In my last blog post on May 2nd, I spoke a little bit about my first day of teaching and the difficulties that arose. Teaching has made me question the role that I play while volunteering abroad and has made me aware of the power and privilege that I hold. Sometimes this can be disheartening, but since my first day I’ve had several really positive interactions. I want to share two of them to balance out my last post, which was largely negative.
The first was with a group of students in the advanced conversation class. Generally, the class splits into small groups with one teacher per group, and talks on one subject. I had a group of about 6 people, and the topic of conversation was “fears”. We finished talking about fears a little early, and sat around getting to know each other a little. One monk asked me what I was studying in university, so I told them that I was doing a BA in international development. Almost immediately, one of the students asked “what does development mean to you?”
I have been asked this question in almost every IDEV course that I’ve ever taken, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to hear it in an English conversation class! I told them a little bit of what I thought, and then posed the question back to them. We had a heated discussion about what the goals of development should be, whether or not Canada should be seen as an ideal, and the role of technology in development. It felt, to me, like a real exchange and a mutual conversation, in which we were all learning together.
Another positive exchange that I had was in Dharamkot on Sunday afternoon. It is about a 15 minute walk from McLeod Ganj, and several of us walked there after we visited the Masroor Rock Temple. We had a chai and walked down the main street, ending up in a jewelry and scarf store. The owner of the store was so eager to share his knowledge and his story, and we stayed there for quite some time as he taught us how to tell the quality of woolen shawls (the heavier and less plucky a shawl is, the better). He was also interested in getting to know us and where we came from. Before we left, he invited us back anytime to have tea with him, so that he could chat with us and teach us about the rocks and minerals that he sold.
We have been experiencing a lot of new things in the past week, and for me it’s easy to get hung up on the negatives, and to spend all my time reflecting on moments and interactions that did not go well. While I’ve had many disorienting and negative experiences here, I’ve also had lots of positive and productive ones. I’m learning that both are equally important, and that it’s hard to understand one without the other.