Tuesday, March 31, 2015


After late winter in Mongolia (30s) and early spring in China (60s), I arrived in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia, in the state of Sabah on the northwest coast of Borneo, to temperatures in the humid 90s. 

Checking in, I discovered that EARCOS had upgraded keynote speakers to luxurious suites - mine had a view over coconut trees of the marina and the bay! It felt as if I'd landed in paradise.

The resort complex includes two large hotels connected by a boardwalk, dotted with swimming pools, tropical gardens and flowering plants. Enormous breakfast buffets tantalized with platters of fresh papaya, pineapple, watermelon and pomelo, Malay and Indian curries, Chinese dim sum and Korean kimchi, as well as the usual Western options of cereal, eggs, and breads - everything imaginable except pork, in deference to Muslim citizens who comprise more than 60% of the population.

I presented a keynote, "Mirrors & Lenses: Exploring Racial and Cultural Identity," sharing my story as a "3rd culture kid" (TCK) growing up in Korea, interspersed with some of the latest findings I've gleaned from neuroscience on the formation of racial identity and unconscious bias.

Some 1200 teacher delegates attended the conference from 116 English-speaking international schools in 15 countries: Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. 

It was great to reconnect with teacher and librarian friends I'd made on previous author visits to Seoul Foreign School (my alma mater), Shanghai American School and Brent International School in the Philippines, to make new friends - what fascinating stories these teachers have! - and to have exciting conversations about the possibility of author visits to other schools. I also got to catch up with Peaks Island neighbor and author Laima Sruoginis, who's spent the last two years teaching high school English at the American International School of Hong Kong.

Teachers enjoyed taking photos with the visiting author to show to their students.

The conference schedule was packed, so I didn't get a chance to discover the wonders of Sabah, from Mount Kinabalu to tropical rain forests to snorkeling off islands, but a group of us did get to downtown KK for dinner and souvenir shopping: painted masks, sarongs, batik, percussion instruments, and other beautiful crafts.

L to R: With new teacher friends Holly Blair (art teacher in Hong Kong, orig. from Canada); Paulina Cuevas (counselor in China, orig. from Chile); Florence Flesche (5th grade teacher in Hong Kong, orig. from Hong Kong and California).

Browsing with Holly (center) and Lukas Berredo (gender identity advocate & educator in China, orig. from Brazil).

 This area of downtown Kota Kinabalu, selling clothing, souvenirs and food, is called the "Filipino Market."

Laima with pineapple fried rice, at a Thai restaurant on the harbor.

On the last day, there was time for pina coladas by the pool bar and a sunset over the bay, before the closing reception.

L to R: Susan Keller-Mathers and Heather Maldonado of SUNY Buffalo State 
(offered course credit for conference hours, sponsor of my keynote); Paulina 

What a wonderful close to a spectacular trip!

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