Discoveries of the Year

Guest Article by Jaclyn Lee
Boston College
 
I began this year not knowing what to expect. I was not nervous, but I also wasn’t excited. I was simply uncertain – not in a bad way, but in an I-dont-know-what-to-expect-so-Im-just-not-going-to-think-about-it way. How could I form an opinion about something I could barely imagine? I didn’t yet know my town, my school, my students, and I didn’t yet know myself as an ETA. I could not have expected what I would discover over the course of the year.
It started with Click Camp.
Well, actually, it had started long before that, but this was the first time that my self-awareness reached a level of understanding. Click Camp was an intensive 3-day program in Kuala Terengganu, designed to help secondary school students learn about social entrepreneurship and execute projects in their respective communities. During the camp, students brainstormed social issues that could be improved around their schools, planned business models paired with the issues, and then pitched their ideas to a panel of judges. This camp was followed by 8 weeks of project implementation back home, and culminated in a final pitching competition 3 months later in Kuala Lumpur.
I participated in the program with 5 students from my school from Forms 3 and 4 (fifteen and sixteen year-olds). Our project focused on working with the Special Education students at our school to help improve their social relationships and build friendships with the rest of the student body.
At the start of the project, most of my “Clickers” did not dare to be brave or ambitious. They did not believe that they could at all compare to, and definitely could not do better than, their peers from other schools. They were shy to speak up and felt uncomfortable in the environment of Click Camp. During the pitching presentation, every one of them wanted the roles with fewer English lines, and none of them were willing to speak more than four sentences. Granted, the camp was very overwhelming — three days packed with activities and information, from leaders who were used to working with corporate businessmen, speaking (in English!) at a rapid pace. Three days lasting 14 hours each, each one full of confusion, uncertainty, and exhaustion.
ETA Jaclyn Lee with her students at Click! 4.0 Camp in Kuala Terengganu
 

Back in Maran, my students were very eager to start their project and tackle the problem, but uncertain as to how to begin. They were diffident to promote the project at school and afraid to offer their opinions on the first steps.

“Its up to you, Miss,” they would say to me, “I will just follow with what you think is best.”

No! How about you tell me what you want me to do?

“But…Miss…”

No!

Gradually, my students got it. They began to trade in their confusion for confidence. They left behind their uncertainties as to whether the project would be successful, and found the motivation and initiative to simply try. During the first few weeks, I watched them conquer various fears: going up on stage to make announcements addressing the entire school, approaching unfamiliar students and teachers individually, and speaking in front of classrooms in English. I saw them continually grow more dedicated and focused. Our project involved creating handicraft items together with the Special Education students to be sold, and it was time-consuming to make, market, and sell these products. This process required many late nights and early mornings, but my students never wavered in their enthusiasm and commitment. Instead, they only became bolder and more confident with each passing week. At their suggestion, we began selling our items at other schools and public venues around our town, creating greater awareness and gathering more interest than we had initially hoped for. My students were driving this project towards success and becoming leaders in the process.

ETA Jaclyn Lee working late into the night with some members of Click Camp

One of these Click students was new to SMK Maran. He had transferred here at the beginning of the year, and I remember him telling me in March that he was trying to make friends and he missed his family a lot, since he was now living at a hostel. He told me that he did not play any sports because he has asthma. He also told me that he had never participated in a camp before. When Click Camp was announced, his interest was piqued. He begged me to choose him as one of the participants, saying he wanted the chance to try it out and knew I would help him. He was incredibly dedicated during the course of the project, and ultimately became the most brave of the entire group. He has since participated in 2 other leadership camps, chosen to attend by different teachers based on his courage and potential. He has joined academic competitions, also hand-selected by the organizing teachers. He has even recently tried out for the school football team, now saying that his asthma is “not that serious”.

The students who participated in the initial Kuala Terengganu camp were different when they arrived at Kuala Lumpur in the end. In their final presentation, they were daring enough to opt for a complicated script, and they pushed themselves to take on more challenging roles rather than trying to avoid them. They were self-assured enough to answer ten minutesworth of questions from a panel of judges and impress them with their answers. They were courageous enough to dream about the possibility of winning first place, which would grant them finalist positions in the YES program application process, for a chance to study in the U.S. for one semester. And even though they did not place first, they are still confident enough to continue to strive for that goal — these Clickers have big plans to apply for the YES program in the upcoming years.
The Clickers prepare to board a plane for the first time for the Click! Grand Finale
This self-confidence, courage, bravery, boldness, and dedication in my students blossomed right before my eyes. But it didn’t take me by surprise; I believed in their potential all along. The surprising aspect was my discovery that I personally had a role to play in the development of my students. I gave them encouragement, offered insight, and lent new perspectives. I showed by example the eagerness and spirit needed to progress this project and instilled within them the same passion. I motivated them to be committed and dedicated, and worked together with them to overcome challenges. I showed them how rewarding it could be to come out of their comfort zone to see what they are capable of. I believed in them, and gave them the confidence to believe in themselves.
More surprising was the realization that this has been happening all year. During my time here, I have seen all of my students transform and grow. There were students too shy to even look at me in the beginning of the year. Now, they voluntarily initiate conversations. Even the troublemakers have come around, and have found me worthy of their attention and respect. The students trust me, feel close to me, and have shared with me their lives, secrets, and passions. With persistent energy, I have motivated them, interested them, and have helped them grow.
I never imagined that I could have the potential to have such an impact, or how much I could enjoy it. It has been a true pleasure to discover the connections I can make with these young adults and the wisdom they can lend. I have seen the places they can go when treated with respect and when they are seen as people, not just children. In a learning environment where they are often criticized for the things they cannot do well, it becomes important to have someone to praise them for the things they can.
I’ve learned this year that I can be that person for my students. I can be encouraging and motivating, while not being afraid to be strict and speak up when something is wrong. I can congratulate and compliment, but also constructively help them to improve. I can be both a friend and a mentor. I can teach about respect and show them respect at the same time. I can listen well and take what they say seriously. I can give them energy and power, and I can get just as much back.
Students bond with Jaclyn while waiting for sports practice to begin
If the girl who had arrived in KL back in January could see me now, shed see someone who has discovered a passion for working with young adults, for helping them discover their potential, for building friendships that they can use to grow and develop. She would see joy, and change, and eagerness to pursue further opportunities in youth empowerment. Shed see someone who has discovered more about herself as an ETA, and also more about herself as a person.
Shed see someone who is a little more certain.

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