and many other international schools around Malaysia, has done is foster an attitude and provide the tools to aid in the development of future international problem solvers. Although local schools (no matter where they are in the world) can promote their students to become problem solvers, they miss the key feature of a global scale, which can lead to improved international relations down the road.
Although international education is the norm for me, I understand how privileged I am to hold the distinction of being brought up abroad. It’s not by chance that I fell in love with international relations, or that my tolerance for others has been built up from a young age: it’s because of my upbringing. I’m proud to proclaim that I’m an expat brat because, without that distinction, I would be far less aware and far less informed about the world. It is a testament to my education and something that I simply can’t imagine my life without.”
Name: Sam Barton
“I am a product of the international school system. Though I was born in Australia, I have spent most of my life in Asia, and I can assure you that I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Being ripped from my comfortable Australian way of life and dropped in a hot, humid, foreign country was the most defining moment in my life so far. Whilst I had lived in Asia before, having previously lived in Singapore and Sri Lanka when I was much younger, any memories about where I had lived were just faint images and impressions from the mind of a toddler, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
There are parents throughout the entire world agonising over the huge decision as my parents did: ‘Should I move my family to Malaysia?’ There are many things to consider when moving to another country, and each is enough to provoke the worry: ‘am I making the right choice?’ I know that for my father, the sight of his nine-year-old clinging to the door frame and pleading not to leave was enough to make him carefully consider whether or not the choice being made was the correct one.
Parents; do not fret. After having spent the past 10 years in Malaysia and being a product of the international school system, I am now certain that the decision my parents made to move to Malaysia was the best decision they could have ever made with regards to my future.
I did not always have such a firm belief in this. It was only in 2010, when I returned to Australia to complete my education at a prestigious boarding school in Brisbane, I realised how lucky I am. As with anyone starting at a new establishment, my feelings were a mix of excitement and trepidation, and while it is rare to find someone who suffers from culture shock induced by one’s own culture, during my first few months in Australia that is exactly what I experienced.
Moving from a place where the question ‘where are you from?’ tends to elicit interested reactions to one where anything foreign is considered inferior was an eye-opening experience for me. In Malaysia, I thought that my classmates and I were like most kids around the world, but when I moved to Australia it quickly became apparent that the maturity and experiences that I had had were not commonplace.
I had the nickname among my peers of ‘Malaysia’ for a while when I moved back to Australia. It was intended to be an insult but, to be honest, I became proud of it. At first I had been confused, wondering how a Caucasian Australian with a tweaked accent could be branded as an outsider, but then I realised that it all stemmed from ignorance. Living overseas opened my mind up to a whole world of possibilities, whilst my classmates in Australia were limited to only that which they had experienced.
I may be coming across as elitist, putting forth the idea that international students are ‘better’ than others, but that is not the case. I think we are just luckier to have had global and cultural exposure at an early age.
Moving to Malaysia has defined me as a person, and for that I am grateful.”
Name: Dhakshenya Dhinagaran
“When I first arrived in KL I was at the tender age of three. It was my Dad’s job that had posted him overseas from Singapore. Being new in the country, we were fairly lost and my Mum began frantically rummaging through the daily papers in serious pursuit for a reputable school to enroll me in.
Once I reached the age of five I started reception at The Alice Smith School, and I have following the British curriculum and been encompassed in an international environment ever since. Time at primary school was always to be enjoyed as the school bombarded us with fun filled activities and made sure “stress”, “tension”, and “worry” were completely stripped from our vocabulary. The school was culturally diverse, resulting in my group of friends varying from Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, to Japanese.
It was in secondary school when the real challenge came. The Alice Smith Secondary School was situated almost an hour’s drive away from home, resulting in a shift to the nearer Garden International School (GIS). Once again, the friendly faces of students from such countries as Korea, Venezuela, and Australia greeted me.
By Year 10, the homework diary began to spill over with homework, projects, and deadlines. Together with the academic pressure came a wide range of extra curricular activities to engage in. I developed a keen interest in netball and made it onto the school team, participating in numerous tournaments in both Singapore and Malaysia.
In 2012 I reached an important stage in my academic life: it was time for me to sit my IGCSEs. What kept me going was the constant support from my teachers, who were ever willing to give up their lunch times and stay after school to clear any outstanding doubts I had. By 1 June, the ordeal was over! I frolicked about and enjoy the rest of my exam leave at home.
My journey doesn’t stop here, though. I’m continuing my studies at an international school in Singapore named Tanglin Trust to complete my A levels.
My time at international school has been truly enjoyable. I appreciate that our strengths and achievements were constantly recognised and rewarded; I received various awards, from sports to academics. These awards act as a medium of boosting confidence within the students. Of course, our weaknesses were also pinpointed, to encourage us to further improve in those areas as well.”
Name: Georgia Mann
“As a ‘third culture kid’, growing up in different countries has brought on many mixed feelings throughout my childhood. That said, one of the definite advantages of growing up as an expat child, especially in Malaysia, is the level of education that we students receive. I have attended three different schools over the past 11 years, and will soon be moving on to my fourth, and I can honestly say that I don’t feel as though I could have been offered a better education, environment, or range of opportunities than those I have received as an expatriate student.
When I first moved to Malaysia, the sheer size of the student body and school (I attended Garden International School) was a bit of a shock to my system. I had just come from a very small American school in Hong Kong that contained around a third of the number of students that attend GIS; you can imagine the effect this massive, daunting new school had on little 11-year-old me. However, slowly but surely, I managed to adjust and settle in. I made friends, some of which have come and gone, but many of whom I am still able to call my closest friends.
The great thing about GIS is that, despite the number of students, there was a distinct sense of community between pupils. We were all involved in various activities outside of school hours, ranging from football to photography. Meeting other students from different classes and of different ages was a breath of fresh air for some pupils, and activities allowed students to branch out and excel in areas outside of academics. New students were always welcomed enthusiastically, no judgments made, and bullying was a rarity.
When I talk about the education I have received throughout my childhood, I am not only referring to the academic side of learning. The opportunities provided to expat students are endless. For example, many international schools offer a program in which students can travel and get involved in community projects in amazing locations. My school jumped on this bandwagon, and one year ago I went to Chiang Mai to feed endangered elephants and build a play area for a large group of extremely grateful children, among many other activities.
I am grateful, when it comes to going to school in Malaysia, for the level of academic achievement students were constantly reminded of. We were encouraged to work hard and get results, and when we did it was often due to the body of students as well as teachers that supported us.
I’m glad that I attended GIS for the last five years, and I’m glad that it pushed me to do better than I thought I could. Hopefully education in Manila (my next port of call) will be as great as the education here!”
Source: The Expat August 2012
Read more: Words Make all the difference in Education
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