Name: Natalie Bannister
University: University of Victoria
Subjects: Art, English, ESL
Ages You Teach: High School, College
Where do you teach? Tashitse Higher Secondary School, Wamrong, Trashigang
What do you teach?
I currently have four sections of English 9, I run the school’s Drawing & Painting Club, am one of two school counsellors, and am one of the literary coordinators for the school’s magazine.
Why did you choose to teach in Bhutan?
It chose me. When the BCF was recruiting teachers last year I was ready to travel and work overseas. I
simply responded to a job listing sent to me by the university. I wanted to do something totally new and so when the BCF responded favourably to my application, I decided to just go with the flow.
Coming to Bhutan in particular was not pre-planned.
What is teaching in Bhutan like? How is it different than teaching in Canada?
Resources are quite limited; gone are the days of running off a two or three-page handout for each student in the class! If you need special supplies such as chart paper or rubber bands be prepared to be persistant. It also helps to be very polite and friendly to the store in-charge.
What is the one piece of advice you can offer teachers considering teaching in Bhutan?
Do it! And bring some multi-vitamins.
What is the most important thing you have learned so far from your experience in Bhutan?
That the world is actually a very small place. Cultural/lingual/religious differences don’t run nearly as deep as one might think they do. Once you start to talkto people and begin to get to know them you learn that we are all fundamentally human and not really that different after all. This was quite humbling for me.
What has been the most difficult adjustment to life in Bhutan?
Learning how to do simple tasks on my own has been difficult. Things like shopping, taking the bus, paying bills, and seeing the doctor are all run on different systems than what I’m used to. I just wouldn’t know where to go or who to ask to do these things. I constantly needed someone to come with me to show me where to go or what to do so I did feel like I lost a little of my independance; although I was certainly grateful for the help! Also, outside of my school most things are not done in English. So, especially at the beginning, when I shopped for vegetables or had to see the doctor, I needed a translator. After being here for six months I can proudly say I can go shopping by myself!
What is the best part about teaching in Bhutan? 100 % it’s my students. They are the funniest, weirdest, sweetest kids I’ve ever known. All 136 of them. They make me laugh everyday. No, they’re not perfect and of course discipline and work ethic are issues, like they are in any classroom in the world. But nothing quite beats looking back from writing on the chalkboard to see the most serious-looking boy in your class in the middle of his impression of a dancing tree (while teaching personification in the poetry unit) or having students jump up in the middle of the lesson to erase the chalkboard for you. My students are kind of nuts and I just love them to pieces.
What are the essential qualities of teachers who will be successful in Bhutan?
I think the most important quality is that you have to have a sense of humour, and be able to laugh not only at yourself, but also at lesson plans that go horribly wrong because your students have no idea what a chimney is or that “y” is sometimes a vowel, at lunches where you don’t actually start eating until 3pm, and at meetings or plans that never happen at all. A close second in the list of most important qualities is the ability to be flexible, for much the same reasons that you need a sense of humour. Also, if you have any sort of strong aversion to insects you won’t do too well here. Sometimes giant moths hit me in the face when I’m trying to sleep. And I once found a scorpion in my bathroom.