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Our experiences in Nepal – Deborah Blättler and Carina Beeli, PHGR

On 27th October our big trip to Nepal started. At the airport, we - Carina and Deborah - met Dora and Urs Frey for the first time. During the long journey from Zürich to Kathmandu we were dealing with plenty of open-ended questions. What are we going to face there? How are the teachers going to react to our methods? Is the collaboration going to work? The following day we arrived, full of curiosity, in Kathmandu where we spent the next five days. We had enough time to get used to the biggest city of Nepal and to get to know the culture. Dora and Urs showed us round; we not only visited lots of historic sites but also a small hospital, at which point we decided not to get ill. After a few days in Kathmandu we adopted spontaneity as our motto.

On 3rd November our journey continued, travelling by Jeep from the capital city to Trisuli. It turned out to be a crazy drive and everybody was happy when we arrived safely in the village, which was situated in the hills.

The following two weeks we spent in this area, working in the UPESS (Uttargaya Public English Secondary School). On our first day we visited the classes and observed the teaching methods. We – Carina and Deborah – focused on kindergarten and primary school; at the end of the day we discussed our first impressions. The teaching methods we came across on our first day clearly differed from the ones we’d learned back home. We compiled our observations and discussed some useful ways of teaching which could improve the class.

The next day we started to give feedback after the class to those teachers who were interested. The following days we planned two workshops on teaching methods and motivation, continued visiting the classes and giving feedback. Furthermore we spent a lot of time in the kindergarten, which contained 40 children. There we sang some English songs with the children and the teachers, and showed them some simple games. The nursery teachers were very happy and thankful for our suggestions.

The lessons were normally held in English, even in the nursery with three year old children. The fact that some teachers didn’t feel confident speaking English, complicated the conversation and collaboration. Sometimes problems of language prevented us from getting across our feedback.

On our days off we visited the surroundings of Trisuli. We enjoyed discovering the area and were very impressed by the beauty of the landscape. However, we also became aware of the impact of the earthquake of 2015. We saw many people who lived in little huts under bad conditions without any chance of improvement. We were surprised by the pollution we found in such a rural area.

After two very interesting and instructive weeks we had to leave Trisuli. The school organised a farewell party where students sang songs. All the teachers received a certification for attending our workshops.

We enjoyed the time in this hilly area even though it was no walk in the park. We got to know very different living conditions compared to Switzerland, even compared to Kathmandu. Cold showers belonged to the daily routine, just as much as the surprise of lizards in the bedroom.

From everything that we experienced, we were most concerned by the living conditions of the students and some of the teachers. As a result of the earthquake the building of the boarding school was destroyed. The students now live in two huts, under a perforated roof and without any window glass. This led us to make an appeal for funds to build a new boarding school.

After we carried out our work at the UPESS we went back to Kathmandu for another two days. From the capital city we flew to Biratnagar, the third biggest city of Nepal situated in the plain. There we spent the next two weeks on another project at the B.K.V.M. (Bal Kalyan Vidya Mandir) school. Compared with Trisuli this school was much bigger, containing nearly 100 teachers. The living conditions were also very different from those of the hilly region and we lived in luxury.

With the aid of the list of all the teachers we four tried to visit as many as we could. We started with those who hadn’t been there some years ago when Dora and Urs previously visited Biratnagar. Basically we did a similar job as in Trisuli. Every day we went to different classes where we observed the teaching methods and afterwards we tried to give a useful feedback. We – Carina and Deborah – held different workshops.

We finished our first week with an amazing surprise. The principal took us for the weekend to the foothills of the high Himalayas where we could see Mount Everest. We spent the night in a hotel at 2000 meters above sea level; the following day the principal showed us around.

The second week started with a workshop we held specifically for the teachers of English. We tried to introduce them to some new methods and showed/played with them some language games. During the following days we visited many teachers of English to help them implement the new information. We had a successful week with many classes in which we could see some changes. Many teachers were willing to change something and we noticed their effort.

On our last Friday there was a dance competition for the students. We were invited to join the contest and watch the dancers. In the afternoon we held our last workshop together with Dora. Our topic was games. We played different kinds of games such as math games, concentration games and language games. It was a very funny workshop with a motivated audience. In an amusing way we – Carina and Deborah – finished our placement at the B.K.V.M.

Our last weekend, before we flew back to Kathmandu, was rich in impressions. On Saturday there was a pick-nick for the teachers near Biratnagar. In the early morning most of the teachers went by bus to the place and prepared all the food on the spot over a fire. The four of us and our principal arrived there at lunchtime, ate something before our journey continued to the east. After several hours by car we finally arrived in the ILAM tea area, where we spent the evening and night in the house of a friend of the principal. The house was in the middle of a tea plantation and we had the possibility to drink the tea and visit the factory with a personal tour guide who showed us the whole process from the leaves to the tea bag. That was very impressive and interesting because much of it was still done by hand.

After a short visit to another school we drove back to Biritnagar where the two of us stopped at our school B.K.V.M. to see the children and the teachers for the last time. The school was so big that it wasn’t possible to find all the teachers and children to say good-bye. However, we saw that our work there was valued and that they were very thankful for our contribution.

We are very happy that we were given the opportunity to experience this internship in Nepal. We enjoyed many rich experiences for our work as teachers but also for our own life. Working at two totally different schools in different areas we learned much about the life and the culture of Nepal. In Trisuli we saw how hard and difficult life can be. It was sometimes a big challenge to talk to the teachers and understand what they wanted to say because not all   of them spoke English very well. We could show them possible ways to change their teaching style, but also to make it clear to them that these were just alternatives and not the only way to teach. In Biritnagar we had to be careful too with our feedback, but we had now the experience from Trisuli that made giving feedback easier. The English there was not a big problem anymore and it made communication easier. We felt each day more confident to observe and give feedback and new ideas, and where possible to put them into practice.

Our six weeks in Nepal happened very spontaneously and our decisions had to be made on the spot. We made our preparations day by day. Every day could bring new surprises and we learned to live with it and to enjoy that way of life. The workshops offered a very good and important experience. The challenge was to teach or show people whom we didn’t know well new things about a special topic. The visitors of our workshops were not children whom we were used to teach, but teachers who had a longer career and much more experience as teachers than we had. In addition we had to do this in English, which is not our first language. But we saw that if we tried it out step by step it could work.

To stay and work in Nepal was such a good experience that we want to thank our Teacher’s Training College in Chur for making it possible. We would also like to thank Dora and Urs Frey for showing and sharing so much with us during our stay. We had many happy moments there.

Deborah Blättler and Carina Beeli