With Dalat’s rich history and culture, “how we used to do it” sometimes conflicts with “how we should do it going forward.”

This week, as we celebrate 65 years of independence for Malaysia, I am thankful for all I am learning about my host country. I know that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is to experience it. This summer, my family and I had the opportunity to explore this wonderful country, see its sights, and experience its unique cultural activities. One of my favorite experiences was connected to the annual George Town Festival. It was amazing to see the diversity of the local community coming out in support of the arts. These events opened my eyes to the vast richness of my host country.

One highlight for me was a puppet show called “IBU.” The show told a story from traditional Southeast Asian and Malaysian folklore, using iron-rod Chinese puppetry, with an indie-jazz musical accompaniment. I was genuinely inspired by this group of artists’ ability to put multiple cultures on display – which in turn, preserves these cultural stories for the next generation. I came away wondering how these artists became involved in these traditional art forms—and then wondered what would be lost if artists like these puppeteers didn’t preserve and promote older art forms. As an educator, my next question was, how do we inspire our students to make these types of connections? How do we help our children look both backward and forward at the same time?

Much like these artists, Dalat is faced with the challenge of looking both backward and forward. As we enter a new post-pandemic season and school activities begin to shift slowly back to “normal,” we are confronted with something of a tension. With Dalat’s rich history and culture, “how we used to do it” sometimes conflicts with “how we should do it going forward.” This may be uncomfortable at times, but I see this tension as a gift because this requires us, like the George Town Festival artist, to look for practices that both preserve and progress. This tension requires our community of parents, teachers, students, staff, and administrators to put on our smocks, take out our brushes, and become artists. What shall we create?

Written by Tressa White

Dr White has been at Dalat International School since 2019, serving as Middle School principal and now Deputy Head of School. Before coming to Dalat, Tressa taught at the post-secondary and high school levels, and she holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Advanced Educational Leadership and a Master of Science in Mathematics.
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