A dock with people on it, ocean behind

Memories from Malaysia

September 7, 2023
Author: Katie Temporal

My experience as a sustainability intern

Third-year Global Studies student Katie Temporal got to spend three months in Pulau Tengah, Malaysia, this summer. She was working as a sustainability intern with Batu Batu, the island’s only resort, which runs Tengah Island Conservation. This opportunity came about through VIU’s Queen Elizabeth Scholarship program, which allows students to participate in three-month international field internships with partners or organizations that are working to address pressing issues facing coastal communities in Canada and around the world. Here’s what she had to say about her experience: 

Katie Temporal in front of lush green foliage

It’s been three months since my return from Pulau Tengah, Malaysia, and it feels as if I can transport back through the vivid memories I hold close to my heart. There are too many people and experiences to speak of at once, so I have narrowed it down to three memorable experiences that defined my internship. 

Ramadan in Malaysia

March 22, 2023, marked the start of Ramadan for 1.6 billion people across the world. I had the privilege to witness the celebration firsthand with my coworkers and friends in Malaysia. I was invited to participate in a week of fasting alongside them, which I had never done before. During the month I watched my friends pray five times a day and eat their meals with intention and gratefulness. I learned through this experience what praying meant to me and found comfort, grounding and self-awareness through swimming and movement. When my friends went to pray, I went to swim. The notion of only praying to a higher being was diminished when I learned how to pray to myself, for myself.  

Sea turtles

Across seven islands, a morning boat patrol went out daily in search of sea turtle eggs. I worked closely with Tengah Island Conservation to collect and bury turtle eggs in the local nursery. Due to predators and poaching, sea turtles and their eggs are in danger across the peninsula. Allowing them to grow in a nursery ensures safe and healthy hatchings. Only one in a thousand hatchlings will reach maturity, so giving them the best start to life is crucial. One of my favourite memories happened on my final week. We knew a turtle would be laying her eggs soon, so every night we walked across the beach in hopes of witnessing this spectacular event from afar. After the turtle prepared a chamber, she decided to return to the sea. We waited for two hours before deciding to return to our rooms. Just as we started to walk away, a large figure appeared out of the water. We ducked and imitated rocks the best we could. The large green turtle came to the beach, slowly moving past me. I was five feet away from this giant beauty, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The people

A simple wooden jetty, one that started and ended my time on Pulau Tengah, holds a tremendous amount of love. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, I found a community and friendships with those around me, with the jetty being the literal foundation. When reflecting on my internship, I first think of the people. The daily routine of jumping off the jetty when our shift is over and exploring the coral reef for hours. We would get so lost in time we would be an hour late to dinner, even during Ramadan. The evenings where I swam with new friends until the sun went down are the evenings I will never forget. When I close my eyes and picture it, I can still hear the splash of the water followed by giggles.


While learning from incredible marine biologists from different parts of the world, the friendships I created are what made the island feel like home. I am grateful for my time as a Queen Elizebeth Scholar and will never forget the lessons I learned in Malaysia. Through the connections and community created, I know I have a place on a small island off the east coast to return to one day.

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