Keira is a graduate of Queen’s University where she completed degrees in Environmental Biology, Physical and Health Education and a Bachelors of Education with a focus on Environmental and Experiential Education. From 2010-2011 she taught Science, Biology and English to Classes VIII and IX students at Phuyum Higher Secondary School, a boarding school in Lhuentse district. She was assigned the Botany Club-in-Charge and also coached the girls’ soccer teams and other sports after school.
RETURNED TEACHER INTERVIEW
Tell us a little bit about what your life in Bhutan was like.
It is very difficult to answer this question! My life was very different than living in Canada in many ways, and very much the same in other ways. The easiest thing to do is take you on a “day in the life of” Miss Keira at Lhuentse Higher Secondary School in Lhuentse, Bhutan.
I would wake up at 530, and begin to run down the road, through Gangzur village towards the river. As I ran, I would pass villagers, road-construction workers, some primary school kids washing, or my students studying. My run was filled with “hello madam” “where are you going miss” and lots of smiles. After 30 minutes, I would reach a huge chorten (stupa) and walk around it 3 times. I would reach the school and my home again by about 6:40. I would usually be passing the students either on their way to study, on their way to breakfast, on their way back from breakfast, or washing in the hostels. A slew of girls would shout “GOOD MORNING MADAM” as I ran back to my house. Once at home, I would go into the bathroom and have a bucket shower. If it were the summer, I would delight in pouring that cold water over my body. If it were in the winter, I would be so thankful for that immersion heater, and stick it in the water for 20 minutes. While I would wait for it to heat, I would sit in my room, stretching and meditating, preparing for the day.
After I shower, I would dress myself in my kira (traditional Bhutanese dress). Once it’s all complete, I would run to Tsentso and Jimba and get them to “fix” me. Gradually, they had to fix me less and less.
I would eat breakfast and have tea with Tsenso and Jimba. Breakfast would either be biscuits, leftover dinner, or oatmeal, accompanied by green tea, sweet milk tea or coffee (depending on what I had in stock). Then I would head to school to make it for assembly at 8:20. The students would sing their prayers, say a few speeches, listen to the “teacher-on-duty” talk and then head to their classes.
I would go directly to Class 8, as I was their Class Teacher. The first minute of the school was for meditation and after that finished, we dove into our class and the material to cover. School would finish by 3:20, and I would have anywhere between 3 and 6 classes a day (depending on the day). After school, the students would go to prayer for an hour. After that hour, I would be back at the school, either doing remedial classes, or coaching the girls in football. In the evenings, I would go back to my home.
My house was rarely empty, our friends would drop by all the time. In between cups of tea, I would sit and plan my lessons for the next day, or mark my hundreds of notebooks. Sometimes students would drop by for questions, especially just before exams! I would fall asleep between 10pm and 11 pm and start the whole process again the next day!
Everyone’s experience is different, but I very rarely had idle time in Lhuentse. There was always a way to be engaged in the community or in the school. However, it took me a good four or five months to get comfortable in this routine. The first chunk of my experience was much more lonely.
Having spent two years in Bhutan, what do you think will be your most enduring memory of your time in the field?
This one is easy – being surrounded by a loving community. Especially the students. Really. Now that I’ve been away, all of the difficulties and frustrations that come with living and teaching in a totally foreign community go away. I remember how generous and kind my students were – this is the image etched in my retinas. I was always so taken care of.
What was the most challenging aspect of living in Bhutan?
Emotional isolation. I said before that I was surrounded by a loving community, and I had many very close Bhutanese friends, but still, we sometimes feel alone just because we often carry some different values and ideas. We face different difficulties than our Bhutanese colleagues. It was good to have other BCF teachers to be in contact with while we were over there.
The other challenge was of course teaching in a system that we didn’t understand at first. As we come from a different culture, we need to be perceptive and figure out what things could be changed in the school, and what things shouldn’t be. There are some things that we should definitely not change. Figuring this out was a big challenge, but an important one to tease apart.
How does it feel to be back in Canada?
Overall, it is definitely great to reconnect with those people who I missed so much while overseas. Overwhelmingly, people have been incredibly supportive of me, and have tried to help me in whatever way they can.
However, it does feel different, and I have been a bit shaky in getting on solid footing. Having been immersed in a very different culture for two years, it’s not easy to get back into North American life, nor do I necessarily want to. It is great to reconnect with friends and family, but we come to realize how busy everyone has been here, and that their lives may have taken them on many different pathways. Also, for me, returning meant looking for a job that can pay off my student loans and a place to stay. It’s a little bit stressful in that regard.
The other difficult thing is trying to understand everything that has changed since I’ve been gone. Friends are all over the place, or married, or working on building stacks of degrees on their desks. When we are in Bhutan, we understand that our lives are not the same as our colleagues. But when we come home, we can’t quite understand why our lives are so different from our friends. Also, while teaching and traveling, we run into other North Americans who have similar ideologies, life goals and values. We feel like we can relate to those people best. When we come home, it is difficult to find those people who share those common ideas. It can feel a bit lonely and isolating. However, this all depends on where you land.