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Saturday, March 31, 2012

First Day Of School In Bhutan

Chumey Middle Secondary School
For what seemed like the longest seven months of my life, I had been anxiously awaiting to experience my first day of school in Bhutan, which was on February 15, 2012.   You probably wouldn’t have known it if you read my other blog entries, but I came to Bhutan to teach my heart out to Bhutanese students of all ages.  The months of anticipation leading to this day felt like the longest roller coaster ride of thrilling emotions.  Therefore, I was beyond ready to discover what exactly I had signed up for or what my life would look like for the next year.  I consciously tried not to do too much research about the schools because I didn’t want to get discouraged by reading others stories about corporal punishment, teaching with bare essentials or experiencing anything that was different from teaching in America.  I wanted to create my own experience and not go into the school with preconceived notions.  However, not thoroughly researching and having a clear idea about what schools were like in Bhutan set me up for a series of surprises. 

The first surprise began when I met my coworkers a few days before school started and I asked them, “What should I expect on the first day of school in Bhutan?”  They all had similar answers, such as the principal will announce it in the morning assembly.  Then I would try again, “What do you suggest I prepare for the first day of school?”  They would smile and say, “You don’t need to prepare a lesson, just prepare what you’re going to wear.”  Although I liked this answer, I felt very perplexed!  However, I was determined to not revert back to my perfecting, worrisome habits.  Instead, I adopted their stress free, go with the flow attitude.  I told myself that it would be a lovely surprise and that I had enough teaching experience to get me through any long day of school.  Of course, I also got a little spiritual and asked for a greater force to help guide me through my day. 

My BEST First Day of School Face with Rosy Pink Lipstick
When I woke up on the first day of school, I felt like it was Christmas morning; I was eager to discover what surprise “presents” awaited me.  I took my coworkers advice and thoughtfully picked out my “first day of school outfit” and I put on my best face with rosy pink lipstick.  Then I happily danced around my bare room, in and out of my 12 inch mirror to a little bit of Lady Antebellum (country music artist).  Once I felt all pretty, I walked to school with a little country in my step.  I would have turned back for some tissues had I known what I was about to experience during the morning assembly.

I walked up to an open courtyard filled with excited children dressed in ghos and kiras.  Like any first day of school in the world, you could feel the excitement and nervousness in the air as the students hugged their friends that they hadn’t seen for awhile.  I felt like I was one of the new kids and I classically searched for my new best friend, Madam Sonam Choden, to stand next to during the assembly.  I was so overjoyed to be there that I had to refrain myself from giving her a big hug.  She ushered me to the front of the courtyard with all the other teachers, looking out on the children (grade k-10).

The teachers face the students
This courtyard of students is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in America.  For instance, in the numerous American schools I’ve experienced, the students sit or stand with their classmates and teachers in no particular order.  On the other hand, in my Bhutan placement, all the teachers stand in a horizontal line facing the students.  The students are in a "u" shape facing their national flag as well as the huge display of their God of Wisdom.  Our Bhutanese students wear school uniforms and every girl’s hair is perfectly pulled back in a ponytail with a red scrunchie.  The students are organized into several alternating clusters of girls and boys.  Each group represents a competing “house” and has a house captain (leader) who proudly stands in front of their group.  Furthermore, each house is composed of a mixture of ages and they stand shortest to tallest in staggering rows of five, so you can see all their cute faces.  I was at awe looking at this neat configuration of students.

As I stood there gaping at these beautiful, round faces, I could feel about a thousand eyeballs staring back at me.  Maybe it was because I was the only one is Western clothes or with rosy pink lipstick that caused me to stick out like a sore thumb.  When the principal introduced me as their American guest teacher, I found myself waving to the students like I was on a pageant float.  I blame it on the rosy pink lipstick.  So silly!
Students Face This Glass Display,  Flag Pole is Behind It. 
Then two older boys with the most serious faces walked in the middle of the courtyard and gazed intensely at the God of Wisdom.  The courtyard fell silent and I was just about to ask Sonam what in the world were they doing when one started to clap a steady flow of beats.  All the students quickly cupped their hands into a prayer position in front of their chest.  Next, the whole school started singing a prayer in unison while the boy continued to clap out the beat, which was one of the most heavenly melodies that I have ever heard.  I wasn’t expecting this and I hurriedly put my hands into a prayer position too, trying to copy them.  After a few minutes, the boy’s claps increased and the singing turned into chanting.  It sounded like an army of monks and it gave me goose bumps of excitement. 

I Face the Backdrop of Green Trees
As fast as the chanting started, it seamlessly transformed back into the beautiful prayer. Finally, just when I thought the whole thing was over, they dropped their praying hands and took on a strong military stance with fisted hands to their sides.  I didn’t know what was going on and once again I mirrored their stance.  Then I was blown away as they began to passionately sing a soft melody straight from their hearts (national anthem).  At that moment, I felt as though someone was opening up the top of my head and pouring bucketfuls of pure gratitude into my body.  It was electrifying!   

Although I didn’t understand the words because it was in Dzongkha, it was angelic music to my ears.  I felt so grateful to be having this experience that I repeatedly whispered thank you over and over again, hoping to be heard by whatever force got me here.  The students beautiful voices with the backdrop of green trees covering gigantic mountains nearly brought me to tears.  I was soaking it all in and I thought, who hired me? How did I get here?  Is this real?  It felt so magical like I was dreaming or falling madly in love; the kind that last forever.  After they finished singing, I turned to Sonam and asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me that I was going to experience the most beautiful thing ever?  Does the school do this every morning?”  She nodded yes and beamed at my marveling expression and watery eyes. 

After the assembly, Sonam escorted me to meet my fifth graders.  I wondered how good their English was, what exactly would I do with them since I had no school supplies and what did my classroom look like.  This was the second part of my surprise that would make some folks pass out… To be continued in the next blog entry.

Students in their uniforms.  Hands in prayer position!

Above view of morning ceremony

Morning Assembly

School Captain and Prayer Captain leading the morning prayer

The God of Wisdom
Students face the God of Wisdom

The Clock Tower

Overview of the School

Backdrop of Green Trees


  1. Wow I can only use my imagination to see and feel what you're experiencing. You are blessed to be there with the children and it's amazing to have your heart and soul touched everyday.

  2. Thanks I'm going to post some more!

  3. Hey Sabrina. It was so nice meeting you when I came to Bhutan. I would like to send you some boks for the library, but I will need an address to ship them to. I love reading your blog. It's nice to be able to keep up with the goings on even when I'm no longer there.

  4. Oh Shaylah, I'm so happy that you joined my blog. Did Peter forward you my email? It was nice to meet you too and you are still a legend in my 9A class. I loved reading your entries on your school website. You're a great writer.

    Here is the address to the school: Chumey Middle Secondary School, Bumthang, Bhutan

    There are no numbers, zip codes or anything. Just address it to me: Sabrina Soares. The kids will be thrilled. Take care!

  5. Beautiful descriptions, Sabrina! It is so wonderful to see your smiling face again! I know you're going to give this experience everything out of your heart and take in everything it has to offer! :) I am happy you're happy!

  6. Awe it's Marat! Wow what a beautiful comment. Thanks so much. Your the best... I'm even happier knowing that your happy that I'm happy lol.

  7. are an AMAZING WOMAN! I remember talking to you about this at PSI 7:) Thank you for inviting us. I am so excited to follow your blog! Wooo hoooo!!!
    XO Claudia Salinas

    1. Thanks Claudia! You are an amazing woman too. It sounds like you are doing some amazing things too. XOXO

  8. Hi Sabrina! What an awesome first day of school. You looked great!

    1. Thank you Aaron! I like your profile picture lol. Thanks for joining my blog!