Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why Malaysia? (First Blog Post)

Fall semester 2007 I took a macroeconomics course from Professor Dr. Richard Schatz. During that semester I also became friends with Harry Daniels-Schatz who is on staff at Whitworth and lives with Dr. Schatz and his kids at their house on a small lake forty minutes north of Whitworth. Since the beginning of my sophomore year, I've taken another class from Dr. Schatz (Economic Development), hung out a bunch in Harry's office, and been fortunate to become close with both of these guys.

Dr. Schatz has worked for the Asian Development Bank and lived all around Southeast Asia. After earning a degree from UW, he joined the Peace Corps, which gave him the chance to live in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia (on the island of Borneo) for three years, 1966-68. Since then, his work (and play) has allowed him to return to Sarawak many times. In 2007 he simultaneously taught and conducted research at the public university in Sarawak called Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, or UNIMAS, through a Fulbright sponsorship. This past summer, when I was visiting during the Fourth of July, he proposed the idea of my studying as an international student at that university, and I liked the idea.

All this is to answer the question I've been asked a few times, "Why Malaysia?" The short answer is "Because Dr. Schatz made it possible." But there are many benefits I can see of studying abroad at UNIMAS in Sarawak, Malaysia:

- Nowhere else could I study abroad and have the kind of personal connections I'll have through Dr. Schatz. I doubt, in fact, that UNIMAS would have accepted me had Dr. Schatz not instigated contact with them on my behalf. (See "UNIMAS Makes Room" post)
- English is commonly spoken throughout the country and is the medium used by UNIMAS. In many other countries it would be more difficult to communicate without knowing another language.
- Malaysia is 60% Muslim (and, some argue, an 'Islamic state'), and I will value a long-term exposure to Muslim people and culture. My studies at Whitworth combined with my own personal endeavors to learn about Islam have given me a basic knowledge of the religion and a desire to dig deeper.
- I'm just flat out attracted to Asia. I've lived all my life in the West; this is a chance to experience the East.
- Sarawak has great cultural and religious diversity: Malays (Muslim), Chinese (Buddhist, Christian, other), Indians (Hindu), and indigenous people (Christian, Animist). I'll worship God with fellow Christians, as anywhere, yet in a different setting and manner from those I'm familiar with.
- Malay, the official language of Malaysia (as well as of Indonesia and Brunei), is relatively easy to learn. It uses the same Latin alphabet as English, has no accents or special markings, and there is no conjugating of verbs, as in French or Spanish. Saya boleh cakap Bahasa Malayu sidikit = I can speak the Malay language a little.
- It's unique. How many people do you know who've been to Malaysia?
- It's inexpensive, especially when compared to a semester at Whitworth or in Europe. Round-trip airfare, room, board, tuition, and about 25 days of travel around the region (after the semester ends early May) will amount to less than I would pay if I stayed at Whitworth for spring semester.

This recently finished fall semester has given me the luxury of time to prepare for my trip. I did an independent study with Dr. Schatz that we called "Political Economy of Malaysia". Really, it has involved tackling an ad-libbed collection of material - books, articles, current events, and even research papers written by Dr. Schatz himself - on Malaysia and specifically Sarawak that constitutes what I should know before leaving. (See "Things I Studied Before Going" post on Malaysia-prep material covered this semester)

In summary: Why Malaysia? Because of Dr. Schatz, it's really interesting to me, and it's affordable.