One of the things that I was most excited about getting involved with here is refugee education. I had heard that a school for Rohingya children called LifeBridge Education Center was just established this past year in Penang, and I planned to jump right into teaching when I arrived. However, things never work out quite as easily as I would have hoped.

One, the school is on the mainland. That means I have to either take a ferry or the bridge (the 13.5km bridge) to the school every day. When I got here to Penang a few months ago, I wasn't even driving yet. The prospect of driving that far terrified me. I tried taking the bus. It took 2 and a half hours to get there, and 2 and a half hours to get back. No, I thought to myself, this will not do. I managed a hefty commute last year, and took plenty of public transportation, but I cannot fathom spending 5 hours on a bus every day. So I decided to come into the school a few days a week. And I've been driving myself!

Being a "Master of education" and all, I really wanted to serve at this school as a teacher. The classroom kind. The normal kind of teacher, for once. Once I visited the school once or twice, I had to let go of that dream. Most of these kids speak Bahasa, and although English is the language of instruction, they really need Malaysian teachers who can explain things to them in a language they understand. I get all the arguments for language immersion, but now I know how frustrating it can be to teach an entire class with no English background at all. Luckily they have 3 Malaysian volunteer teachers and 1 Rohingya teacher who are sacrificing their time for these kids.

One of the components of their learning at this school is a computer program called Read, Write, Type.

It teaches them, you guessed it, reading, writing, and typing with phonics. Which made me realize, that somehow, despite my own upbringing and advanced education, I had never worked with phonics before. What the heck is a "short e" and a "bossy e"? How did I learn to read without this stuff? And why did they never teach me this in my so called "teacher education"? (probably because I avoided most of the classes from the education department. Yea....I should have put more thought into that decision.)

So it makes total sense that I decided to be a phonics coach. I'll get the students that are the farthest behind and work with them one-on-one. I had my first full-day session with my kids today. It went pretty well, but it's very clear that I will be learning phonics along with them. It'll be fun.

We worked on short vowel sounds today. I realized that my name is the perfect example, because it has both a short e and a short i in it. I'm so proud.

In the end, even if I can't be a full-time teacher, and even if it means spending an hour and a half in my car to drive there and back, these kids are worth it. It's their first, and only, opportunity to get an education. I'm happy to be part of their lives!

And with that, I will leave you with a quote from Nelson Mandela:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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