In summer 2015 I was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Well it is a misfortune one would say, but not so rare nowadays with millions of people diagnosed with various cancers every year. My major issue and concern, however, was the fact that my tongue is my working tool – as for the past 15 years (alongside other activities) I have been teaching languages, mostly specialising in teaching Russian to foreign learners in London and all over the world.
Fast forward half a year.By winter 2015 I had had two operations which had part of my tongue and three dozen of my lymph nodes removed, six weeks’ radiotherapy and associated treatment. I boarded my campervan and travelled around Europe to have the quiet opportunity to relearn speaking, gradually building up the number of sounds in English and Russian I could pronounce. By spring 2016 I got back to teaching, yet my confidence in my ability to teach was shattered and I frequently felt useless. I thought I’d need to finish my teaching career and move forward. That’s when it struck me that it would be great to use the last weeks of my teaching for a good cause.
I went online and googled… Lha. For some time I corresponded with Rabsel, the volunteer coordinator, who was welcoming and said I would be of use as an English language tutor when I arrived.
One early June day, just before lunch, I climbed a steep narrow staircase leading from the Temple Road, stepped over a Buddhist calm red dog curled up on the threshold – she did not even care to open her eyes to look at me – and then proceeded to find Rabsel in his office. Rabsel and a volunteer Paul were busy answering emails, yet dedicated sufficient time and a number of smiles and jokes to make me feel comfortable and reassured me that I had come to the right place. As it happened they were in need of a teacher to take over the Intermediate English class the following week – something I did not feel particularly at ease with given I am not a native speaker. Yet, they were so nicely persistent that I agreed. I also offered my services as a one-to-one tutor for a couple of students and off I went.
I taught at Lha for three weeks, my afternoons busy teaching and preparing for classes, as well as talking to other volunteers about their experiences. The number of students in my Intermediate class nearly doubled in these three weeks, so I humbly believe I did something right. It was a magnificent experience, challenging, but enjoyable and some moments – I am sure – will stay with me for years: like coming up with funny examples of the present continuous tense but used for the future, and the colourful clothes of my monk and lay students sitting on the floor, deeply involved in translating English texts.
It is a year since my diagnosis and thanks to the wonderful and inspiring students at Lha I have decided against leaving my teaching work, but rather I am going to invest in CELTA training (training in teaching English as a second or foreign language) to be able to help others in their English language learning journeys.