The 3 things you need to teach in the Himalayas
Posted on 16-02-2016 by Ashley Mathews
This week’s post is written by Ashley Mathews who previously taught English in the Himalayas and now works for our incredible partner charity Trek to Teach.
If you’re interested in teaching English overseas, and have begun doing your research, you’re likely familiar with some of the great destinations you can teach at. Favorites such as Thailand, China, Korea, and Spain offer some amazing experiences. However, today i’m going to share with you an experience unlike anything you’ve seen before, a destination that requires you to climb to a whole new world – the Himalayas! That’s right, Trek to Teach – a member of MyTEFL’s Giving Back program – welcomes you into remote communities living deep in the Nepalese Himalayas to teach English. Just so long as you’re not put off by a 2 day hike through waterfalls and breathtaking valleys to get there! So if you’re up for a truly unique teaching experience in Nepal, here’s the 3 things you’ll need:
1. An open mindWhen deciding where I wanted to study abroad I knew I wanted to go somewhere drastically different from home (Oregon, USA) to expand my view of reality; What I got far surpassed my expectations. Life in the Himalayas is tranquil, full of rich tradition and frankly quite simple. I was given a much needed break from the college pressure of deciding what I wanted to DO. While teaching English in Nepal I learned the meaning of BE. This learning came from setting aside my view of the world and picking up a new pair of glasses. I wanted to embrace what it meant to be Nepali. What is their daily routine? How do they celebrate life? What do they eat? I was diving head first into a new rabbit hole and with that came some contradictions to American ways of life. For example, here is the U. S. of A., you could say that beef is a significant contributor to some of the staple dishes of American cuisine. Eating a hefty steak or burger is a regular occurrence for many and I had never really thought twice about it. Then I went to Nepal. During Tihar, festival of the lights, there is a day purely dedicated to celebrating cows. The idea is that their production of milk symbolizes that of a mother which is to be honored and respected. Not only do the cows receive beautiful flower necklaces and blessings on their holiday, they ALWAYS roam the streets freely and are never eaten. Holy cow! The idea of celebrating cows was foreign yet extraordinary to me. Living in Nepal taught me that nothing is absolute. What I consider normal is just my version of normal. For me to say it’s “normal” to eat beef disregards the 900 million Hindus who would say otherwise. And this isn’t to say that after going to Nepal I’m now “beef free” (because I’m not), rather I have an appreciation that there’s other ways to see things. With that, I say have an open mind, and be curious; Nepal will not disappoint.
2. PatienceGood things take time to master, especially teaching. English classes in the Himalayas are for the most part taught in Nepali. Much of the instruction mimics what educational philosopher Paulo Freire would call “banking” style of instruction. Teachers will read an English sentence aloud and instruct in Nepali for the students to repeat the sentence back to them; Similar to call and response, or Freire’s idea of depositing information to fill students, storing it and then withdrawing it back. While there is value in this technique for memorization, the context was missing for students. Then I came in, speaking ONLY English, full of holistic ideals about education. I had to be patient with my students, fellow teachers and importantly myself for success to arise. The blank expressions from my students eventually softened as they got to know me and my style of teaching, but it took time and lots of laughter at my acting out of English words. As much as the internship was new for me, it was just as unfamiliar for them; both parties had to adapt. There was an adjustment period where I had to learn my students’ knowledge base of English, and they had to adjust to a teacher who didn’t speak their language. I knew how important repetition was while teaching ESL, but the delivery of instruction could be varied in nature to keep the students engaged and excited to learn. One of the Nepali teachers and I were talking over tea one day, and he inquired about my teaching techniques. He had asked my students what we do in class and they said “we play games!” You can imagine his reaction as he was a believer in direct instruction. He recognized that the students were enjoying themselves but were they learning? He wasn’t the only sceptic. Many of the teachers thought it was a tad bizarre that I’d take the kids outside for our class period. Teaching outdoors was foreign to them, but I knew that retention of information came easily when it was presented in a captivating way. I slowly invited my fellow teachers into my classes to observe and eventually try the new techniques. They started to notice that students retained and applied information more effectively when they enjoyed the learning process. But it didn’t happen overnight. I worked up to it by building rapport with the teachers until they felt comfortable enough to try something new. “Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.” – Aristotle I had to apply this quote to myself first and foremost. I knew I was going to teach my students English, but I didn’t know how or what techniques would be most fruitful. Some lessons were useful, and others absolutely failed; I had to adapt and not get down on myself when things didn’t work the way I’d expected. Reflection allowed to me slow down and not let my own ego get in the way of most effectively teaching. In America we live in a society where expectations are set extremely high, and success is expected overnight. As rapper Mos Def would say, “How you got high expectations but got no patience?” Set an intention, and be open to the outcomes. With a goal that’s flexible, you may find an easier path to reach it!
3. Essentials, forget the restThis last tip seems to go without saying, but it’s a lot easier said than done. With any trip out of the country, it’s natural to contemplate bringing everything you might need. I found myself trying to plan & prepare for potential “what if” scenarios prior to leaving. Looking back, I’d say bring your hiking boots, appropriate clothing and something unique from homeland to share with your students, and you’ll be set. Life is simple in the Himalayas and the more you embrace it’s simplicity, the better your experience will be. You’ll be surrounded by friendly people, breathtaking peaks, and a peaceful culture. With less “stuff” you’ll become resourceful and try the Nepali ways of doing things; not to mention make the load lighter for your travels. These three principles have transcended my internship to bring me where I am today, nearly two years later. Trek to Teach truly rocked my world and gave me the keys to unlock a whole new perspective on life. With an open mind, patience and the essentials, I’ve found life to be easier and have more meaning, I hope nothing but the same for you! Are you ready to start your TEFL adventure? Take the first step by getting your TEFL training and certification. MyTEFL’s online courses give you all the training and certification needed to teach around the world and help support great organisations like Trek to Teach.
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