Originally published Jan. 7, 2013.
Eating fruit that smelled like old gym socks. Learning that catfish caught from the Pahang River is a delicacy. Challenging 12 hour-long workdays.
That's the shortened version of Huntington resident Stan Bippus and his 10-day trip to Malaysia this past November.
On Nov. 25, Bippus traveled with a team of international faculty instructors that spent two weeks teaching in Pahang, Malaysia as part of the United States Sports Academy's new pilot program to retrain 1,000 physical education teachers. Pahang sits approximately two hours away from the city of Temerloh.
"This was my third trip to Malaysia," Bippus states. "I've also taught in Hong Kong and Singapore."
The United States Sports Academy is experimenting with a six-month program to teach various physical education courses to Malaysian schoolteachers, most of whom taught English, science, math and social studies.
For their participation in the program, teachers earn an international diploma in physical education.
"Teachers assigned to teach physical education have little to no training in that area," Bippus says. "The goal of the pilot program was to better equip them with the necessary skills. The diploma however, doesn't lead to an increase in salary."
Bippus adds that during his time there, he was tasked with instructing the "Physical Education Facilities and Sports Event Management" course, which taught the students how to run sports programs and events.
"The daily routine was intense and long," he adds. "The courses are taught at a center that had several classrooms and dorm-style housing units, that housed six students. However, some of the students commuted every day, some from as far as six hours away."
Bippus says one of his favorite experiences was interacting with his students, even with a language barrier.
"The official language is Malay and some students speak Chinese," he states. "All students are taught English, but there is a wide range of proficiency."
To combat the language issue, Bippus says he assigned various sections of the course work, which was presented via PowerPoint slides, to the students, who would in turn "teach" it to their classmates in their native tongue.
"I think the worst way to teach is by lecturing anyway, so this made the material more interesting," he adds. "I would monitor how the information was being presented by occasionally talking with the students who were better English speakers as well as my translator. They all enjoyed it."
The class format included theory as well as physical activity, which came with some rules.
The official religion of Malaysia is Islam and there are strict rules regarding conduct between men and women. In public, women are fully covered except for their faces, arms and feet. However, during class time, the women were not required to wear a "burqua" the common attire for Muslim women.
"Females taking part in physical activity were allowed to wear regular clothes as long as their bodies were covered," Bippus states. "But they were not to be touched by any male, even during games of tag."
Despite the rules, Bippus says that everybody that participated had fun.
"Talking with the students helped me to get over some of the stereotypes I had about Muslims and their culture," he says. "I always saw them as a strict culture, but they showed me that they have as much fun as anybody else."
Other interesting experiences that the students introduced him to, Bippus adds, were eating a fruit called a "durian" and a Malaysian species of catfish called "patin hitam."
"On the outside, the durian is a thorny fruit, that can weigh up to 70 pounds and is very expensive to buy," he says. "The best way to describe the smell after you open it up is old gym socks, rotten onions or turpentine, and it's hard to describe the taste. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted."
While he was in the country, the news broke of a story of some local fruit vendors who were importing durians from another part of the country, while promoting them as local fruit.
"Fish is cooked with the head still intact," says Bippus. "And one day, I was served patin hitam, which looks and tastes very much like a channel catfish. It's considered a delicacy in Malaysia. They had a hard time believing that we had something here that was like that and a even harder time believing that it wasn't a delicacy in America."
Even though the U.S.S.A. has a goal of reaching 50,000 Malaysian teachers over the next 10 years, Bippus thinks that this was his last trip.
"The flight itself takes a toll on you," Bippus states. "It's almost 15 hours from Los Angeles to Taiwan and another four hours from there to the capital Kuala Lumpur."
He adds that one of the reasons he returned was to see the Twin Towers replica and sightsee, the latter of which he rarely had the chance to do because of the tight and long schedule.
"Our day started at 7 a.m. and ran for 10 to 12 hours, with breaks in between for meals and tea," Bippus says. "But overall, the experience was great. I really enjoyed working with the students."
He adds that those interested in participating in programs similar to the one he was involved with can contact the United States Sports Academy for more information.
The academy's website is ussa.edu.