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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bhutanese Students and A Western Teacher

How did I end up in Bhutan not knowing what my teaching schedule was going to be or what Bhutan's schools were like?  This was the question that kept ringing in my head on my first day of school in Bhutan.  As I walked to my class to meet my fifth grade students, I wondered how well they spoke English, what exactly would I do with them since I had no school supplies yet and what did my classroom look like.  I pondered about what I would do if we couldn't understand each other since their first language is Dzongkha or the local language, Bumthap.  Even though they had been learning English since kindergarten, I didn’t know if their English was strong enough to engage in reading comprehension, writing, etc.  I had no clue what to expect or even how long the day would be.  However, I was still engulfed in a cloud of love over the morning assembly that these thoughts had little effect on me.  Nevertheless, this was a day of many surprises...

The first surprise came on my way to class.  Whenever I would pass by a student of any age, they would bow to me and say good morning madam.  This made my eyes bug out of my head like a cartoon character.  I couldn't imagine anyone bowing to me all year.  Finally, as I was approaching my class, I could see all my fifth graders beautiful, brown faces pressed against the windows waiting in anticipation for the lady in pants.  A couple of students were even posted outside as “the look out students” and when they saw me coming, they swiftly ran into the classroom shouting in Dzongkha that I was near.  In an instant, I could see the class scrambling away from the windows and I could hear a stampede of feet tramping to their tables.
My Cute Fifth Graders

Next, I entered the building and came upon two narrow shutter doors.  I could hear the kids whispering up a ball of excitement behind the mysterious doors.  The way the shutters opened up into the classroom, made me feel like I was walking into something grand and I was.  As I stepped in, twenty-five kids eagerly stood up and in sync shouted, “GOOD MORNING MADAM!!!” (Madam is for married females, so they should have clearly said Miss, but they usually refer to all women as Madam). They remained standing up giggling and looking at each other with blushing cheeks until I realized that they wouldn’t sit down unless I gave them permission.  After I told them to please sit down, they chorally responded, “THANK YOU MADAM!!!”  Hmmm how respectful, I thought, I think that I can get used to this. What a huge change…


I noticed that they were sitting on little square wooden stools and I wondered if their backs or butts ever hurt.  Two to three kids shared a white rectangular table.  My attention was drawn to a green chalkboard on the wall.  I thought, Wow, I haven’t used one of these since I was in elementary school.  Why didn't I bring a chalk holder to write with?  I started to cringe remembering my grade school teachers covered in chalk and having to clean chalky erasers.

Sitting on Wooden Stools
I went on to introduce myself. I talked slowly with my hands, drawing pictures on the chalkboard with the tiniest, crumbliest chalk, which a student found abandoned on the floor from last year.  As I babbled on, I wondered if they were comprehending my English.  So I made a few jokes and yup, they sure understood me as they bursted into laughter.  At that moment, I knew that we were going to have a fantastic year together because they have a great sense of humor and we were already sharing lots of laughs.  Joyful kids are so easy to teach and laughter makes learning fun!  After my introduction, I taught them a few games that require no materials and it was a great ice breaker.  I occasionally play these games with my American students and I don’t know what it is about Heads Up Seven Up and Four Corners, but kids love these games.
Hard Workers
While modeling and explaining the games, I was please to discover that they could follow my instructions in English.  However, I had been worried about their English speaking skills because I was told that my greatest challenge would be creating a dialogue in the classroom.  Others told me that the students are more accustomed to teacher center learning instead of student center learning, so they struggle with creative thinking and they tend to be a little shy, especially if their English isn’t so perfect.  As the day continued, I became very optimistic that this would be an easy challenge to overcome over the school year...who knew that a rock collection could bring so much joy and creativity...(to be continued)


  1. I added some new features on my blog. Under the followers on the upper right corner you can sign up to follow my blog by email or click below on "subscribe by email." So whenever I write a new blog, you will get an email of the link. I will be posting a series of new blogs this week about teaching in Bhutan. I also added the buttons so others can share about Bhutanese students on Facebook, twitter, email to other teachers/friends, or to share it on google. These buttons are just above this comment. Have fun sharing it with other teachers or students. It's truly interesting!

  2. Sabrina, a wonderful post and I'm glad that such a teacher like you from outside is teaching with lots of enthusiasm and finding it lively with the kids of Bhutan. Keep up the good work! Hope you have a wonderful time in Bhutan. Loved going through your post and keep posting. Great pics by the way...:)

  3. Thank you! That is such a nice comment. I looked at your blog and your a good writer. Good luck in your studies and keep following us throughout the year.

  4. Thank you for the compliments and yeah I do follow your blog and will be a regular reader throughout. Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you are coping well with the minimal and not-very-nice facilities in Bhutan. Nice days ahead! :)

    1. Yaaa! Subscribe to my blog by email because I have been so inconsistent with postings, so this way it will email you when I share a new blog post. I get all honored when Bhutanese people read my blog lol. I think that Bhutan is so beautiful that it makes up for some of the not so nice bathrooms lol. Other than that Bhutan is going great. Well I am on my way to help build a shed for the yathra factory. Nice days ahead of you too:-)

  5. I get all your updates. So, don't worry. lol Bear with the bad bathrooms for it's compensated by beautiful environment of Bhutan then. lol Wow, you seem to be bonding well with the community outside school also. That's nice of you. You will look nice in some yathra clothes. Great job, Sabrina! :)

  6. Heads up 7 up is universal fun! Lol