The Barbican - Image from en.wikipedia.org
Where do I begin....?
I shall start from the beginning. Almost 20 years ago, I got a phone call from the Ministry of Education in KL asking if I would be interested to further my studies in TESL. I was happy at first because that meant I could go to university ( I was considering sixth form ) but the next second I was shocked when I was told that the course was not held in Malaysia, but in Britain! I had to make sure that the call was not a hoax. The officer reassured me that this was a valid offer and if I agreed to go, the formal letter would arrive shortly. As this was not an easy matter, I had requested more time to think it over. He only gave me a day to make my decision.
At that time, my dad had just retired from his post as a primary school teacher so his pension was his only income. I was also grateful for my eldest sister who helped to support my family by working in Hankyu Jaya before she got the offer to be a policewoman. So, we had an urgent family meeting, which also involved my aunts and uncles since serious financial matter was involved. At first, my family was reluctant to give permission but after some discussion, my aunts and uncles offered to support me financially as I prepared for the trip. I would be given a scholarship under Bahagian Pendidikan Guru, KPM but the preparation allowance would only come just a few days before I left for England.
The first time I set eyes on my course mates was in KL where a briefing was held for 30 English Language teacher trainees. I was shy at first, being a small town girl from Kuala Kedah, among the English-speaking KLites. We had an orientation week at Kuala Keluang, Besut Trengganu with other students bound for UK. They were all smart students under various scholarships like Petronas, TNB and JPA. Seeing them speak and how they carry themselves, made me feel a little out of place. Luckily, we TESLians stood together and helped each other throughout the orientation programme. By the end of it, we had form a special friendship that would last until today...
I said good bye to my family at Subang Airport on September 1st 1991. It would be my first flight experience ever and it was a non-stop, 14-hour flight to Heathrow Airport in London. Thank you Malaysia Airlines for the warmth and hospitality. I remember feeling very cold and being perplexed with the weather. It was only 5am when we landed but it was as bright as day!
We had a short orientation in London before we split into 2 groups - one headed for Plymouth and another for Sussex. They put us up in a Bed & Breakfast run by a Malaysian-born Chinese and the briefing was held at the Malaysian Student Department by representatives of the colleges and MSD officers. We had a glimpse of London as we rode on the tour bus as part of the orientation. I think we did Oxford Street and Covent Garden. My course mate, Leen had the unfortunate incident of being a victim of snatch theft!
We would have like to stay longer but our host families were waiting for us back in Plymouth and Sussex. We said goodbye to our 15 friends and started our 4-hour journey to Devon County in the South West of England. I didn't really know anything about the place or the college to begin with. John Burke, the Director of INTEC, Marjon was there on the bus to accompany us to Plymouth. He came to greet us one by one and asked a few questions. Would I be okay staying in a house where the dog is the pet? No. Would I be okay staying in a house with small children? Yes. Would you be okay with vegetarian food during your stay with the host family? Yes. They were already waiting for us when we arrived at Marjon. After the introduction and pairing-up, and a short briefing, we left for our new homes. And so that was how I ended up living with Calcidonia Smith's family in Woolwell, Plymouth.
I was happy to meet my host mother Donia, who was originally from Malta, and her husband Nick, and their small children, Greg and Stephanie. Later, I would babysit them when the parents were out. Today, they are all grown-ups and Stephanie is already a mother to a baby boy, Ethan! How the time flew........
I got my own room, overlooking the main road and the best and most valuable item in the room was a black-and-white 'small' television that lasted until I graduated! I can live without a radio but not without a tv... Hehehehe. That was how I fell in love with British film, drama, music and comedy. The tv was also my window to other European cultures - German, French and Spanish. It also introduced me to the different dialects / accents of UK, like the Queen's English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cockney, etc....
Marjon was 40 minutes away on foot but only 5 minutes if I took the bus. Since the bus was not frequent I would rather walk all the way to the college. 40 minutes sounds a bit too much but actually, it was a rather pleasant brisk walk in the cool and windy weather. The only challenge was the hilly walk around Marjon. It was quite safe and I did not really experience much trouble except for a few kids speaking gibberishly and thinking that I was a Chinese person. All Asians looked Chinese to them I suppose.... :P
Besides the college and my the house, my other regular hangouts were Tesco, Asda, Plymouth Library, Kurbani Restaurant (where I worked part time), Derriford Hospital, Plymouth Airport (now no more) and of course, Plymouth city centre, Plymouth Hoe and the Barbican...!
Image from : http://www.inplymouth.com/
*** Stay tune for Part 3 for more stories about these hangouts....! ;)