An SLP in Malaysia Salamat pagi, or greetings! When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004, Malaysia was incredibly lucky. It’s interesting to look at a map and try to figure out just how Malaysia escaped the devastation as it seemed to be in the path of the tsunami; however, there were ... World Beat
Free
World Beat  |   August 01, 2005
An SLP in Malaysia
Author Notes
  • Joan C. Kosta, is director and professor of Communication Disorders at Mercy College. Her current research interests are in geriatric issues of culturally diverse populations. She lived in Japan and travels extensively. Contact Kosta by e-mail at JKosta@mercy.edu.
    Joan C. Kosta, is director and professor of Communication Disorders at Mercy College. Her current research interests are in geriatric issues of culturally diverse populations. She lived in Japan and travels extensively. Contact Kosta by e-mail at JKosta@mercy.edu.×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Professional Issues & Training / International & Global / World Beat
World Beat   |   August 01, 2005
An SLP in Malaysia
The ASHA Leader, August 2005, Vol. 10, 16-24. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.10102005.16
The ASHA Leader, August 2005, Vol. 10, 16-24. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.10102005.16
Salamat pagi, or greetings!
When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia on Dec. 26, 2004, Malaysia was incredibly lucky. It’s interesting to look at a map and try to figure out just how Malaysia escaped the devastation as it seemed to be in the path of the tsunami; however, there were very few deaths. Pinang, located on the West Coast of Malaysia, was evacuated after the city of Phuket in Thailand was hit. Fortunately, families of Malaysian friends in Sri Lanka and Thailand escaped without serious injury.
I left Malaysia just six months before the tsunami tragedy, in June 2004, having been a Fulbright Scholar during the 2003–2004 academic year. Fulbright has no specialization in communication sciences and disorders and so the Communications Specialization, based on prior teaching experience in intercultural, interpersonal, and general communication seemed most appropriate. The plan was to continue research with adult second-language users and elderly populations with communication disorders. I would soon discover that even the best-laid plans rarely work as anticipated. My original placement was in a rural university town teaching communication courses. Serendipitously, I found myself invited to the University of Malaya (UM) Linguistics and Medical Faculties in Kuala Lumpur, where there had once been a short-lived speech-language pathology program, whose revival was now under consideration.
Currently, only one undergraduate university degree program in speech-language pathology and audiology is offered at the University Kebangsan Malaysia (UKM), although others may soon begin. My task was to evaluate the proposal for a graduate program and to help implement the program with the linguistics and medical faculties. Additional responsibilities included teaching one or two courses in speech-language pathology and intercultural communication, providing lectures and seminars for linguistics and medical faculty and students, and working with the ENT faculty and the “speech therapist,” who had an undergraduate degree in speech therapy, at the university hospital. The assignment was daunting, but others assured me, “don’t worry, it will work out.”
For an academic in Malaysia, the ability to change gears and adapt was a major asset. Although I taught one course—an introduction to speech-language pathology—most of my research activities differed from those originally planned in both the linguistics and medical faculties at the University of Malaya. This placement required commuting to my apartment in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Though the complexity of the year cannot be captured in this short article, I am pleased to share some of my experiences and feelings—the sights, smells, sounds, and sheer joy of Malaysia.
A Confluence of Cultures
But first, some background is in order. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy that became independent of the United Kingdom in 1957, after years of colonization by the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese. In 2004, Abdullah Badawi was elected the fifth prime minister following Mahathir Mohamad’s 22-year term. This election was a major victory for the prime minister’s party, which has been in power in coalition with other parties since independence.
Following Abdullah’s election, Najib Abdul Razak, minister of defense, was selected as deputy prime minister. This event held personal significance for me as well as for two other Fulbright scholars who had met Najib and other government officials when we participated in the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia program. During this weeklong institute, I was honored to participate with other international guests, mostly journalists, in dialogues and activities with numerous government officials, human rights activists, and new, young Malaysian leaders. The results of the 2004 elections helped solidify Malaysia’s place as a progressive Islamic state.
Malaysia comprises Peninsula Malaysia and East Malaysia (Borneo) separated by the South China Sea. Surrounding countries include Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia (Sumatra). The country’s 25 million-plus population offers a rich multiracial and multicultural experience, thanks to its three major ethnic groups—58% Malay and indigenous, 24% Chinese, 8% Indian, and 10% “other.” Its tropical climate shapes much of life and rhythm, affecting clothing, dining, architectural design, and recreation.
Roughly 34% of the population is under 14; 60% is between 15–64; and 4% is over 65 years. The average mortality is 68.48 years for males and 73.92 years for females, as of 2001. Both the young and elderly populations are expected to markedly increase over the next decade. The mandatory retirement age recently went up from 55 to 56. I believe this policy contributes to an attitude toward aging that shapes beliefs and lifestyles, as shown by two recent newspaper articles. One referred to three “unrepentant elderly crooks,” aged 55, 59, and 60. The second was a plea from one of the Chinese political parties for new young members, as three quarters of the membership were elderly with “70% over 40 years.”
The integration and diversity of the population are reflected in the arts, in holidays, in clothing, in traditions, in politics, in education, and in sumptuous culinary delights. The official tongue is Bahasa Melayu, but several Chinese and Indian languages and dialects, as well as Thai and indigenous languages, are prevalent, particularly in Borneo. English is widely spoken, though at varying levels of proficiency. Those who work for the government and those educated out of the country all speak excellent English.
The use of English declined in the 1980s and 1990s, but in the mid-1990s it was again encouraged as part of the country’s plan for continued globalization. During the 2003–2004 academic year the language of instruction in math and science in the lower levels reverted back to English after several years of Bahasa. My students spoke English because they were in the Linguistics Department and were all English majors, but many individuals I met on the street were far less proficient. Along the East Coast, less English was spoken, and older people of the indigenous tribes speak no English. Though not all Malaysians speak English, they are bilingual, speaking their family’s language as well as Bahasa.
The confluence of language, speech, and culture sometimes created interesting challenges for me, especially when trying to understand English numerals over the telephone. Duplicated numbers are always “double 8” or “triple 8,” never “88” or “888.” The pound key on the telephone is called the “hash.” You will never hear “O” for the number 0, it is always “zero” and the consonant /h/ is pronounced “heich.” Because I focused on the unfamiliar dialect, the details of the content were often lost. My Malaysian friends particularly enjoyed an early attempt of mine to get a telephone number from information. I was so flustered that I hung up and called again.
British English is the norm, and I was amused at reading “whilst” and “learnt” and being asked what kind of spelling I would be using. I delighted to hear friends say that they would “fetch me” or “send me” (pick me up or take me home, and not as I thought, drop me at the train). I was often called JoAnn rather than Joan, which is not a new experience as many Japanese did the same when I lived there and seemed confused about a one-syllable woman’s name that sounds like “John.” To get take-out you must indicate your desire “to take away” and not “to go.” The emphatic suffix “lah,” also used in Singapore, is an integral part of speech. When I asked my students for the English equivalent, each had a different answer. In general, the suffix serves to emphasize what is said and seems to be equivalent to “understand?” “OK” or “so.” The response to most requests is the polite affirmative, “can” or “can-can” which would be equivalent to “sure—maybe,” although sometimes the phrase is so automatic, it doesn’t mean that at all.
A Developing Profession
The first few months were largely spent evaluating the proposed academic program in speech-language pathology. Unfortunately, the proposal basically reflected a linguistics curriculum that had been planned for years by a faculty committee from linguistics, none with speech-language pathology or audiology degrees. The curriculum did not include any basic or natural science, disorders courses, or clinical training. I was unable to provide a positive analysis and the proposal was withdrawn. However, I did manage to demonstrate, particularly to the medical faculty, the amount of preparation required prior to developing a speech-language pathology program, not the least of which are faculty development, curriculum development, and clinical service training.
Malaysia faces huge challenges developing new programs and lacks existing models and most importantly, faculty. To meet faculty needs, some are sent to Great Britain, Australia, or to the United States for graduate training, and visiting faculty and speech-language pathologists trained abroad are often hired as visiting professors. This is a developing profession that will take years to mature and grow.
From many conversations with professionals and parents, I found that knowledge of communication disorders is not common. While parents of autistic children knew about autism, and most people were aware of deafness, many knew nothing about language disorders from stroke, or progressive neurological disorders. Awareness of speech, language, and hearing services is inconsistent, and not many services are offered. It will take time for Malaysians to become aware of communication disorders, which should happen when more speech-language pathologists and audiologists are available to provide services.
I spent most of my time in the hospital with the medical faculty and the speech therapist, mentoring and demonstrating diagnostic, treatment, and counseling approaches for adult patients with neurogenic and voice disorders. I assisted ENTs, gerontologists, and dental faculty, and evaluated several patients in the Cleft Palate Clinic. By the time I left Malaysia, I had provided approximately 30 presentations and demonstrations to a variety of groups including physicians, linguists, classroom teachers, parents of children with disabilities, and staff members of hospital clinics.
Being an American SLP in a country where so few SLPs and audiologists are trained is a challenge, particularly since many clinicians have undergraduate degrees and are desperate for continuing education. The majority of students who opt to train out of the country will go to Britain or Australia rather than the United States, as distance, cost, and familiarity with the British education system will help to determine their decision.
During my final month in Malaysia I participated in the MELTA (Malaysian English Teachers Association) conference in several parts of the country. As a plenary and workshop presenter I met many teachers who were interested in communication disorders and related stories about children in their classes. They were particularly interested in the way in which clinical approaches have application to teaching.
A special bonus of living in Asia is the ability to travel. My travels took me on trains, planes, boats, and hikes through many parts of Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore. In Singapore I did some data collecting and provided a workshop to staff members of a hospital. I visited Voice Clinics in Malaysia and Singapore and met many ENTs interested in voice that had been influenced by U.S. medical specialists.
Cultural Immersion
Entering another culture is like stepping into the pages of a book and meeting a whole new world. Our professions are called upon to help others communicate. This task is more daunting when it involves clients whose beliefs, values, and customs are different from our own. There is immense value and joy in learning about others and then using that knowledge in our work with our clients. Multiculturalism is often likened to a salad. Different from a “melting pot” or “stew,” a salad lets all different flavors, textures, colors, sizes, and new seasonings, come together to create a whole new taste and yet, always retain each individual component. For me, that is what traveling and living in another culture is about.
Though there is a romanticism associated with living abroad, there is also work and responsibility. The United States is not particularly popular in other parts of the world, and as a Fulbright visitor, I was the country’s representative. Despite personal feelings and beliefs, the best way to achieve cross-cultural understanding is through honest, one-on-one conversations, sharing values, and listening and respecting differences and often similarities. My friendships provided opportunities for me to see much of the real Malaysia and for Malaysians to see some of the diversity of the United States through me. As an SLP and professor, I was treated with the greatest respect and admiration for my professional skills and my enthusiasm in sharing my knowledge. Developing friendships, enjoying music and dance, going to lectures, reading Malaysian literature, talking to people, shopping, taking cooking classes, and traveling on the public transportation system added to my acculturation and brought enormous personal and professional benefits.
The Fulbright Scholar Program

For more than 50 years, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CEIS) has helped administer the Fulbright Scholar Program on behalf of the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. CEIS offers several different Fulbright Scholar Programs to provide grants for U.S. faculty, administrators, and professionals to lecture, do research, or participate in seminars. Visit the Fulbright Scholar Program Web site for information or to apply.

References
Lian, C. H. T., & Abdullah, S. (Feb. 2001). The education and practice of speech-language pathologists in Malaysia. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 3–9
Lian, C. H. T., & Abdullah, S. (Feb. 2001). The education and practice of speech-language pathologists in Malaysia. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 3–9×
Malaysia International Visitor’s Programme. (Nov. 2003). Vision 2020. Centre for International Dialogue, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).
Malaysia International Visitor’s Programme. (Nov. 2003). Vision 2020. Centre for International Dialogue, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).×
Mid-Term Review of the Eighth Malaysia Plan, 2001–2005. (2003). Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister’s Department. Percetakan Nasional Malaysia Berhad, KL.
Mid-Term Review of the Eighth Malaysia Plan, 2001–2005. (2003). Economic Planning Unit, Prime Minister’s Department. Percetakan Nasional Malaysia Berhad, KL.×
Munan, H. (2001). Culture Shock! A Guide to Customs and Etiquette—Malaysia. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur: Times Books International.
Munan, H. (2001). Culture Shock! A Guide to Customs and Etiquette—Malaysia. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur: Times Books International.×
YAB Dato’ Seru Dr, Mahathir Mohammad. (1991). Malaysian Business Council. Published for ISIS, Malaysia, Setiakawan Printers, dn Bhd.
YAB Dato’ Seru Dr, Mahathir Mohammad. (1991). Malaysian Business Council. Published for ISIS, Malaysia, Setiakawan Printers, dn Bhd.×
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
August 2005
Volume 10, Issue 10