Its long past-due that I introduce myself here, but honestly, the time has flown by since I've been here, and I can't believe that it has already been more than five months since my arrival.
My name is Brodie Lewis, and I'm from the United States. I had the good fortune (or karma, perhaps) to be hired as the visiting English teacher, and arrived in October. For the last two years I've been teaching English in Taiwan, and I'm happy to leave the concrete jungle of Taipei (where the population density in the neighborhood I taught in is 41,000 people per sq kilometer) for the old-school jungle of southern Bhutan.
But more than just the geographical relocation, I feel extremely fortunate to be teaching the monks at CGI, to be a part of Lhomon Education, and to be working under the guidance of Khyentse Rinpoche. And most of all, to have the twenty students that I do as my pupils on a daily basis.
For a teacher, having good-natured, inquisitive, and motivated students is about as good as it gets, and my students have blessed me with that (alright, most of the time). For the last five months they have amazed me with their memories (remembering the definition of a word I casually mentioned weeks before), their questions (even the difficult ones, like "who is great in your village?") and good humor in rain or shine. It seems no one told Bhutanese monks what teenagers are supposed to act like.
That's not to say that the assignment is completely without its challenges. I think particularly of the difficulty of achieving the beginner's mind necessary to understand the educational needs and abilities of young men and boys who have come of age in a world so different from mine. Even explaining a shopping cart can be a challenge to someone who has never been in grocery store. And then, of course, choosing, as the teacher, what is important enough to teach them. Every teacher has an internal hierarchy that they try to draw from in terms of what to teach next, and it is a bit of mental gymnastics to monitor and reconfigure that here, in a place where they don't have traffic lights or stop signs, and have never used email, and you're never sure when those things might happen.
As much as I've been trying to teach, I've also been trying to learn from my students, and respect all of the intelligence they possess that will never show up on a standardized test. In Taiwan I remember reading a newspaper article that was showing the correlation between lack of natural sunlight and poor vision in children, and how some children, from spending all their time indoors studying and looking at screens were getting to the point of legal blindness. Its hard to imagine that happening here. In Bhutan, like, probably, most rural agricultural places, life seems to be outside. And not just the walking which seems to be such a part of daily life, but being in nature, learning from nature, experiencing nature. You can take a twenty minute walk through the woods with any of the LME students and they can tell you (in Sharchop, at least), the names of the animals they see, the birds they hear, and the names of which plants are edible, which are medicinal, which can be used to make brooms, and which you can surreptitiously throw at your friend to stick on his robe. In a recent straw poll, two of the students had used a washing machine, while 19 had herded cattle, and even 10 had woven! There are a host of skill sets among the monks of Bhutan that are very foreign to the young men of my home country, and they never cease to have things to teach me, or the enthusiasm to share it.
Luckily I have found myself working for an organization that respects this extant knowledge, and has the goal of augmenting the students' understanding of life rather than replace it with inapplicable foreign pedagogy. It has been a rewarding challenge to work on developing and implementing an integrated curriculum that is so tailor-made to suit these students.
I look forward to the rest of my time living, teaching, and learning here. Keep an eye on this space for updates!