I’ve been getting a lot of private emails from teachers who are thinking about coming to Bhutan. This is really exciting! And I'm so happy that so many people are interested in teaching in this amazing place that really needs good teachers. So I thought I’d do a general Q&A for anyone who is thinking of teaching here! I always tell everyone who contacts me that they shouldn't base their decision on my experience because everyone teaching here has such a different experience depending on where they are. Please keep this in mind while reading - the teacher who lives just 45 minutes away from me is experiencing a teaching and living situation that is so completely different from mine - the weather, accommodation, school, people, food, etc. I also came here not knowing much about the country and that has been so great! I know everyone wants to be prepared but it really is so great finding out everything for yourself as you go along. It really isn't so scary and can be a lot of fun! If you have any questions that I didn't cover, comment below and I'll answer them for you.
1. What happens when you first arrive?
When you first arrive at Paro Airport someone from BCF will fetch you and the other teachers. You’ll be with the other teachers for about two weeks for an orientation in Paro and Thimphu (the capital city). Please remember to enjoy this as much as you can! I really miss my BCF friends now that I’ve been away from them for so long. All your meals and accommodation will be covered and you’ll also have time to learn a bit more about Bhutan and teaching here during the morning meetings which happen daily. You’ll also need to purchase all of the things you’ll be needing for your new home in a rural village - mattresses, pots, gas stoves, fridges, etc. You never know what you can and cannot get where you’ll be placed! The Bhutan Canada Foundation then starts the journey east while dropping off teachers at their placements along the way. I'm so grateful to have come through BCF because they really look after us so well!
2. When do you start teaching?
I can’t remember the exact dates but school starts sometime in February. We arrived here a few days before and were able to unpack and explore the village. The first few weeks of school are really confusing, and thats totally normal and okay! You shouldn't panic or try to be getting everything done. I asked a lot of questions (A LOT) and just learned to let go and accept that there were going to be a lot of times where I didn't know what was going on at all. The main thing is to get to know the kids before you start teaching them anything.
3. Am I the only foreign teacher at my school?
I am currently the only foreign teacher at my school, but we will be getting a Japanese volunteer teacher in August. Yay! I know that all of the other teachers don't have any other foreign teachers at their schools and you won’t be placed at the same school as another BCF teacher.
4. How is the school day structured?
All schools differ but I think the general structure is the same. It might be different for boarding/high schools. I teach at a Lower Secondary School (Classes PP to 8) and the younger children have fewer periods in a day. The day begins with Social Work where the kids clean up the school campus. They work in the flower gardens, clean the classrooms, pick up litter and clean their own toilets. I really find this so amazing and wonder why the western society doesn't do it as well. The children here clean up after themselves, know how to use pick axes and cut grass with a sickle. We then have morning assembly which includes meditation, prayers, the national anthem, speeches and announcements. Each teacher at the school has a chance to be the "Teacher on Duty" and they sort of look after the school for the day and make the announcements during morning assembly. It works on a rotation basis so I'm generally the TOD every two weeks.
The first period begins after morning assembly. There are 7 periods in total and they are generally 45 minutes to an hour each (depending on the day or your school). There will be an interval time in between to drink tea and then an hour lunch break. At my school we all bring a packed lunch of rice and curry and share out all the curries. The women eat together and the men eat in another area. This is very common in Bhutan. I know that lunch situation is not the same at most schools - most of the other teachers go home for lunch.
The teaching day generally ends around 3:45pm and then there is an evening prayer (which the TOD is in charge of) followed by sports and cultural activities. All the schools in Bhutan also have a Club Day once a week. Each teacher takes on a different club and you have students sign up for it. There is Art Club, Nature Club, Literacy Club, Democracy Club, Scouts, UNECSO and you can typically choose which one you're comfortable with. You could even introduce your own club if you have a specialised interest!
5. What’s it like teaching on a Saturday?
Saturdays are a half day and you go home for lunch and the rest of the day. In the beginning I really didn't think it would be so bad. I mean, what else are you going to do with your time here in a rural village in the middle of no where? I also thought that you'd have the afternoon and Sunday off so there would be enough time to see and do what you want. This really isn't the case for me and many of the other BCF teachers I've spoken to. Many of us really are in the middle of no where - I'm actually an exception because I'm quite close to a "main town" but I still haven't really left my village in the 5 months that I've been here! Its really challenging to get anywhere and be back in time for school on Monday morning. It also takes a lot of time to get anywhere in Bhutan, especially if you live in the east and it takes you a two full day bus trip to get to the capital city. So in summary, teaching on Saturdays are one of the biggest challenges and frustrations I face here in Bhutan. If you come to teach in Bhutan know that you will be doing exactly that. Its not going to be a holiday where you get to see a lot of Bhutan. You have to be really dedicated and passionate about teaching because thats what you're going to be doing here!
6. What are the class sizes?
I teach English to Class 3, Class 4 and Class 5. I live in a well developed village and so there are many people living here with a total of about 300 students at my school. This may differ if you are at a more remote school. My Class 5 class is the largest with a total of 46 students and the other two have 34 students in each. It seems like a lot but I haven't found it challenging to manage the children although the space can be difficult because everything is so cramped.
7. What is your salary like?
You earn the same as a Bhutanese teacher does and it seemed like such a little when I first converted the amount to my own currency. I really didn't know how my husband and I would be able to live off such a small amount, especially because my husband isn't allowed to work in Bhutan. The salary is MORE than enough. We even have extra expenses like internet, which the other teachers don't have and we spend a lot on internet! But I typically have about half of my salary left over every month after buying all the food and electricity, rent and internet. Its really crazy and I'm sure if you are here alone you'll have even less expenses!
I'm glad to have money left over every month because coming here was very expensive in the beginning. My husband and I had to use a lot of our savings for flights and insurance and all of the household items that we needed to buy. I think its important to know that when you initially get here you have to use a lot of your own money. My accommodation and food was covered for the orientation but because my husband was not working as a teacher, we had to pay for all of his expenses. There was obviously an extra flight, health insurance and visa, etc which also increased our expenses. So if you're planning on bringing your spouse you should keep that in mind. This is a volunteer position and you shouldn't be doing it to make any money at all.
8. How are your living conditions?
Living conditions are really basic in Bhutan. It can be scary when you first think about what you're actually going to have to cope with everyday like having to boil all of your water or bucket bath but it honestly isn't bad at all! The local people do it every single day and its really refreshing realising what you can actually go without. I can't see myself going back home to a normal house and living a life with so much luxury, it would honestly make me feel so guilty because I see what people have over here.
All of our drinking water needs to be boiled and filtered before drinking because of Typhoid and other bacterial diseases. You also have to boil your water if you want to have a warm bucket bath. There is a squat toilet that doesn't flush so you have to do it manually by pouring water down the hole. We have very little furniture - our sleeping mattress is on the floor and the only tables and chairs we have are those borrowed from the school. We bought a gas stove so we use that and our rice cooker for cooking. We have electricity and running water but these can be really unreliable, they can often go off for a few days but luckily my village is pretty constant. Some of my fellow teachers only have water outside their house so they have to get it from there if they want to bath or cook, etc and some even have their toilets outside (this is if you pick a "rural" placement). I think its best to just expect the bare minimum!
9. Do you live near the school?
All of the BCF teachers are placed within in walking distance from their school because you'll obviously have to be walking everyday. Some are even placed in the school quarters which is where all of the teaching staff live on the school campus.
10. What’s your grocery/food situation like?
I consider myself quite lucky because my village/town is developed and it is less remote than many of the other placements. I didn't choose to be in a "urban" placement but we were put in Rangjung because it gets really hot and we're South African so we can handle the heat! We're only twenty minutes from a really big town and we can get most of the grocery items from there in our village as well. Many of the other teachers have to drive to a main town to get many of the things we get down the road in our market which is really convenient.
Every village should have basic shops that have everyday vegetables, rice, tea, sugar, toiletries. People do live there so you'll be able to survive. All of the fruits and vegetables are organic and fresh and its relatively easy to be a vegetarian like me. Meat and fish is served at functions and when you visit the locals. I haven't seen any meat shops in my village and I think you can only buy it in the main town (I wouldn't really know!). The meat is very different to back home as most of it is imported from India. The Bhutanese dry it out and they look like hard chunks. Eggs are readily available as a source of protein and I find a wide variety of fruit in my village because we are in a relatively tropical region. I really enjoy the Bhutanese cuisine.
11. What’s the application process and interviews like?
The application and interviewing process through the Bhutan Canada Foundation can be quite lengthy, but I think that if this is something that you really want to do then it won't matter. There is a lot that you have to fill out and you have to go through two interviews, there are lots of documents that you need to send and then you have to constantly wait to hear if you are accepted into the next round. But really, if you just do it step by step and do what they ask it isn't so bad.
My first Skype interview went really well and the second one went horribly! I honestly didn't think I got the job because I wasn't able to answer any of the questions (literally). The second interview was a panel of four Bhutanese teachers and people from the Ministry of Education and they each get a chance to ask you content and teaching based questions. I specialise in Foundation Phase teaching and most of the questions were based of the higher grades so I really didn't know how to answer them at all. I think its best to be really enthusiastic and honest, its better to admit that you don't know the answer rather than answering it completely wrong. So don't worry about the interviews too much, just be yourself.
12. What does my husband do for work?
My husband is professional photographer (you'll notice most of the photographs on my blog are his). Because he is not working as a teacher he is on a dependant visa and therefore isn't allowed to work for money while in the country. He does a lot of photography volunteer work in Bhutan and works abroad when he can. Most of the work he gets is in the capital city which is a two day bus ride away which means he is gone for at least four days if he wants to do any work. This can be really challenging and inconvenient. I think its important to think about what your spouse is really going to do if they decide to accompany you here without any work. We are lucky because my husband enjoys having lots of time alone and he is able to do a lot of work with his photography, but I'm not really sure what someone else would do if they had other interests.
13. Did I get any vaccinations?
So this is a personal choice. I'm not a doctor and my doctor even advised me to get a whole bunch of shots before I came here, but I didn't get any. Malaria and Typhoid are the big ones I worry about but I'm really careful and haven't gotten sick yet. Luckily malaria isn't present in my placement and Typhoid can be avoided if you don't eat the raw, unpeeled veggies and boil your water properly. Some teachers have previously gotten these diseases so again, its totally up to you if you want the vaccinations or not.
Teaching in Bhutan has really been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and it really has made me realise so much about myself and passion. I think that if you are passionate about teaching and travelling then you should definitely give this a try! So many people want to travel to Bhutan and can't because of the hefty tourist visa, and even then they don't get to experience anything like what you do when you teach here because solo travel is not allowed - you are only allowed to tour the country with a guide. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
You can check out Teach in Bhutan for more information about applying to teach in this wonderful country.