I am Megan a South African educator who taught in a rural village in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan for a year (Photos by Dylan Haskin).
After a trip to Laos in Southeast Asia some years ago, I fell in love with the idea of teaching in a rural school. We have plenty of them back home, but the idea teaching completely out of my comfort zone was something that excited me.
After literally typing “rural teaching placements” into Google I came across The Bhutan Canada Foundation, an organization that recruits volunteer teachers to the tiny kingdom, and I filled in the online application without really thinking too much about it.
It was only once I was invited for an interview that I decided to look up more about Bhutan, and notify my family that we might actually be moving there! Everything from that point began happening very quickly.
I passed the application process and we began selling our things back home to prepare for this major life shift.
Even days before we arrived we really didn’t know much about this place. Recently, it has gotten a lot of media attention and it is beginning to get noticed for the gem that it is. But a few years ago, there really wasn’t much for me to find on the Internet. My fellow volunteer teachers had known about this country for years and it was basically some of their life goals to experience Bhutan, whereas I had absolutely no idea how unique of an experience it would be – and to say I was blown away is an understatement.
Bhutan is nestled in the Himalaya, between India and Tibet, and has a population of fewer than 800,000 people. It is well known for the concept of Gross National Happiness that permeates everything they do; it is even included in their school curriculum. Basically, Bhutan is known as one of the happiest countries in the world.
I was placed as far away from the capital, Thimphu, as you can probably get. It took me two days on a 12-hour bus ride to get to Thimphu. That’s provided the bus doesn’t break down on the steep Himalayan passes, which it often did. Let’s just say I went twice, for my mid-year break and at the end of the year. Besides that, I was in my village for the year and I was deep in it.
I adjusted surprising quickly to my new life despite it being drastically different from anything I was used to. I remember waking up in the morning and having to heat my water with an electric coil that often shocked me. I would then have to bucket bath before walking through the rice paddies to the school where I worked. I would pass the students on the way and they would bow saying “Good morning, Madam!” Sometimes I was called sir if they were younger and their English wasn’t too good.
The school didn’t have many resources but I think growing up in Africa helped me with this, as I was used to making my own class materials. Class sizes were big with up to forty students but, for the most part, it was easy to manage. Living so closely with the community meant that students were often in my home and wherever I went I would pass familiar faces.
I was the only foreigner in the village but my fellow Bhutanese teachers took me in and they quickly became my second family. I have never experienced a community like that before and even thinking about that time now brings tears to my eyes because it was the most beautiful experience I have ever encountered.
The Bhutanese are the kindest, most accepting and giving people I have ever known. They had so little but they were always inviting me for meals and sharing whatever they had.
This way of being, I think, has shaped the way I am to this day and I feel like I am always finding ways to live by their example.
Saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I remember the night before we had to fly out; I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to get on the plane.