Malaysia Week is a fabulous outdoor learning experience for students and a defining feature of the International School of Kuala Lumpur’s (ISKL) Middle School. Originally called Intersession, the program was started in 1979 as a way to both introduce students to aspects of Malaysia they would not have otherwise experienced and introduce cross-cultural education – “a classroom without walls” as it were.
The first Malaysia Week had five sites: Fraser’s Hill, Port Dickson, Pulau Hujong, Taman Negara, and on-campus at ISKL. Each site focused on two activities including: batik, guitar, learning Bahasa Malaysia, cooking, camping, and marine biology, just to name a few. Both students and teachers learned a lot on these first trips, paving the way for the next 40 years.
The Malaysia Week program has grown and changed over the years, evolving into a well-oiled machine, not least without the hard work of the Middle School team; in particular Karen Palko, one of the MS PE teachers. Ms. Palko took over coordination of the program in 1990 and has become an integral part of the planning process.
Since the first Malaysia Week trips in 1979, the number of sites has increased to 21 and students can to choose the type of experience they would like to have; whether it be at the ocean, in a rainforest, or at an urban site. Although each trip challenges students both physically and mentally, the degree of challenge varies. Students can choose whether to go hardcore with sites like Survivor Island (where students learn to depend on one another as they swim one kilometer from the boat to the island with their backpacks and spend the week learning to depend on their cohort and work together as a team, cooking their own food and sleeping under the stars on the beach) to less physically challenging but more culturally rich sites like the Penang “Crazy Rich Heritage”, a site that combines the adventure of “The Amazing Race” while loosely following the cultural heritage aspects of the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Even though Malaysia Week has just celebrated 40 years, the program continues to keep up with the times and works to incorporate sustainable practices and service learning while embodying ISKL’s Mission, Vision, Core Values, and School-wide Learning Results (SLRs). Regardless of the activity students are engaged in, they are encouraged to think creatively, reason critically, communicate effectively, collaborate constructively, learn enthusiastically, and live ethically in every action and activity. As an example, following on the heels of ISKL’s Trash Heroes, students at more than half the sites cleared trash and posted before and after photos with the hashtag #Trashtag as a way to illustrate the power of teamwork and dedication to cleaning our planet. Some of the sites had students cleaning algae off of coral in an attempt to revitalize this important underwater ecosystem and others included learning about and visiting a sea turtle sanctuary with the possibility of releasing just-hatched baby turtles into the ocean.
The Malaysia Week program is adaptive and responsive to student needs, with the program built around students rather than students being expected to fit into a static program. There are teachers and parent volunteers on each site to ensure that students are safe and well cared for and not too overwhelmed, while still being challenged. The Middle School’s Core Values of honesty, respect, responsibility and kindness are encouraged and evident in every activity.
Although they’re exhausted and looking forward to getting home, students return from Malaysia Week holding themselves higher and exuding an air of confidence and independence greater than they had prior to their departure only five days beforehand. Malaysia Week equips students with valuable life skills, exposes them to adventure and instills a greater sense of independence and well-being. Ask any ISKL MS Alumni about Malaysia Week and they’ll have a story to tell. Here’s to the next 40 years!