Monday, 10 April 2017


My TESL experience...

Google Image (

Let me start from the beginning.

After I got my SPM result which was not so good, I decided to pursue any course that was related to languages, either English or Malay. I had to choose between the two when filling in the UPU forms. I ended up choosing almost all the English courses offered by the local universities. I figured my chances would be better if I stick to English language or TESL.

I had to attend two interviews, one at UPM and one at PPD Kota Setar. It was during the latter that I was asked the million dollar question - would I like to further my studies in UK if I were given the chance? I was speechless because I didn't know that KPM were sending trainee teachers overseas at that time. My heart leaped for that opportunity but I had to remain calm and confident. I told them it would be an honour for someone like me who came from a small town like Kuala Kedah to study in UK.

I didn't think much about the offer since everything went quiet after that. I decided to put my hope on local universities like UITM or UIA. I even turned down the offer to study in sixth form at SMK Dato Syed Omar.

One day, while I was out, my family received  a phone call from KPM, offering me a place to study TESL at the College of St Mark & St John, Plymouth in Devon, south west of England. For six years! They gave me one or two days to think about the offer because I would be going there quite soon. My family and close relatives gathered to discuss my future. At first, they were reluctant to give the green light since it would cost a lot of money and the tine factor but after much discussion, I was given permission to further my studies overseas. We would be getting a scholarship under Bahagian Pendidikan Guru, KPM and bonded after our studies for 7 years.

I would do two years of matriculation / foundation course and a 4-year degree course after that. The courses were an eye-opener for a small-town girl like me. The college itself was an adventure for me. I got to know and learnt from many wonderful lecturers who insisted being called by their first name. This was something new to a Malaysian student like me. Our group leader was Steve Phillips, or Bapak, to all of us. I was happy to find out much later that he got married to a Malaysian TESL student and now they divide their time between Plymouth and Kuala Krai, Kelantan where my TESL friend is teaching. I remember Bapak took us to the cinema in Plymouth for the first time. My first movie in UK was Edward Scissorhand and the hall was nearly empty . I was used to Cathay and Rex cinema back home where there was only one big screen in one big hall so this cineplex was something new to me.

Our Bapak, with his wife Keloe. 
pic from her FB)

My friends and I (we started with 15 Malaysians and 3 Maldivians) studied a variety of subjects while we were there. In between classes, our lecturers would take us on field trips around Devon and Cornwall. We explored Plymouth on our own. The Hoe and the Barbican are my favourite places. Exeter and Tavistock are serene and so is the scenery along Tamar river. Cornwall is breathtaking and Dartmoor is mesmerizing. St Ives and Newquay in Cornwall are famous for the sun and surf.

The Barbican - Google Image

I recall watching a few plays at a few venues. I loved the live acting and how the voices of the actors filled the stage. I remember watching a Shakesperean play at Theatre Royal. I think it was Twelve Nights. There was also another play which involved the audience. We sat in a circle and the play was done in the middle. Sometimes I wish I live in KL where many plays are staged. It's quite difficult to go watch a play in KL on a school night. I was happy when I could finally watch a traditional musical play during my second visit to Seoul, Korea. I even learnt to play a traditional drum, janggu, before we watched the play. Opps, I seem to digress. Hehe.

We studied papers like African and Asian Literature, British and US writers, Shakespeare of course,  Phonology, Science, ICT, Methodology, School Curriculum, basic French , to name a few... during our 6-year stint in Marjon. We also shared a few classes with the home (British) students. Our classes were located at INTEC where many international students could be seen walking along the corridor, speaking a mixture of English and their mother tongue. Chinese, Thais,Japanese, Indonesians, Indians, Mexicans and some Arab students, most of whom came to INTEC, Marjon either to learn English language or like us, train to be teachers of English. We were actually the last batch of the 6-year Immersion course. When we arrived, our seniors were in their 4th or 5th year.

Our lecturers were kind and accommodating. A few could even speak Malay! (So we had to be extra careful around them, just in case...). One of them was the Director of INTEC, John Burke who travelled to Malaysia regularly since he had ties with the local teacher training institutes. One interesting fact about him that I recall is that he did not wear any wristwatch. Other lecturers included Katy Salisbury, Sarah North, Liz Robbins, Sue Parker, Graeme Burns, Tony Wright, Jane Spiro, Steve Ansell and Rod Bolitho. Please forgive me if I have left out any names here...... Graeme had learnt the art of making tempe in Indonesia and later, he would make some for us Malaysians to buy!  Who would have thought of eating tempe in Plymouth, UK...?! A few of them have retired, like Bapak while some have gone to teach at other institutions. Last I heard, Katy was involved in training the CEFR Master Trainers in Malaysia recently.

Our class usually started at nine and break for lunch at midday. Then it was lessons again until  five in the evening. During lunch, we either had a vegetarian meal at the Cafetaria (money will be deducted from our meal card) or we would go back to our houses in the Village to cook something quick. Like Maggi mee.... :)

We had to do TP or teaching practice four times throughout the course. The first one was a two-week school experience in Malaysia,  next was a-week school exerience in a Plymouth primary school, then a month spent at a school in Devon or Cornwall and the final TP was back in Kuantan, Malaysia for 3 months. These stints require a separate blog entry soon.

The Students' Village  -  Google Image (

But my next topic will be more on fasting and celebrating Hari Raya in Plymouth. During Ramadhan, we sometimes had to break our fast in the class with something light before going back home to cook a proper dinner. Suhoor was an option. Some woke up for it and some didn't. The neighbours had been known to complain about the sound of mortar and pestle coming from our kitchen at 3 or 4 am....!  :P

Every year we would hold Malaysian Night and performed some songs and dances. We would sell tickets and serve Malaysian food to the audience. I remember doing the compulsory Merinding dance. One time we did the Ulik Mayang dance with the 7 princesses. The finale would always be the Joget which everyone would participate. Those were happy and naughty times.. ;)

Exams were taken in a big hall at the Sport Centre with other MArjon students. Hundreds of us would sit for two to three hours in the cold hall with the lecturers invigilating us. We also had to come up with a dissertation for our final year and mine was on teaching Grammar the Communicative way. In the end, when our grades were put on the notice board, I was relief and happy to see that I got 2.1 for my degree. Only our friend, Haniza got First Class. We had hoped that Za would get a First as well....

We were given the choice either to have our Graduation in July 1997 at Exeter University, which Marjon was affiliated to; or we would have to wait until much later if we were to join other Marjon students graduating at the City Hall. So we decided to go to Exeter for our Convocation. It was definitely not as grand or elaborate as the ones held at Malaysian universities. Even our gowns were simple and plain. Some of my friends' parents were able to make it for the event. My parents couldn't afford the flight tickets. I was a bit sad but still happy to meet the parents again. I had to wait until my Master's graduation in UUM for my mom and dad to attend. I was happy to see them happy. I also got a sunflower bouquet. And a cute teddy bear. Better late than never. :)

Convocation Day, Exeter University, July 1997

With my lecturer, Graeme Burns, the Tempe expert!

My years in UK ended in July 1997. There were good times and bad times.  But It was a period that I cherish which has shaped me into who I am today. I have yet to go back to Plymouth. I hope I would be able to, one day. Perhaps we could have our Grand Reunion there, my TESL friends.......!   :)

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