Living and learning in India

The Butter CafeSo, after a few weeks in India, surviving my separation from my luggage and contracting bronchitis, I am settling into life in McLeod Ganj, India.

My English class at one of the local English schools,  which is operated by a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) consists of young adults, mostly Tibetan. They are a small but dedicated upper intermediate group and we are working hard together for two hours a day. When we aren’t following the coursebook, I have been encouraging them to give book reviews about the readers they take home. To my great delight, extensive reading is valued at the school and it has a well equipped library full of up-to-date readers. The students seem to love reading and mine are always wanting to read the books recommended by their classmates. The picture below shows a segment of the full library.

One of the books my class is reading is a graded version of The Rabbit Proof Fence and that has given me the opportunity to talk about Australia. We listened to the National Apology to Indigenous Australians and the Tibetans understood the power of the language and its deep significance very well, with Tibet being dominated by the Chinese. Living in exile from the their country, many Indigenous Tibetans in India and other countries live in hope for the day when they can return to their home with full rights to follow their culture, religion and language.

Last week I started an additional songs and poetry class for all levels and have so far introduced two songs. I am not sure that teaching The Cure songs to monks is the most appropriate thing I have ever done, but they took it in good spirit and, by the end, were singing with very clear pronunciation, if not always in tune. We looked at the rhythm, rhyme and symbolism and I will get the students writing their first simple poetry next week on the theme of colours.

I am on the lookout for local Tibetan poets who are experimenting with writing in English now to use as examples for my class and tonight I will attend the launch of a new book of poetry. Hopefully it will be good for demonstrating that poetry writing is accessible and rewarding.

Before teaching each day, I get a taste of being a language learner at the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives. We have two very different class teachers and between them, I feels that I am strengthening my basic Tibetan and ironing out some of the bad habits I have formed. I feel so glad to have this opportunity and know it will lead to better things as I continue to develop my language skills. These are exciting times!

Post script – Saturday night: the poet, Ten Phun, was great and is going to come and talk to my class.

Tibet charity library

balcony view

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Counting down

Tibet World entranceThere are only 14 days to go before I fly from Dharamsala to Delhi to Sydney. I have settled into a routine here – going to work at Lha in the mornings where I help write responses to emails from volunteers from all over the world, taking a lunch break and then heading for Tibet World to teach students for two hours.

As I promised myself, I have been trying to help the students with their writing and they have responded well.  They are keen to hear what I think about their latest pieces of writing and are getting used to incorporating feedback into new drafts.  I gave a presentation about writing to the volunteer teachers at Tibet World.  The volunteers teach a range of languages apart from English so I tried to accommodate this and to make it relevant for all proficiency levels. There was a good discussion at the end, so hopefully that was a good sign.

The members of the English class seem much more relaxed now and even the most reserved students are finally smiling and contributing in class.  This has resulted in a much better atmosphere where they are participating and helping each other much more.  I am looking forward to our last two weeks and hope we get a few more good lessons in.

The picture of the class was taken while they were absorbed in writing.  We had studied a model and they were silently writing their own narratives.  They are all deep thinkers, and despite the limitations of their English, they all produce work that reflects their schemas.

monks writing - advanced class

In addition to covering the grammar items listed in the program, we have been working on areas they still find confusing, like question word orders.  I think next week is a good chance to continue to help with common errors, so we will try using Learning From Common Mistakes (Cambridge) .

So I am turning my mind to going home and tying up all the loose ends here before leaving. The University of Canberra has accepted my application to continue my studies and am looking forward to university life next semester. My TESOL studies have played a crucial role in the quality of my teaching and I definitely want to keep improving.

I am also looking forward to meeting up with other TESOL graduates who have started teaching so we can share our experiences. Who knows, maybe I can encourage other students to spend some time volunteering in Asia like I have.  There is so much waiting out there and I can guarantee that it’s a richly rewarding experience.