Gratitude – Love – Passion | 2016 Fulbright ETAs

By Angelina Jefary

 “This is your journey. In life you will meet someone important that will change your life.”
– Kate Asnicar, 2016 Sabah ETA

Julia, Me, Kate (Sisters from different parents)

Julia, Me, Kate (Sisters from different parents)

It is the third series of my Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) article and I want to thank everyone who has supported me from day one.

I am so thankful to be given the chance to experience and have an ETA for 3 consecutive years. Even though I’ve graduated from high school this year, I hope it will not be my last time participating and getting involved in any Fulbright ETA programme.

With SPM in sight, I thought there was no way I was going to be a ‘Mini ETA’ this year. Well, I guess I proved myself wrong. This year, I volunteered in at least three English camps and I got to meet a lot of incredibly warm-hearted and down-to-earth people.

I have to admit it, meeting new people can be really scary and tiring… especially when you already know certain people well and they eventually have to leave!

Meeting the new batch of ETAs went above and beyond these expectations. They were super lovely and silly at the same time. From the first look—and the first conversation—I had with them, I knew we would click and get along easily.

Life gets you to unknown places and lets you meet strangers who soon become your best friends, and even family.

Kubah Environment Camp (SMK Siburan, SMK Kota Samarahan, SMK MuaraTuang)

Kubah Environment Camp (SMK Siburan, SMK Kota Samarahan, SMK Muara Tuang)

 I was so lucky to have Katelynn Kundrata as a Second year ETA (SETA) in my school. I did some pretty remarkable things this year and she, along with others, always had my back through thick and thin.

One of them was when I applied for the AFS Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (KL-YES) scholarship—in fact, click here for the full article about that journey! 

2016 Malaysian Fulbright ETAs! (Photo Credit to The U.S Embassy KL)

2016 Malaysian Fulbright ETAs! (Photo Credit to The U.S Embassy KL)

The 2016 Malaysia Fulbright ETAs have been such great friends, sisters and brothers to me, and I am sure the feeling extends to their students and thus, their entire communities too.

I really enjoy and feel comfortable talking to them about anything and everything, or even just to seek some lifetime advice.

Personally, I can frankly say that I have improved tremendously in my writing and speaking skills. English helps all of us to be together in a way that we can have a better understanding with everyone around the world and it also transforms us into globalised citizens.

The ETAs made learning English such a great time by incorporating it through games, music and others.

This year, I collected stories and voices that are strong and inspiring regarding the impacts of the Fulbright ETAs programmes from the students, teachers and ETAs themselves.

I was very touched and blown away by the responses and feedback from each individual. They were so genuine! I am just so grateful that I got to hear their feelings which I would really love to share.


“I chose to come to Malaysia because of a friend from high school that told me about Malaysia. She was a KL-YES scholarship recipient, and from the stories she told me, I knew I wanted to see Malaysia someday.

I came back as a SETA because my school asked me to. I remember someone literally saying ‘We don’t want another ETA. We want an E-T-H-A-N.’ How could I refuse? Ultimately, I felt that my time wasn’t complete yet – that there was more good I could do in my school together with the students, teachers and staff there. And now that my time at my school is over, I can proudly say that we achieved that good.

I think the most valuable things I’ve taken away have been feelings of community, togetherness, and welcoming. Since you can’t really translate “gotong-royong” exactly into English, it’s something I had to learn first-hand. It’s a feeling that I hope to carry with me everywhere I go in life.”

Ethan Goldback, ETA of SMK Kuala Besut, Terengganu


“Fulbright ETA is such an amazing programme, one of the best that I’ve ever known. The ETAs did not just focus on teaching in-class but they also did activities outside the classroom like workshops and English camps.  These activities really helped students improve their English, and it helped build our confidence levels.

The Fulbright ETA programme really facilitated in bringing out the real me—I used to be afraid of speaking in public. I also learnt how to be a leader during the Click! Camp.

My ETA, Miss Carlina Duan, always helped me in figuring out the solution to my problems. She was the one who always kept me going and cheered me up when I was upset.

ETA made me realise that learning is not only through textbooks but we can always have fun while learning something new! Miss Carlina never gave up teaching us although it took time for us to understand some things.

She showed us that nothing is impossible if we work hard for it. She gives us strength and hugs when we are down. I love her so much and I am so glad to know her.”

– Nur Syaza Aliah Salehuddin, student at SMK Jengka 16, Pahang


“I chose to do the Fulbright Programme in Malaysia because I had very little in-depth knowledge or preconceived ideas about Asian cultures. The diversity in Malaysia made it a great place to do the programme because I could learn about a variety of different Asian ethnic groups and their cultures.

I was also interested in teaching in Malaysia because I had heard that they were at a transitioning point in the manner that they were teaching English (to make it more student-centred and hands-on) so it would be an exciting educational experience to assist with.

In the ten months I was in Malaysia, I learned several valuable things. I learned a lot about the variety of cultures found in Malaysia. I learned patience and the importance of adaptability.

The most important thing I learned was the significance of looking at your own country and background with a critical eye. By living and teaching in Malaysia, I was able to see some of the imperfections in American culture and government and realise that there is a lot that my country can learn from Malaysia.”

Courtney Marshall, ETA of SMK Semerah Padi, Sarawak


“The presence of ETAs in my life has improved my communication skills. Now, I always use English when communicating with my family, friends and teachers. ETAs helped build my confidence, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my English teachers for their guidance.

What I like the most about having an ETA is that I can gain knowledge about their cultures. We exchange knowledge and this can improve our general perspectives on other countries.”

Nur Ameera Farhana Mohammed Sabri, student of SMK Sayong, Perak


“Basically, I chose to do the Fulbright ETA programme because I believe passionately in the power of intercultural exchange and building relationships between nations to make the world a more inclusive, knowledgeable, compassionate, and peaceful place.

I chose Malaysia specifically because I got interested in the Southeast Asia region through a political science class I took and Malaysia’s political history as well as the cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity intrigued me.

I wanted to learn first-hand how Malaysian society worked together and also learn more about Islam to be able to bring back my experiences to America, especially with the focus on Islam in today’s world.

The most valuable thing?! So hard to say just one! Although I kind of knew it before, I realised just how similar we all are even halfway across the world. I also experienced gratitude and love like I never have before and realised just how much I absolutely love people and talking to them and building relationships.”

Julia Julstrom-Agoyo, ETA of SMK Bandar Kerayong, Pahang


“I became more comfortable talking to foreigners. I also can speak confidently in English and I have done something like Dikir Barat which usually can only be done in Bahasa Melayu.

I actually really enjoyed having an ETA in my classroom because they always did something interesting whenever they taught us. My ETA also made me speak in front of a crowd which really helped in building my self-confidence.”

Athirah Zailan, student of SMK Pak Badol, Kelantan


“It’s amazing to see how an ETA can make the class so lively and interactive.  I definitely learnt a lot from the ETAs, seeing first-hand that it’s still possible to achieve great academic results when approached in a more fun manner as they have done.

I love seeing our students enjoy talking to the ETA even if it means having to struggle with their limited English. The ETA as well is always so patient and pleasant to every one of them, regardless of which class they come from.”

Sed Sei Fong, ETA Mentor at SMK Siburan, Sarawak

Every year since the implementation of the Fulbright ETA in Sarawak, I would have a goal—to meet all of the ETAs who are placed in Sarawak.

This year it just got better and better when I got the news saying that I was invited to attend the Malaysia Fulbright Showcase in Kuala Lumpur.

It might seem like just a storm in a teacup to some of you, but it was a really big deal for me! Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself getting this far.

Looking back and thinking about all the things I have done, all of my efforts, passion and dedication that I have put in every single Fulbright ETA activity and programme over the years… It really drove me to tears.

Helping out at Padawan District English Camp (Katie, Izzy, Me, Taylor)

Helping out at Padawan District English Camp (Katie, Izzy, Me, Taylor)

I still remember the day when my English teacher, Ms Sed called me up to her office. I was so nervous, thinking about the things I could have done wrong.

For the record, Ms Sed is always full of surprises.

As I entered her office, I walked very slowly towards her. She looked at me and said, “Good news first or another good news first?”

With a very puzzled face, I exchanged a look with her. She giggled and nonchalantly told me that I was invited to the Fulbright ETAs Showcase and to make things more interesting, I was also chosen to do a live radio interview with the National FM.

I wanted to scream my lungs out but I figured that would not be the best thing to do, right?

So, I walked out of her office with such mixed emotions because the news felt like a seizure with a happy ending.

On my way back to the classroom, I saw my ETA, Katie. We did not say a thing, we just ran towards each other and hugged like there was no tomorrow.

All of a sudden, my tears started to fall. I have not cried in such a long time but I cried then like a baby.

Everyone who saw the scene was definitely left clueless and curious. I wanted to keep the news a secret and a surprise, so I told everyone that my dog had died.

Unfortunately, not everyone bought my lie. My bright friends knew this was coming and they had always advocated every goal and dream I had.

They are some of the people who understand how meaningful this programme is to me.

The Sarawak crew!

The Sarawak crew!

So the days passed, and it was finally the day I had been waiting for. There were six students from three different schools, a teacher, and a state education officer to represent Sarawak for the Malaysia Fulbright Showcase.

The showcase was about presenting and celebrating all the accomplishments between the students and ETAs for the past 10 months, such as publishing a poetry book or producing music.

They were Faisarahman bin Othman (SMK Semerah Padi), Ayffa Eriqha bt. Rajali (SMK Semerah Padi), Nur Khaliesah Rosaria bt. Jasmin (SMK Kota Samarahan), Jonathan Nicholas Imbak ak Jingo (SMK Kota Samarahan), Max Raygen ak Sentery (SMK Siburan), Mdm Vimala (ETA Mentor at SMK Semerah Padi), Mdm Maggie Jong (Sarawak Education Officer), and myself. We were in Kuala Lumpur from 30th October to 1st November.

Our flight was on the same day as the ETAs but was not at the same time. I decided to go to the airport slightly earlier to give hugs because we did not know when we were going to meet once we arrived in Kuala Lumpur.

I was the luckiest girl alive though. As I mentioned earlier, my friends are some of the people who know how meaningful this journey is for me. Some of them actually came to the airport to bid me farewell, and we had McDonalds because who doesn’t like McD porridge for breakfast, right?

Soon, it was time for them to leave and my parents stayed with me at the waiting area until we saw a familiar face. It was Ms Liew, the ETA mentor of SMK Kota Samarahan who was sending off her students too.

I met Ms Liew at an English Camp last year and she has since been a great friend, sister and incredibly lovely mentor. (See? The Fulbright Programme does not just foster the relationship between students and ETAs but also creates a bond in the whole community.)

Since there were people I knew, my parents bid me farewell and I hung out with my new friends while catching up on a lot of things with Ms Liew because it had been a while since we met each other.

We waited for the others to come and not long after that, we were finally gathered and good to go!

To be honest, I was so extremely nervous to travel with strangers. I was worried that no one would tolerate my weird and mischievous ways.

So, my new five friends and I decided to do a game to introduce ourselves. We started off by doing the “show your identity card picture” challenge.

That was when we all knew our friendship was getting real. You know, showing someone your ugly picture is really something serious.

We hopped on the plane and this very nice guy offered to exchange seats with me so I could sit with my other teammates. The whole plane ride was crazy and noisy.

We accidentally did a pickup line on one of the stewards too. I just couldn’t believe that we could get along so quickly. We even got pictures with our pilots, thanks to Mdm Vimala, a.k.a Mama!

Chillin’ with the pilots

Chillin’ with the pilots

When we finally landed, we got news saying that it would be an hour’s drive to our hotel. Yeah, we all thought it was going to be a long ride since we were so exhausted and sleepy, but it turned out to be a fun ride!

We sang songs and tried keeping all our conversations in English. We were sore when we reached our hotel but we really wanted to meet our ETAs.

So, after hours of trying to convince Mama, we went to KLCC and were finally reunited with our ETAs later that evening. We had dinner, shared stories and did a pickup line battle.

It was a great night with great people.

Dinner and we literally took the whole space hehehe

Dinner and we literally took the whole space hehehe

I do not remember what time I slept that night but I woke up at 4am just to get ready for my live radio interview. I was so sleepy, tired and had cold feet at the same time. I literally felt like a zombie.

I arrived at the radio station at around 6am but my interview did not start until 9am. Everything during the interview was so spontaneous. No script, no rehearsal and why—no one had told me it was going to be in Bahasa Melayu!

Mdm Faudziah (English Language Officer from Pahang) and Ameera (a student from Perak) were together with me for the interview. The interview was about the impacts of The Fulbright ETA programme on students in the rural area.

Shoutout to DJ Muaz and DJ Fiza for making the whole interview session alive and a blast!

Right after the interview!

Right after the interview!

After my interview, I decided to go straight to the National Library to help my teammates set up our booth for the showcase.

I could not be more proud and thankful to have such hardworking and creative friends, because we managed to make the Sarawak booth look A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

Also, not forgetting all the goodies Mama stuffed in her suitcase for the showcase. The whole event was awesome! It was definitely one of the best days of my life.

It was ironic how people thought we (my teammates and I) had known each other for ages, but the truth was we had just met a day ago. Really. I guess, great minds do think alike hehehe.

This made me realise how fast time flies, how wonderful people are and how this Fulbright ETA programme has change a lot of lives.

I personally think and feel that we, who ran the Sarawak booth, were full of crazy energy and rocked the showcase. I am always proud and thankful to be given the chance to represent Sarawak.

There were a lot of laughter, tears and hugs at the showcase. The fact that it was the last time we would get to meet all the 2016 Malaysia Fulbright ETAs was pretty hard and tough for us.

They were my favourite hellos and hardest goodbyes this year. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and I know they might be far but never gone.

The Sarawak team at the showcase

The Sarawak team at the showcase

It was also our last night in Kuala Lumpur, so my teammates and I decided to stay up till dawn. We shopped for lots of food, especially yoghurt.

I was so thankful to have two hyper yet lovely roommates. Although I have to give up on everything when it comes to them, I know deep inside, they really love me hahaha.

All night long, we were just talking about how much we were going to miss each other and all the memories we’ve created. Green tea lattes, Maggi Mee and great company are just some of the things you need after a long day.

Eventually we fell asleep at 4am and woke up at 6am while pushing each other off bed but eventually all we did was, “Five more minutes, please!

I bet none of us wanted to leave Kuala Lumpur but at the same time we just wanted to go home and get a nice sleep.

We had our lunch in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and shopped for some Victoria’s Secret goodies! We girls just had a lot in common! No wonder people kept questioning us on whether we were related or had known each other for a life time.

Making a new friend!

Making a new friend!

While waiting for our flight, we even made a new friend from France—Maya! I was so stunned by the confidence and bravery that my girls have.

Seriously, if I were in their shoes, I would think twice or countless times before I approached a foreigner.

Maya was on the same flight as ours and we talked about a lot of stuff. My favourite part was when we came out with a list of foods that Maya had to try in the Land of the Hornbills.

It was time for us to head home and things just seemed a little bit awkward because we weren’t seated next to each other this time.

After about two hours being up in the air because of the bad weather, we finally touched down at Kuching International Airport (KIA). My heart was probably heavier than my suitcase to leave all these people that I’ve just spent my time with for the past awesome three days and sleepless two nights.

We said our goodbyes and gave each other big hugs. I never thought we could go from strangers to friends and then family so quick.

It was indeed very tough to let go after going through all those incredible things together, but for me, every end is the beginning of a whole new and amazing journey.

The Sarawak booth and my name on it! Hahaha

The Sarawak booth and my name on it! Hahaha

A few days ago, my mum entered my bedroom and stared at the poster I brought home from Kuala Lumpur, hanging on my wall.

She then said something I never would have expected throughout all my 17 years as her daughter: “I’m proud of you, girl!”

With that I would like to express my gratitude, especially to my English teacher, Ms Sed Sei Fong for always being there for me. I am always and forever thankful to have her. Honestly, without her, I would not have been so active in the Fulbright ETAs programmes for the last two years and she is the one who always keeps my articles in good hands.

Thank you to Mdm Vimala for being the best Mama in those three days, taking care of us and still surviving despite all the crazy things we’ve been through together.

Heartfelt love and thanks to everyone who helped me by answering all the questions regarding the impacts of The Fulbright Programme.

To all my teammates, thank you for accepting me for who I am and being on this amazing journey together. Please stay in touch y’all.

A million thanks to the U.S Embassy KL, Fulbright Malaysia, MACEE, Ministry of Education and all the organisations involved for giving us the chance to experience this programme. I really hope this programme will continue forever and ever.

To all 2016 Malaysia Fulbright ETAs, y’all are superb. I just want to congratulate everyone for completing your grants and terima kasih for everything.

We (your students, school community and your Malaysian families) will for sure miss all of you. It is never a goodbye but see you again.

Also, thank you so much to The Borneo Post SEEDS for giving me this platform to share my interest with the world.

Last but not least, to all my beloved family, friends, teachers and everyone, thank you so much for the continuous support. I am NO ONE without EVERYONE.

A very special shoutout to all 2016 Sarawak ETAs for being super slay and lit!

The 2016 Sarawak family!

The 2016 Sarawak family!

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