My school is SMK Seri Puteri, a public all girl’s school known for its strict rules, but also its wonderful teachers. I began school Friday, 13 July, exactly two weeks ago. On Wednesday, I went with my host uncle to visit the school. I talked to the head of discipline who informed me that I would be placed in Form 4, despite being only 15. I’m the youngest girl in my class. Technically, I should be in Form 3, but Form 3 takes the PMR exam which is similar to the PSAT. The PMR is a huge deal here, as it decides whether students take classes in the science stream (more chemistry, biology, physics, maths, additional maths) or the arts stream (more Malay, English, history, civics, geography, morals). These classes determine your future profession and it is crucial to do well. I suppose my school didn’t want me in a class where it would be focused on test preparation.
Outfitted in my school uniform, a white short-sleeve button down shirt and a sky blue jumper, I went off to SMK SP that first morning nervous, but excited.
At morning assembly, a daily thing where all the students line up, sing the national anthem, listen to announcements, etc, I was introduced. The teacher had me stand in front of the whole school and she said “This is Hannah from the US. She is 15, lives in New York and will be in Form 4.” From my spot on the podium I could see everyone staring at me. Back home, my pale skin and brown hair make me one of the crowd, but amidst Indian, Malay, and Chinese girls, I stuck out like a sore thumb.
That first day of school passed by in a blur. I must have met about 50 people and remembered maybe 5 names. Walking down the corridors, I felt everyone’s eyes on me. They didn’t try to be subtle about staring. The outgoing girls came up to me and asked my name and introduced themselves. Others would come up to me, touch my face, call me pretty, and then walk away. My first week of school, I got told I was pretty, cute, looked like a Barbie Doll, and looked like a teddy bear. It was an interesting reception into the school, but nevertheless a good one.
Classes-wise, I’m in the science stream. Maths and science are taught in English, so I can follow those pretty well. I’m completely lost in chemistry as I’ve never taken it before and July is halfway through the school year here. For the classes taught in Malay, I draw, read, learn Malay from a workbook, or sometimes sleep. Sleeping in class is completely acceptable here, and with a teacher talking at us for sometimes an hour and a half straight with me not understanding a word of it, sleep is inevitable.
I’ve made a handful of good friends, and everyone in the school now knows who I am. The staring has subsided slightly, making school the highlight of my days here.
, by Hannah