School, What About It?

This week has been an interesting change from being in the school system of the United States my whole life. The thing that I’ve noticed the most is that when school starts in Bhutan students get the time to get acclimatized to being back in school. In the United States that doesn’t happen. One day you’re on summer break and then BAM! you’re back in school and learning again. I’m not saying one way is better than the other I’m just noticing the differences. There’s also the fact that there is a set schedule that’s the same every day in the US but no here. I’m constantly having to check my schedule to see where I need to be and when. There’s also the fact that here the teachers move around and the students stay in their classrooms. They also have school on Saturdays, which kind of messes with my head and causes me to get the days slightly confused. There’s all of these things that are foreign to me, not bad and not good, just different.

Students heading to their classrooms
Students heading to their classrooms
Students heading to their classrooms
Students heading to their classrooms

I’ve talked to several of my fellow teachers and while some of them have started teaching, some of them are waiting until Monday to get seriously involved in teaching. I was different. I started slowly teaching this week by having my students introduce themselves. This was how I was going to figure what their speaking abilities were in English. Then I had them write something for me to see what they needed to work on for their writing. Then we started reading from our text book. This was interesting because it got me to see the way students were going to interact with me. I’m hoping I can get them to come out of their shells a little and really have great discussions. However, if I can’t I’m still confident that I can teach them at least a little English.

Wandering at the end of the day
Wandering at the end of the day
Watching Soccer/Football practice
Watching Soccer/Football practice

I personally think that school is one of the most important things that we can have anywhere because it can change the world. Education is the key to everything, I think. I’m just a facilitator for the process of learning. I’m just there to help guide what is going on in the classroom and help the students get the most out of everything there is to learn from any given topic. I believe education gives us the tools to navigate an ever changing world that gets more confusing and overwhelming every day. That’s what I hope to give my students in the process of helping them learn or at least one of the tools. Maybe that’s too high a goal but I’m certainly going to try. One of the small pieces that I’m trying to add here at this school to help with building their tools is raising enough money to get the internet here. So, I’ve started a gofundme and if you can donate please do. The website to do so is: http://www.gofundme.com/n3twho 

Getting ready for Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW)
Getting ready for Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW)

I’m really not sure what else to say today. So, I’ll leave you with this final thought: where would you be with out education or the internet expanding on what you know?

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The Beginning

So, this week was interesting. On Sunday evening I went to a dinner that I thought was a going away party for the vice principal but turned out to be a welcoming party for me and another new teacher as well as a going away party for the vice principal. It was a lot of fun, even if I had to make a small speech for it. I got to eat a lot of good food and got a welcoming scarf (which for the life of me I can’t remember what it’s called).

The next day the kids arrived and we sent off the vice principal. That was a whole new experience because all of the faculty went down to this point in the road and had tea. We all sat around for like forty-five minutes. I happened to have my camera and one of the other teachers was very interested in it. So he ended up taking several pictures with it. Soon most of us were heading to the Chasm to see the vice principal of. However, the principal and I went back to the school to help with the registration of new students, which I was no help whatsoever because I don’t really know any of the language here. By around two in the afternoon the rest of the staff had returned. While registration was going on a few of the teachers asked me what it was like living in the US. Then when all of the new students had been registered I was invited by the principal to lunch with the farmers who were going to provide the produce for the school. I ate lunch with them and have learned that if I don’t take/eat a lot people think that I don’t like it, which isn’t true. I’m just not a big eater and I had also recently eaten my own lunch. Anyway, in payment for me eating I sat in the negotiation meeting, which was really boring because I had absolutely no idea as to what was going on. Then after sitting there for like two hours I left.

Once of the PP Students.
Once of the PP Students.
One of the PP students.
One of the PP students.
The principal's wife, vice principal's wife, kids, and the teacher who borrowed my camera's wife and child.
The principal’s wife, vice principal’s wife, kids, and the teacher who borrowed my camera’s wife and child.
Me at the place where we had tea to bid the vice principal good-bye.
Me at the place where we had tea to bid the vice principal good-bye.

The next day the students were also given all of their textbooks by the class teachers. And since we knew how many students there were for each class and were able to figure out how we were going to split the classes. That was interesting because the other teacher were going back and forth about who was going to teach what and how many hours they had of teaching time. I started out with Class VII and Class VIII English, then Class V social studies was added. However, soon after that I was and am only teaching Class VII and Class VIII English. I think that they thought that having 29 hours of teaching time might be too much for me or something like that. I’m not entirely sure why it was taken away, to be honest, because most of the meeting was in Dzongka. However, that means that I will be able to have a lot of focus on those students.

Students getting lined up for morning assembly.
Students getting lined up for morning assembly.
Teachers sitting in a meeting.
Teachers sitting in a meeting.

On Wednesday, the students were split into the six houses, which took most of the morning. Then I was given my subject orientation, which included briefly meeting my students for the year. They all seemed really respectful and willing to learn. We will see how that goes though. I was also given my teaching manuals, textbooks, and a notebook to write my lesson plans. After that the school was let out because it was a long weekend because of Losar (lunar new year) and the 4th king’s birthday and the principal wanted the students to be able to spend the time with their families. Then the teacher discussed when they were going to leave for Hum (I think is the place they were going), which is a holy site from Guru Ropochie (I think that’s how you spell it) in Mongar. I chose to not to go because I am still fighting off an upper chest cold.

The next day, I clean my house and got some chores done. After that I spent the day reading, which was really nice. That night I happened to look out my bedroom window and saw that the wild fires were fairly close but I wasn’t really worried about it since it seemed that nobody else was really worried about it. However, I did go outside and look at them. It was really interesting to watch.

The wildfire.
The wildfire.
The wildfire.
The wildfire.

The following day I got up got ready and just wandered around for a little while getting to know the area a little bit better. When I had wandered for almost exactly an hour (which was totally unintended) I got back to my house and started going though my textbooks and getting my lesson plans started. Then I went and looked up what all I had to get done with all of the students for the year’s objectives based on the curriculum here. I wrote that down and thought about the things that I could do to get all of that accomplished and keep the students interested. It seems like a slightly overwhelming task but I think that I’m up for the challenge. After that I took a break and relaxed.

A view from my morning stroll.
A view from my morning stroll.
The prayer wheel in front of my school.
The prayer wheel in front of my school.
A prayer flag from around the school.
A prayer flag from around the school.

That’s pretty much all that has happened this past week.

Home Sweet Home….

School Basketball Court
School Basketball Court

My first week in Gongthung was interesting. I met a lot of people and attended a lot of meetings. It was like any other week before school. The biggest difference was that large portions, if not all, were conducted in Dzongka, which is the national language of Bhutan. There were a lot of time that I didn’t have any idea as to what was going on in the meeting but there were other times that I knew what was going on and understood.

One of the first meetings was in Dzongka because it involved the support staff and they don’t know English. However, there was a PowerPoint, so I was able to follow along somewhat. The following meetings for that day were in a mixture of both English and Dzongka. There were a lot of discussion about what was going to happen in the school year and who is in charge of what. I’m paired up with one of the other English teachers to be in charge of the Literacy Club. I’m not sure how that’s going to work but we will see what happens. I have a lot of ideas and we will see what he thinks about it.

Then there were meetings about Gross National Happiness (GNH) and how we as teachers could/would incorporate it in the classroom. The idea is that teachers are on the front line of making it work for the country. I was there for the first half of the first day and got one session out of it. I found it really fascinating and learned a lot about GNH.  However, there were another day and a half of information for it and I was going to Trashigang the next day to get a bank account.

On Friday (the next day) I went with the principal, vice principal, and one of the staff to Trashigang. When I was there I met the District Education Officer (DEO),  the deputy DEO, and the deputy governor. They were all very nice, it was just awkward for me because I don’t talk a lot and am quite shy. The principal was wonderful and very helpful with everything. We had to make three trips to the Ministry of Education offices so that I could get a bank account but it was finally done. Then I got a data stick which allows me to access the internet. I also did some shopping and got some things that I needed at my home. Then I was left at a tea shop with the deputy governor, who was very nice and interesting. Soon he left and I ended up talking to the shop’s owner and he was very nice as well. Then we left Trashigang at about 6 pm. We got back to Gongthung at around 7:30. After that I was invited over to the principal’s house once again for dinner as a good-bye to the vice principal because he was leaving the next week due to his acceptance into university for his master’s program. It was a nice evening because I got to know some of my colleagues a little better and tell them about what life is like in the US (which is very different then what they have in their minds it’s like). I was then taken home by one of my fellow teachers at around 11:30 pm.

The next day we had more GNH training, which was really interesting to learn about. I have to say that I’m really fascinated by all of the beliefs and cultural systems that are going on here. I think that it’s really great to learn about it. I’m learning so much about everything here and I can’t wait for more.

Until Sunday

School Basketball Court II
School Basketball Court II
Prayer Flags around the School
Prayer Flags around the School
More Prayer Flags.
More Prayer Flags.

Traveling Across Bhutan

Well, I know it’s been a while but I haven’t had access to the internet for the last two weeks and I will make another post about the past week but this one is going to be all about my trip across the beautiful country of Bhutan.

The first day we (my fellow teachers from the Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF) and myself) we traveled from Thimphu to Punakha, which was quite warm and green. When we were in Punakha we went to the Dzong (the one that everyone sees on postcards and in photos). It was so amazing. I can’t even describe how awesome it was. There was only a few of us that went because others went to help a couple of fellow teachers posted in the area to settle (the car going only had a limited amount of room as well). We spent the night in a fabulous hotel and had a small bonfire while we were there.

The mountains from a sacred site.
The mountains from a sacred site.
This was built by the Queen Mother as a memorial for the history of Bhutan.
This was built by the Queen Mother as a memorial for the history of Bhutan.
The SUV, yellow bus, and the front blue and white bus were the ones we used to carry all of our things.
The SUV, yellow bus, and the front blue and white bus were the ones we used to carry all of our things.
This was the hotel room in Punakha.
This was the hotel room in Punakha.
The famous Dzong.
The famous Dzong.
Another view of it.
Another view of it.
This was the bonfire at the hotel.
This was the bonfire at the hotel.

The second day we traveled to Bumthang where we dropped off another teacher and saw some amazing scenery while we were going through the mountain passes. However, it was really cold where we were and the heater in my room wasn’t working. However, it was a nice place and I’m sure a little bit warmer in the summer.

The third day we went from Bumthang to Mongar. We went from our highest point to our lowest (2,400 m to 650 m). Again the scenery was amazing, beautiful, and very drastic in how it looked. It went from alpine to more tropical. It was quite stunning and shocking all at the same time. I loved it. We then spent the night in Mongar at a nice hotel. While we were there we met a couple of the principals and some men who were helping farmers here with growing hazelnuts. It was a nice night. The next day we dropped off a couple of other teachers and another split off to go to her location.

This was a beautiful, cold, snowy place where there were a ton of prayer flags.
This was a beautiful, cold, snowy place where there were a ton of prayer flags.

Prayer Flags

This is the highest pass that we went through at 3,780 m (12,400 ft).
This is the highest pass that we went through at 3,780 m (12,400 ft).
This on the other side of the pass in Mongar
This on the other side of the pass in Mongar
This was one of the many waterfalls on the was from Bumthang to Mongar.
This was one of the many waterfalls on the was from Bumthang to Mongar.

The fourth day we went from Mongar to Tashigang. The scenery was just as beautiful but more stark. We took almost five hours to get to Tashigang, which was when I split off from the rest of the group. We spent about two hours there getting things that we needed and then I went the opposite direction. I was taken down a the windy road to the chasm (as the locals call it) and over to the other side where I went up a windy dirt road, which was slightly terrifying at points. This took about an hour and a half to get to my placement in Gongthung. Then I got help unloading everything. I was introduced to my wonderful landlady, who had me over for dinner my first night here. Following that I met the librarian, who was really nice as well. Then the principal came over to spend some time visiting with me. I was up until about 10:30 pm that night talking to everyone. The next day I settled into my apartment/flat/house and was then invited to have dinner with at my principal’s house, which was really nice.

This is at the check point for immigration into Trashigang.
This is at the check point for immigration into Trashigang.
Gate to the City
Gate to the City of Trashigang
This was the sign to the end of the line to most of our schools.
This was the sign to the end of the line to most of our schools.

So that was my trip across Bhutan.

New City, New Adventures

This is the burned down ruins of the Dzong that burned down in the 1950s.
This is the burned down ruins of the Dzong that burned down in the 1950s.

Well, it’s been an interesting week with lots of highs and lots of lows. This week I traveled from Paro, Bhutan to Thimphu, Bhutan. That was an interesting hour and a half drive. The road was very curvy and had lots of cliffs off the side. The views were amazing. However, the drive did make me nauseous at one point but not enough to make it really uncomfortable.

Then we made it to the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. It’s a very beautiful city with amazing architecture and paint designs on the building. However, I have noticed a lot of litter. (Although I think a lot of it is taken out because of all the stray dogs, so that they can eat.) Everyone is really friendly, kind, and super helpful. I’ve enjoyed working with the people that I’ve worked with so far in the meetings I’ve had, the people in the streets have been really friendly, the children are really friendly (always wanting to practice their English with the people in my group), and the shopkeepers have given me discounts on all the household items that I need for my apartment/flat.

The group of teachers that I’m with are amazing people as well. They are super fun, kind, and friendly. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them (especially my roommate, who I no longer have boundaries with…lol). The people that I get the opportunity to work with are intelligent and so much more adventurous than I could ever hope to be. Particularly seeing as this has been the most adventurous thing I’ve ever done in my life.

However my time here hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. I have recently caught a chest cold, which has made it very difficult for me to get around seeing at the altitude here is 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) and I was living at sea level before making this move. In fact, I seriously considered going home on the way to my cooking class because it was all uphill and I had just gotten my chest cold and couldn’t breathe. I was actually in tears at one point because I couldn’t breathe and just felt defeated. There were other circumstances as well that contributed to this feeling that I don’t really want to get into but it was there. I’m finally starting to get over my cold and coughing a lot but am totally glad that I brought cough drops with me.

Although during this time I learned how wonderful the people I work with are. A couple of them went out and got me and my roommate (who was also ill) food and drinks because I couldn’t walk and she couldn’t move. They also wouldn’t let us pay for it because everyone chipped in to pay for our food. They are wonderful people and I’m looking forward to keeping in contact with them as we move on to our postings.

Then tonight my roommate and I did laundry in the bathtub of our hotel room, which now has all of our wet clothing spread around it. It was quite amusing and fun while we did it. It was an interesting experience because it’s something that we’d never done before but at least our clothes are clean.

After all the highs and low of this week, I’m feeling really good about everything to come. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

Until Next Time,

Sarah

This is the clock tower in Thimphu, Bhutan.
This is the clock tower in Thimphu, Bhutan.
This is the Clock Tower closer.
This is the Clock Tower closer.
Prayer Wheels/Charms
This is the prayer charms of the oldest Buddhist temple in Bhutan.
Building
This is a building on the way from Paro, Bhutan to Thimphu, Bhutan.
Laundry
This is my roommates and my laundry that we did in the tub.

I Finally Made It!

I have travel 6,895 miles over the past two days (one being skipped because of all the time changes across the Pacific Ocean). I had a three hour lay over in Singapore, and a twenty hour one in Bangkok. The trans-Pacific flight was fairly uneventful, but excruciatingly long. However, we did get two meals on the flight and I was on the top deck of a Boeing 747, which was pretty cool.

Then I had my three hour layover in Singapore, which was interesting because at first I was at the wrong gate (it’s a very confusing air port) and then when I got to the right gate it was like Hello Kitty threw up. There was a store of only Hello Kitty stuff and there were about ten murals of Hello Kitty on the walls. It was a little overwhelming.

After my three hour layover in Singapore I flew to Bangkok. I was also fed on this flight even though it was only three hours long. I was really quite surprised because of only ever flying in the US and just getting snacks on the flights like peanuts or pretzels. You would also expect that the meals wouldn’t be very good (if you’ve ever heard about *shudder* ‘plane food’) however this food was quite good and the service on the airline that I took, which was the same as the trans-Pacific flight, was amazing.

When I landed in Bangkok the first thing I noticed was how hot and humid it was. To better understand this you have to know that I am from the Pacific Northwest of the United States, just south of Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, in a small town of the Olympic Peninsula named Sequim in Washington State. The weather there, in the winter, is cool and quite comfortable (in my humble opinion). So, you can imagine my shock at the change. Well, I happily walked into the airport with my two carry-ons, which were a bit heavy, and made my way to immigration.

The biggest problem with immigration in Bangkok international airport is that it’s really busy. For most people this would be no problem, but for me it was terrifying. I happen to have social anxiety disorder and being around that many people almost caused me to have a panic attack. However, I kept myself under control, made it through immigration, and to the area where my luggage was. Then I made my way out of the baggage claim area and into the entrances of the airport.

This was when I ran into more trouble. I looked for my hotel shuttle and couldn’t find it and I ended up waiting for about thirty minutes before I went to the service counter and they called the hotel. I think that this was slightly scary because I was by myself in a country that I’d never been in and I had never been out side of the US, besides into Canada (which I generally don’t count since I used to live closer to Canada then I did to Seattle). I also had no way of calling anyone because I didn’t have service on my phone and it was practically dead. I then was able to find the hotel shuttle and off I went. Finally I was in a place where I could shower, relax, and get some rest. What was really amazing was when I was able to get the massage I (my sister) booked. That helped me even more. It was an early night for me because I had just spent the last 18 hours flying or in an airport waiting to fly, as well as having to be at the airport the following morning at 4:30 am. I quickly fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning feeling more refreshed than I had. I quickly packed up my stuff and made my way down to the shuttle to the airport. Getting through all of the airport check-in hassle was boring and slightly stressful. However, I did make it to my gate on time and with little trouble. There I met the people that I was working with (sort of, we work for the same foundation to teach in Bhutan). We then boarded the plane (in business class, which was really nice) and off we went Calcutta, where we switched some passengers. Then we flew into Paro International Airport, which I had learned earlier that morning was the most dangerous place to land and that there were only 8 pilots that were allowed to land there. The landing was just fine though. We then disembarked from the plan and went through customs yet again.

Now I am in Bhutan, where I am going to teach English to 6-8 graders. I just need to get through orientation and the 4-5 day drive to where I’m teaching.

IMG_4541
This is one of the many stray dogs that roam the streets of Paro.
IMG_4550
The view from the entrance of my hotel in Paro (which was the Royal Palace about 100 years ago.)
IMG_4563
My first meal in Bhutan: Bhtuanese rice, buttered vegetables noodles (my personal favorite), chicken with vegetables, and cabbage with mushrooms in oyster sauce, which I ate all of even though I don’t like mushrooms, cabbage, or oysters and I even liked it.
IMG_4571
This is the Paro Buddhist Temple from my hotel room window.