#3 - First day abroad

(Note: I have posted this before. I wanted to rewrite it but when I looked at the previous version, I was blown away by the details in it. The sad thing is that I have forgotten a lot. Also a lot of what stood out back then, don’t stand out anymore after everything I have been through since then. So I decided to revive the original post. My writing style was different back then so pardon the length and the emoticons :) Original post date: 06.02.2016 )

So there I was at the airport. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with everything especially the fact that I am alone. No one else was going to look after me and I had to look after myself for the next 2 months. With these thoughts running through my head, I navigated my way through the airport, clearing immigration, picking up my baggage and then coming to the arrival hall.

At that time, I only knew one person in Malaysia, a guy named Adrian who I had the interview with before and he told me to take the bus from the airport at 9 to a place called the paradigm mall. After getting a sim for my phone from the place he recommended (which was a mistake as all sims at the airport were VERY overpriced) I gave him a call to let him know that I had arrived. (And truthfully I could only barely understand what he was saying because of his ‘accent’ :3)

So I had to catch the bus at 9 from the airport. However, all the directions in the airport pointed to a “bus terminal 2” and after actually getting to the bus terminal, I was not sure whether it was the right terminal and my mind was overwhelmed with the scale of where I am and what I was doing. So I purposefully missed the 9 bus and went back to the airport to get something to eat, calm down and clear my thoughts till the next bus arrived (which was at 10)

Not knowing whether I was getting on the right bus at the right terminal, I caught the 10 o’clock bus. As the mostly empty bus travelled along the highway I stared out the window at this new “strange” land and wondered what could be in store for me here. (I also kept checking Google maps on my phone to make sure I was travelling in the right direction :3)

Half an hour later, I arrived at the “paradigm mall” and having called Adrian I waited for him to arrive. This was the first time that I was meeting him in person and I’ve only seen profile pictures of him in the past so I kept looking left and right trying to figure out if any of the people passing by was him. I was also trying to figure out what kind of person he might be (He might be a drug dealer for all I know :3) And then from behind me I heard someone calling out my name and I turned to see a smiling Chinese guy in shorts with a phone and iPad in his hand. This was Adrian and the first thing that he wanted to do was to take a picture :3

One picture later, we started climbing escalators in the mall to reach the level on which he had parked the car. I was carrying one backpack with my laptops and other tech stuff and one ‘roller’ bag which contained everything I need to survive with for 2 months. That thing was really heavy and to make matters worse, it had a broken handle (the long one by which you can drag it along) so carrying it up four escalators was quite a workout :3. As we climbed the escalators, Adrian told me about all the other EPs he had picked up and also mentioned that I was the first one to arrive for the project that i was going to be working for. He (like most others) were surprised that was I able to make it in the first place having been able to get the visa in 2 days and mentioned that the EPs who were supposed to come for this project had been held back by visa problems.

After a quick drive full of conversation about various topics (including the prices of data plans), we arrived at the university. After just seeing the car park I knew I was not in Sri Lanka anymore (because whilst this university had entire car parks just for student vehicles, back home only a very select few (myself included) would even own a vehicle). Inside, the corridors of the university itself felt very modern (to me at least and actually compared to my university’s architecture any other architecture would be :3) and a short walk brought us to “Lecture theatre 6”, the place where this “conference with other EPs” was going on. It was here I met Yuen, the project director of said conference. (It was also here I realized how difficult it would be to properly understand (meaning pronounce and spell) a person’s name here)

A very harried introduction later, Adrian left saying that I’ve got to spend that night with the other EPs (whom I haven’t even met yet) in the intern house. After he left, I kind of felt abandoned since I was in a completely new place where I did not know anyone and the only person that I did know had to leave. Before I can fully process this, Yuen offered me a box of “Chicken noodle” which I quickly devoured alone since it was lunchtime and I didn’t have much of a breakfast even.

Afterwards, I stepped into the lecture hall, curious to see what was going on. Inside, there was a group of around 30 teens seated on the floor (In typical AIESEC fashion :3 ) and Yuen was standing up and presenting something to them on a projector. Before I had a chance to sit down, several people (who i guessed were EPs and was right) introduced themselves to me (Aron and Suh being some of them). When I finally did sit down in a corner, I was still thinking about the unknown of it all as I gazed at the sitting teens for some time. It was also then that I really got to know another EP for the first time.

Her name was Aliya (which also means elephant in Sinhalese but I was still too dazed to realize it at that point :3) and she was from the US. She was a part of the conference (called ASEAN BEST) that was going on in that lecture hall and she told me that this was the second and last day of that project and that they would be leaving soon. When I told her about the project that I was going to be working on, I could clearly see that she hadn’t heard about it before (which is worrying) and when i asked her about the EP house (which is where I would be staying that night), she replied that it was “below expectations”. Before I could ask her anything else, she was called away to tend to the teens, who had now been split into different groups for a team activity. Anddd I was left alone again. As I sat there, It soon dawned on me that no matter what, I had to stay here till night. Instead of just sitting there quietly and doing nothing, I might as well do something and help out. So I went up to Yuen and asked him whether there was anything I could help out with, at which point he sent me to the group closest to us which was also the group that Aliya was overseeing. So having no clue on what i was supposed to do, I sat down with the group. A few moments later I realized that the aim of each group was to discover a social issue and together, come up with their own solution to it on how they would solve it. At this point, I stepped in and talked to them on how they could go about finding the problem, proving that it is in fact a problem and so on. (Despite being the most clueless person there xD)

Now it was time for the groups to brainstorm on their own and my phone was running out of charge so I got the charger out of my backpack and set about finding a power outlet to plug it in. It was then that I met Jia Yuan (and also realized that the Chinese use a combination of their names as their common name instead of using just one name :) ). Whilst talking to her, the struggle within me was real, trying to understand what she is saying. For the most part I was running on assumptions as to what she said which showed in how fast the conversation changed topics xD (I’m pretty sure she thought I was weird as well based on the random expressions i must have had on my face as I tried to understand :D ). She was then called out by Yuen to go on a shopping run and she asked whether I’d liked to tag along, considering that the only place I’ve been to so far are the airport and the university. And tag along i did :)

Still surprised by how everyone owns a car here, a short drive brought the three of us to the “99 Speedmart” (The malaysian version of sathosa for all the sri lankan readers). Here, while I aimlessly wandered around the aisles, the two of them had bought several loaves of bread and several cups of “green stuff”. Upon my asking, this green stuff turned out to be “Kaya”, a sweet jam kind of thing that was very common in Malaysia according to them (Despite that, finding “Kaya” without knowing what it was called was quite challenging, more on that later :) ). And back to the university we went.

When we got back to the university, some of the girls there started to make sandwiches out of the ‘Green stuff’ and bread that we brought. This was boring so I decided to walk around the university. At the end of my walk, my conclusion was this. Taylor’s university is hugeee. It had its own food court in it with a freaking Starbucks! (Which even the entire of Sri Lanka doesn’t even have :3 )

After my walk, I killed some time talking to other EPs and AIESECers who were outside the lecture hall whilst the teens were presenting their “problems and solutions” inside. Afterwards, all the teens were put back together for an experience sharing session with the EPs (whom by now, I’ve gotten to know most of). Qasim, an EP from Pakistan went first and he shared several moments from his experience, how he was at first refused permission to go and several videos of him landing in Malaysia. He also spoke on how close he had gotten with all the other EPs. While this was happening, I could sense that all of the EPs were very emotional because it was the last day where all of them would be together and I wondered whether I would feel the same too when it was my turn to go. (I actually did but more on that later)

Now this was an experience sharing session where the EPs get to share their experiences in Malaysia (and somehow, steer towards a moral ;) ) by doing a bit of ‘public’ speaking which is something that many of us are not very comfortable doing. So I you can imagine how bored I was, to actually ask to do experience sharing, even though I had only been in Malaysia for less than a day and so I actually had little or no experience :3. And I figured, no one here actually knows me, Sooo I could share anything. So I decided to share one experience that only a very few people knew about at that time, one of the main things that shaped me into the person who I am right now. Now I have talked about this experience before and the moral of that story was, that if there is anything you want in life, thinking about would never amount to anything. You have to go get it and anything you set your mind to do, YOU CAN do it.

After my “experience sharing” session, I felt a sense of relief. All this time, I had kept that particular experience a secret. I felt that I had already accepted what happened. But true acceptance comes only when you are able to talk about it openly to other people and I had just done that. This was something that I would never have even thought to do an year ago. By doing this, I just might have changed the lives of at least one of those teens and that meant more than anything to me.

After the experience sharing session and a session conducted by head of the ASEAN program, things started getting quite crazy :D. Jives or in other words, total random dances are a part of every AIESEC session and being an AIESEC member myself, jives were nothing new for me. Previously, I just thought they were just a very weird to break the tediousness and to wake people up and just went with it because I had to. This jive was the weirdest of them all! Only a few people actually knew the moves and there were many awkward movements when the leader forgot the moves and the entire crowd just crashed xD. The ridiculousness of it all, where you are dancing together with a group of people that you don’t really know from different parts of the world combined with the sky high levels of energy added up to an amazingly fun experience which brought everyone closer together :D (one I would look back to a lot in the the relatively less active days that followed :3)

Now before Malaysia I was never much of a selfie person. I was more of a photo-bomber, photobombing as many group photos as I could xD At this point I realized that during my time here I was going to meet many people, see many places and I wanted to remember all these moments in the future, selfie or not and so… (The first of many many selfies :P )

Selfie with EPs and teens