Volunteer story of the month: A Wonderful Experience

By Wayne Schlegel  /  December 1, 2017;

My wife Leslie Potter and I have had the privilege of teaching English at Lha for the past two months, she in the Beginners class and I in the advanced. It has been a wonderful experience on many levels, both professional and personal, and we wholeheartedly recommend it to both seasoned and novice teachers. Every day, we left work with a sense we were making a difference in our students’ lives. We have taught in schools around the world, many of them offering generous salaries, stylish classrooms and high tech instructional aids, but none offering such a high degree of job satisfaction.

We have each had teaching careers of over forty years, and nowhere have we found more eager or more delightful students. Perhaps because our students’ lives reflected the unique economic and social challenges all Tibetan exiles face, they were keen to learn as much English as they possibly could and didn’t shy away from asking questions (a trait we have observed in other Asian classrooms). Whatever their current ability, they always wanted to progress to the next level. Although they were serious about their education, they were also playful. Each class was filled with laughter and good fun. Perhaps because Leslie and I had had a lot of classroom experience, Lha let us design our own lessons and provided an extensive library of teaching materials we could use in our preparation.

Throughout our stay, Head Teacher Lobsang, Volunteer Coordinator Rabsel, and General Secretary Dorji have done their best to support our teaching efforts. Moreover, the constantly rotating cast of volunteer English conversation partners reinforced our lessons during the hour-long open conversation class held each day.

Our personal involvement with the Tibetan cause started with a visit to Tibet more than thirty years ago where we saw firsthand the devastation China had visited upon the country. A caretaker at Norbulingka Palace there showed us a back room stuffed with smashed Buddhist statues and we walked amongst the ruins of portions of Ganden Monastery which had been bombed. We were truly appalled. We fell in love with the openness of the Tibetan people and were impressed by their spirituality (especially conspicuous after spending the prior academic year teaching at a leading university in China, officially atheist). Since our visit, we followed news of Tibet with growing concern. When we learned about Lha earlier this year, we decided to take some time off of paid teaching and see what small contribution we could make to support the exile community. Our decision to come to Mcleod Ganj and volunteer for Lha has been right for us and we are confident that this choice will be right for others. We will miss our students and colleagues here at Lha and wish them success and happiness in the future.

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