|Chumey Middle Secondary School|
When I first arrived at my school in Bhutan, I was shocked when a couple of students bowed to me as I walked passed them to the courtyard. At first, I told myself that my eyes where playing tricks on me and they must have bent down to look at their shoes or something on the ground. Then I could no longer deny that students were deliberately bowing to me as I reached the courtyard to find groups of them going out of their way to arch their backs and show me the top of their heads while their legs were stiff. As they all bowed, they shouted, “Good morning Miss!” I was stunned!
However, my brain still couldn't comprehend the concept of students bowing to a teacher as it’s unheard of in American schools. So I chuckled assuming that they were mistaking me for someone of royalty or for someone with a very important title since I'm a foreigner. I had no idea that teachers were such an honored profession that students bow to them as a sign of respect.
In fact, it took me months to get use to hundreds of students of every size and age bowing to me all day long whenever they saw me. In the beginning, it felt so weird to have children bowing to me that my instinct was to mirror them. For example, once when I walked by my ninth graders playing an intense soccer game, to my surprise, the soccer game ceased and all at once the students graciously bowed to me while yelling, “Good afternoon Miss!” I was so shocked that I didn’t even realize I was bowing back to them saying, “Thank you, thank you. Good afternoon!” The students all laughed, as they had never seen a teacher bow back to them before.
As a result, when some of the teachers at my school saw me hesitantly and awkwardly bowing back to the students, they would quickly correct me by saying, “No Sabrina. We don’t bow to the students; they bow to us. Don’t do that!”
Then I would explain in embarrassment, “I can’t help it. I have never had anyone bow to me before. In America, students don’t bow to their teachers, so it feels strange when they bow to me. If I asked a student to bow to me in America, they would laugh thinking that I was crazy or they would be insulted thinking I was full of myself. You don’t understand, I have never seen anyone bow to another person unless it was in some kind of fairytale movie. This is surreal to me.” My explanation always seemed to make my colleagues laugh because it was surreal to them that American students didn’t bow to their teachers.
Now, I have been teaching in Bhutan for almost a year and if finally feels normal to have students bow to me even when I'm in a passing vehicle. Although I have trained myself to not bow back, a bowing student still never fails to make me smile and I always say thank you to them for being respectful. I just wonder how I am going to get used to students not bowing to me whenever I teach in America again.