Rachael Chesley, a Fulbright Scholar who will be living in Malaysia. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 10, 2012 7:36PM
Recently, while taking an open-water dive course in the Perhentian Islands, Malaysia, I was introduced to the technique of equalizing.
The deeper a diver goes, the more water pressure and ear pressure become unbalanced, causing deep discomfort. To avoid this pain, divers must slowly descend and gently breathe out while pinching their nose. A slow and steady introduction to the deep, unfamiliar waters makes for an enjoyable underwater adventure.
Driving my pink motor scooter through vast rice paddies in my rural, Islamic village, while wearing a bright, floral baju kurung, is not a life I could have ever fully prepared for.
My American wardrobe has been replaced with a collection of 20-plus traditional, conservative Malay dresses, known as baju kurung.
Going to buy groceries no longer consists of quick trips to Target in a Volvo with a stop at Starbucks along the way. Now, I strategically decide what I need based on what can fit into a backpack for the return trip from Supermas. Supermas is about a fifth of the size of Jewel-Osco and is the only supermarket in town, but it gets the job done. In fact, I always save some room for M&Ms, which it conveniently sells!
My weekly dates with friends have been replaced with trips to the local Pasar Malam, the night markets selling fruits, vegetables, live chickens and food. Being a regular at the market has been a fabulous way to meet locals while sampling Malaysian food. I have not been brave enough to buy a live chicken yet, but with many villages in a 20-minute radius, there is a night market within reach every night.
Moreover, my favorite spin classes have been replaced with P90x videos, as well as scenic bike rides and jogs through my village, where cows, roosters and chickens roam freely and palm trees provide light shade.
Moving here requires a new kind of rhythm, and it’s amazing to experience the reality when something once so unusual becomes now seemingly normal.
My slow and steady introduction is allowing me to equalize to an existence quite different than my own, but a life that is temporarily mine.
Rachael Chesley is a Fulbright Scholar in Malaysia through the U.S. State Department’s Fulbright ETA Scholarship Program. Rachael grew up in New Lenox and is a 2007 Lincoln-Way Central graduate, as well as a 2011 graduate from Saint Mary’s College of Notre Dame.