Sometimes life just gives you crap. But it usually leads to something better. Like in my own personal experience, my greatest challenge came to me when I had to move away from home and into college.
I was thankful for getting a place in the TESL course which I am currently doing. I come from Taiping. So, many who know me would agree I am nothing more than a typical small town boy. I knew someday I would have to move away to some big city in the Klang Valley to pursue my tertiary education.
But I had no idea I would have to cross the entire South China Sea to come and study English at a teacher training college in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah! Fate definitely had an odd sense of humour. What surprised me more was that if I passed my foundation year in Sabah, I would get a chance to pursue my degree in England!
Like, come on! What could be better than studying English in England? And with a degree from a British university, one can do wonders in Malaysia. So I was told.
I remember my first day at college. I registered myself, met some of my soon-to-be course mates, got to know a few of my batch mates, listened to some briefing by lecturers; while my parents who were kind enough to follow me along were taken out for lunch by a lecturer who agreed to be something like my caregiver during my two years here. He claimed that not many Indian students get sent all the way to Sabah. So with the few of us here, he felt it was his and the other Indian lecturers' social responsibility to care for us.
I was taken to the hostel. I had mentally prepared myself to be prepared for the worst. But than God it was not the worst. But it was bad. Well, what would you expect from a college hostel? I kept on reminding myself that this was not home. And that things were not all that bad anyway. I concentrated on the positive.
It was not a bed of roses for me. It was not a bed of roses for anyone I suppose. The new surrounding, the new culture. My parents, having stayed for merely less than a week in Sabah, were convinced that it seemed like a whole different country, and that Singapore was much more culturally similar to Peninsular Malaysia. Sure, I had to agree. The accent was different. The ethnic groups living here were different. The food was rather different as well. And the list goes on and on.
I really had no idea how I was going to survive without seeing my family's love. I would miss my dad's advice, my mum's cooking, my grandmother's stories, my siblings' antics. I had to do all my chores alone. No more delicious home-cooked food. No more caring parents to take me to the clinic each time I was sick. No more television. No more weekend family outings. Homesickness would struck me every single week and the hangover of it would remain on me whenever I was not homesick.
That was not the worst part. What really buggered me was for a person who loved to stay low profile like myself, I was the most noticeable and stood out from the crowd. Why? Because I was the only Indian boy in my batch. I stood out like a black dot on a white sheet of paper. I could not do anything without my every action being unnoticed. Even during orientation, I sat at a place different than my usual spot, a senior quickly asked everyone where I was on stage, and I had to raise my hand to show everyone I was there in the hall. Or like once when this lecturer giving a talk asked a question to which he expected everyone to nod their head in agreement, but nobody did since we were so tired. Somehow, his menacing eyes fell on me and he questioned me for not answering him. Or like during the time when everyone had not memorized the college anthem but I stood out the most for not singing the lines well and had to sing it out aloud for everyone to hear. Or like when an activity was being carried out, nobody wanted to be the leader and the senior simply handed the task over to me to carry out. It was hell.
But one thing I loved about the limelight I was in back in Sabah is I truly received respect from seniors, juniors, batch mates and my own classmates. Not all of them of course. Some might have disliked me but would never tell it to me to my face, but the majority of people liked me. My juniors were like my family back then. We would hang out together, go out to the city together, have meals together, gossip, watch movies and do a whole lot of other interesting stuff. I suppose I can be approachable when people get to know me more. So my juniors and batch mates would always come to me for help with their English assignments. I would help them as much as I can. It did not know until then that helping others can really make myself happy. Even seniors and other batch mates who I don't know too well would always sit with me and just talk about stuff. Sometimes, it would really make my day.
But as much as you make friends, you also make enemies. And I made enemies from the most unusual of people. There was this group of, well let's call them 'senior citizens'... not seniors, okay? 'Senior citizens.' They claimed to be my caregivers as long as my stay in Sabah. Instead, I was more like their object of insult and mockery most of the time. Whenever we met or bumped into each other, there was always some form of criticism that I had to face. It was always either my skin was too dark, or my clothes did not match, or I was bad at sports, or I spoke Tamil badly, or I hung out with girls too often, or just about anything negative that they could get on me.
Then, there was this one time when I decided to play a stupid prank on my parents by calling them up and not speaking, just to spook them. So, maybe it was my fault and God punished me by having my plan backfire tragically. And when I say tragically, I really mean it. Here is how it goes. So, I sensed my parents getting worried much to my pleasure. So they called up this caregiver to check whether I was doing fine. This caregiver is, of course, one of the 'senior citizens'. He tracked down my class monitor's number and called him to makes sure I was fine.
So I realized things got quite overboard. My prank was merely attention seeking from my parents. But it had gotten way out of hand. The next day, guess what? The news had spread like wildfire! My classmates knew about it, my tutor knew about it, and I am pretty sure the rest of senior citizen gang knew about it too. Things at that point of my life were just so effed up! Effed up big time!
And then I knew. Eff those caregivers. I could survive on my own. The last time I had to spent 'quality time' with them was during Deepavali that year. My first Deepavali away from home was nothing but a piece of crap. Nothing more than crap! I had never been embarrassed so much in my life. I was just bombarded with all these negative comments I simply felt like leaving the place. I only went to one of their houses. I refused to go to the others' and I faked being sick. That saved me from further embarrassment.
I am not sure if these people actually realized the amount of stress I was on. Being homesick. Being noticed all the time. Having my every move being watched. All that simply puts pressure on a person. Sometimes, I simply wish I could yell it at these people's face. Or maybe just beg them for sympathy. But can you see how much they had changed in my eyes? They were nothing more than rubbish to me. Rubbish worth being thrown into a trash bin.
After that I knew that it was important that I keep my distance from these people. They could not have made it more clear that they did not like me. And I could not have made it more clear that I had lost my respect for them after declining their invitation and avoiding further contact with them for the next few months.
I am pretty sure some of you out there have come across people like these, but you are not in the position to tell them off. So my advice? Fake it. Fake being respectful towards them. Fake being happy around them. Fake enjoying being in their presence. But what's most important is.... make it obvious it's all fake. Like me, whenever the senior citizens asked me a question to mock me, like "You've grown blacker. Your skin complexion is hideous." I would simply answer, "Yes. My father retired and I had to work during the holiday so that we have more money." Then I would look away, not giving a darn how they reacted to that. Or what word answers would do the trick. Or avoiding eye contact. Or just being quiet and putting a long face, and when asked just say you're sick. All these worked with me. I hope it works for you too.