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Fulbright ETA Promotes Cultural Exchange with “From Arkansas to Malaysia” Blog

Andrea Williamson with three of her student bloggers. (U.S. Embassy photo)

ETA Andrea Williamson with three of her student bloggers at SMK Tengku Lela Segara in Marang, Terengganu.

A newly formed blog entitled “From Arkansas to Malaysia” has created a unique cultural exchange between students living in a quaint, southern town in the Mississippi Delta region of the United States and in a small, fishing village in Terengganu, Malaysia.

Andrea Williamson is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) at SMK Tengku Lela Segara in Marang, Terengganu. Her students are eager to practice their English and to learn about the culture of Andrea’s home country, the United States of America. Andrea was introduced to Jaclyn (Jackie) Markovich through e-mail by a mutual friend. Jackie teaches 7th grade (similar to Form 1) in Marianna, Arkansas in a program called Teach for America. “Teach for America is an organization that seeks to close the achievement gap by recruiting recent college graduates and professionals to teach in a low-income community for two years,” explained Jackie. “The worldview of my students is pretty limited since they are in such a rural area so I also try to expose them to as many new and different things as I can. This blog is a perfect example of that as many of my students are not very familiar with other cultures or countries.”

Andrea and Jackie knew they wanted to collaborate, but neither was sure of how to do it. After many conversations and e-mails, Andrea and Jackie decided to create a blog. “We both loved the idea of creating a blog together,” said Andrea. “We knew we wanted to share information between schools and between students but we weren’t sure how. The blog has been a great way for students to write about their school, town, and even to post videos of popular dances.”
The blog has allowed the students to share the same type of information as pen-pal letters do, but through videos they are also able to hear each other’s accents, each see what the other looks like, and take virtual tours through their schools and communities.

With popular movies like ”High School Musical” and “Camp Rock,” many of Andrea’s Malaysian students had a skewed image of what the U.S. is really like. Marianna, Arkansas is certainly different from the polished image shown in movies—90 percent of the students at Jackie’s school receive government assistance to pay for their lunches. On the other hand, most of Jackie’s students in Arkansas had never heard of Malaysia before and were curious to learn about a culture that seemed entirely different from their own. Recently, the students have been video chatting with each other. With a 13-hour time difference and half-way around the world, chatting can be a challenge. “It’s amazing to watch them interact through video chat,” said Andrea. “Our cultures are very different in some ways, but the more the students interact with each other, the more they seem to realize the similarities. Many of the students have found that they enjoy listening to the same music, watching the same movies, and doing similar activities on the weekends.”