Sharing Culture Through Sports

Guest Article by Kate Wiley
Scripps College
At the beginning of my Fulbright journey, back in October of 2011, I wracked my brain for a way to share American culture with my Malaysian students in a fun and meaningful way. It was suggested to me that I share uniquely American traditions or holidays, such as Thanksgiving, but I could not muster too much passion for those ideas.  It seemed too impersonal to me.  As a way to procrastinate this task, I went outside with a friend to toss a Frisbee around.  As I watched the spinning, white disc soar through the air towards me, I realized that the answer to my problems was literally right in front of me.   I would teach students in Malaysia about sports and activities that I have a passion for, like Ultimate Frisbee.  In return, I wanted to learn about Malaysian sports and pastimes like sepak takraw and silat melayu.  Thus, the “sports swap” idea was born.
ETA Kate Wiley teaching students to throw a Frisbee
When I started working at my secondary school in Dungun, Terengganu, SMK Seri Dungun, I used this concept of the sports swap as a way to become involved in after school activities.  I sat in on a number of netball, volleyball and track and field practices and games in order to expose myself to the Malaysian variety of these global sports.   I learned some interesting rule variations like how it is admissible to use your feet in volleyball games.  However, the greatest benefit of spectating, and sometimes participating, at these sporting events was getting a chance to interact with students and teachers in a more social and informal environment than the classroom.  I witnessed the warmth of the relationships between students and teachers, in comparison with the formal relationships between American teachers and American students.
My attendance at traditional Malaysian sports also exposed me to the culture of the region.  Silat Melayu, a martial arts form specific to Malaysia, and sepak takraw, a ball game that is popular all over Southeast Asia, were both totally foreign to me before I came to Malaysia.   I attended my school district’s sepak takraw tournament in April, and it was a great opportunity to spend time with students who are not in my classes.  One of the other English Teaching Assistants in Dungun, Kamayani Gupta, attends the silat melayu lessons at my school on the weekends, and I will go observe the dance-like fighting sequences.
Playing Sepak Takraw
Over the last few months, I have been warmly welcomed at these sporting events, and in order to give something back and teach about American culture, I started Ultimate Frisbee club and introduced slacklining to my students.  Each week, I meet with a group of energetic students to teach them the basic skills and rules of Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate is not new to Malaysia, but it is new to the secondary school students of Dungun. It is, without a doubt, the highlight of my week. 
Additionally, I introduced slacklining to my students at my first camp in April.  Slack lining similar to tight rope walking except the line you walk on is neither tight nor made of rope. Slack- lining is a great trust building activity at camps, and it is cheap and easy to set up anywhere else in town.  After introducing the activity at camp, I set up my slackline with students at the park near school.  It always attracts a crowd of community members too.
ETA Kate Wiley teaching a student to slackline
Overall, I feel that my “sports swap” project has been mutually beneficial for the Dungun community and me.  It has provided a natural and unassuming avenue for me to spend more time with students and community members, by being the spectator who is eager to learn about their culture.  I have also taught Malaysians about some less mainstream American pastimes which helps broaden their view of American culture.  I am looking forward to continuing this cultural exchange in the second half of my grant period here.

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