Here I am for the first time ever in India where there are cows on the road, narrow roads with potholes you could get lost in, cars and motorbikes that honk loudly and often, and levels of bureaucracy and security that, even as an ex-public servant, I find frustrating.
This is Dharamsala or more precisely, Upper Dharamsala or McLeod Ganj. This town is in the Western Himalayas and I am finally in a place where it is not the rainy season. In some ways it is hard to remember that you are in India here, because this ex-British hill station is home to the Dalai Lama and a great many Tibetans-in exile.
One of my main impressions after two weeks is that this town is a learning environment. The Tibetans are determined to preserve and share their cultural integrity for as long as they are exiled. This means that there are people studying everything Tibetan – the Dharma, the language, the art and also learning about other countries and their cultures. There are classes in languages too – English, German, French, Chinese and probably more.
In the mornings for three hours each day, I work as a volunteer coordinator with one of the main organisations in town: answering enquiries; keeping records; taking surveys; writing reports; and checking written English as required. While I love being part of the staff, teaching is my passion.
So I am pleased to report that on Monday I am starting my other job as a teacher with another organisation. Every day for the next eight weeks I will be teaching their advanced students and I hope we can make lots of progress. I expect there will be some monks amongst the class and hope there will be some women too, but men seem to be in the majority as far as I can tell. I have been given a copy of “Advanced English Grammar” by Martin Hewings which I will use as a basis, but I hope to employ an eclectic range of approaches to keep it interesting and make the learning more effective.
The staff at the organisation where I will be teaching are pleased to have what they call a “professional” teacher joining them and I am (not very humbly) pleased that my hard work studying TESOL at the University of Canberra for two years is being acknowledged.
I have also been turning my mind to next year. I am planning to return to university for a semester to start upgrading my Graduate Diploma to a Masters degree. It is only four more subjects and there are some good ones left for example, Curriculum Studies. There will also be a big decision to make about whether to take on a research project. It is clear to me that, after seeing a number of visitors here in McLeod Ganj conducting “research” for the most indeterminate reasons, I will only undertake a project if it is designed to have practical, immediate outcomes. If the benefits can be for one of the institutions I have worked in, that would be ideal.
So the teaching starts tomorrow. Let’s hope it will be as enjoyable as it was in Indonesia and Thailand.