Nick Morris spent the last two years in Khaling, Eastern Bhutan, at Jigme Sherubling Higher Secondary School, a boarding school established by Father Mackey in 1978. Nick was happy to chat with us and reminisce about his experience living and teaching in Bhutan.
Tell us a little bit about what your life in Bhutan was like.
Life in Bhutan was unlike anything I ever could have imagined. The people, the environment, the lifestyle – all were unlike anything I have ever encountered before. I was more a part of my community in Khaling than I have ever been before. Whether it was at school with my colleagues or in the town, or even traveling across the country, the people of Bhutan have a way of making you feel special and close to their hearts. No matter where I went I was well taken care of and met new friends from all walks of life. Work was both exhausting and exciting, trying to adapt to a new education system and seeing the fruits of my labour at the end of the year. My free time was filled mostly with conversation with friends, long walks along the mountain roads, soccer games, hikes and nights out at the village restaurant. Day to day life was tough, with chores taking up more time than anyone wants them to. All in all, my life in Bhutan was simple and it allowed me a peace of mind that I have never felt before.
Having spent two years in Bhutan, what do you think will be your most enduring memory of your time in the field?
My most enduring memory of Bhutan will definitely be the people. My friends became like family. My students felt like friends. My community was my home, and the peoples’ faces, smiles and laughs will stay with me for years to come. It’s easy to describe the physical beauty of Bhutan, but next to impossible to describe it’s people; you have to meet a Bhutanese to really get it. I’m still in close contact with several of my friends in Bhutan, and can’t wait for an opportunity to see them again.
What was the most challenging aspect of living in Bhutan?
The most challenging aspect of living in Bhutan for me was learning to work within the Bhutanese educational system. The Ministry of Education is trying to improve teacher accountability, and that means paperwork and documentation of everything. Simply put, there is a lot to do, sometimes so much so that it isn’t actually possible to do it all. Learning to cope with that kind of stress and accept things that I might have felt were unnecessary was a challenge for me, especially as it encroached on teacher morale in the school at times. That being said, teachers in Bhutan are so hard-working and deal with the stress of their jobs so well. Teaching is not an easy job anywhere, but when you consider all of the challenges facing students in Bhutan (i.e. learning subjects in their third or fourth language; facing life-altering board exams), teaching is such a demanding job and my colleagues all try their best to ensure that students have every opportunity to succeed.
How does it feel to be back in Canada?
Being back in Canada is tough. I question my decision to come home on a regular basis. I miss my life in Bhutan and I miss my friends. Over the two years I was away, life in Canada kept moving for my friends and family. When I think about where I am now, in some ways it feels like Bhutan never happened, like it is still 2009 and things are just normal. But then I remember all that has happened in the last two years, how much I have changed and the people I left behind here two years ago have changed. I’m not entirely sure that I belong here anymore – my eyes have been opened to a world that I didn’t really know existed; but at the same time, I’m not quite sure I belong in Bhutan either. So I’m just taking it day by day at the moment, trying to find my footing and decide where it is that I belong now. I haven’t really taken a significant step in any direction yet. I still feel reluctant to do that. This is a bigger, scarier world than the one I was living in for so long, so right now I feel most comfortable sitting back and taking my time rediscovering it.
Teacher Interview: A Discussion with Nick Morris