My teaching responsibilities here are officially finished! I won’t pretend that I’m terribly upset about that, but I am sad that my time here is coming to an end. I’ve made some great friends, and it will be hard to say goodbye to them.

The last days of extra classes with the class 9 kids were good. We made it through two dramas in their book, and I think that the kids understood the main ideas of both. With our foolproof story-teaching formula, how could they not understand? As long as you explain the story 5ish times, you’re set.

I’m glad that Jenrika and I are on the same page about the kids needing to be able to think for themselves. We’ve both been trying to work on that, and it makes me feel like everything I tried to teach them over the last couple months isn’t going to go completely to waste after I leave. I feel bad that she’s going to have to continue the efforts alone, but hopefully we’ve laid some sort of foundation… maybe?

My workstation… aka the desk in my bedroom

My afternoons have been spent working on the architecture plans for the addition at the Bible school. Okay, not all of the afternoons. I’ve also spent some time reading and swinging on the roof, but now I’m running out of time, and I really need to get those plans done. It takes SO long though. I don’t have the computer programs that are usually used to make plans, so I’m drawing them by hand. As if that didn’t already take forever, I also don’t have all of the tools that you would normally use for hand drafting. I have a pencil with those points that you take out and stick in the back of the pencil when they go dull, an eraser, and a ruler. That’s all. Fully equipped, I would have a drafting table with a slide rule, a ruler, multiple pencils of various hardness, a sharpener, a triangle, shape stencils, an architecture scale, and a thin eraser. At the very least. Since I don’t have all of those things, it’s taking me much longer than it otherwise would, and my drawings are definitely not going to be as precise as they should be.

I am enjoying working on them though. I have everything mostly figured out, so now all I have to do is draw lines… well, and covert dimensions so that the drawing is to scale, but that only requires a little thought. Even with that, it’s a relaxing task, and it will fun to see the finished product… assuming I ever manage to finish.

The crew!

Today, however, was an exception! To celebrate our last day of extra classes, I went to lunch with Jenrika, the other teacher who’s been teaching this week, and two other teachers from school. It was so much fun! I really did feel like a normal person, and even though they didn’t speak in English all the time, they at least TRIED to. If a conversation went on for too long in Nepali, someone translated to clue me in. It was really nice.


Me and Jenrika, the English literature dream team

We were going to go for a walk after lunch, but the wind started blowing dust around (I’m telling you, the dust is one of the worst things about being here… If you were here, you’d understand why people sometimes wear face masks. Breathing that stuff in is not good) and it looked like it was going to rain. We went back to Jenrika’s house instead and just hung out. I felt like I was back home hanging out with a bunch of my friends. It kind of stinks… I finally feel like things are really coming together for me here, and I’m leaving in a couple of days. Well, all I can do is enjoy the time I have left and celebrate the fact that I achieved my goals of making real friends and feeling like I belong.


We also played dress up, and who doesn’t love that? Jenrika is from Bhutan, so she has a bunch of traditional Bhutanese clothes. They dressed me up in a kira… and when I say, “they dressed me up”, I literally mean that I was like a doll. I don’t know how anyone dresses themselves in these outfits. First, I put on the wonju, a long-sleeve, sheer blouse (long sleeve like it went about a foot past my fingertips). Next was the kira. It’s just a big, rectangular piece of fabric that you wrap around you. They put a “half-kira” on me which means that it only went up to my waist instead of all the way to my shoulders. The toego goes on top of that. It’s like a jacket with sleeves that go about to your fingertips. The sleeves of the wonju and the toego are folded up together, the toego is secured with a brooch, your hair goes up in a bun, and you obviously also need to add a necklace.

Getting ready for my modeling career.
Bhutan and Tibet… and the USA and India… So many countries represented in one picture!

By the time they were done with me, I felt like a queen. I also felt like I was going to melt into a puddle because the kira was like a blanket and the toego was NOT lightweight. Jenrika also had a traditional Tibetan dress, so one of the other teachers put that on and it was like an international clothing party. It’s really cool visiting these places where the culture and traditions are so strong and SO different from home. What would the traditional dress of the United States be? Jorts (jean shorts, for those of you not down with the lingo) and t-shirt?

We’re supposed to hang out again today, so cross your fingers for good weather! (I know, how weird is it that I have actual PLANS! To hang out with friends! As if I’m a normal human!)

Extra classes started this week, and the kids aren’t any happier about it than I am. Jenrika asked them if they had a good break, and they all just stared at us and then grumbled. When she asked if anyone did anything fun, they all said no and “we only had a week!”. Eek. I don’t blame them though. I thought that they had a week off, two weeks of extra classes, and another week off, but I was wrong. They had just that one week off and now have THREE weeks of extra classes before the “holiday” is over. Yeah, they definitely have a right to grumble. Everyone else in the school gets a month off, and they get a week. Brutal.

I thought it was hard teaching on a normal school day, but the extra classes are even worse because it’s THREE hours of the same class. If I didn’t have Jenrika to split the time with me, I would be losing my mind. Even so, by the end of each school day (noon), I just want to collapse into my bed and sleep until morning.

We were with class 10 for the first three days and used the time to tackle Julius Caesar. Shakespeare is hard enough for students when English is their first language… so we knew that we had some struggles ahead of us. The first day was a total nightmare. It’s like the technology gods were conspiring against us. We wanted to show the movie first so that the kids could be introduced to the plot that way, and we would fill in the gaps and details later.

The “conference room” where the kids pretend they’re not falling asleep because its dimly lit and I sweat excessively from the heat of the projector.

The video file refused to play on the smartboards, so we eventually stopped trying and relocated to the chapel to play it on the projector there. Okay, great! We got it to play… but the sound didn’t work. I got my bluetooth speaker and connected it to my computer (since we didn’t have the cable to connect the chapel computer directly to the speaker), and we tried to press play at the exact same time on both computers so that the sound and video would match. So the chapel computer was playing the video on the projector, and my computer was playing the sound on my bluetooth speaker. Ideal, right? If you’re thinking that’s the end of the struggle, think again.

With about 40 minutes left, the power went out… which means the projector stopped running. At that point, I was determined to finish the stupid movie. I just wanted to get it over with so that we could move on and never have to deal with the video file again. My horrible solution? I held up my tiny computer and had the kids crowd around for the rest of the movie (but what other choice was there?). I chimed in whenever something important happened to explain it, and we somehow managed to slog our way through. It didn’t quite go as we had hoped, but a horrible first day meant that things couldn’t get worse.

The other two days went quite well actually, and I’m not just saying that because I’m comparing them to the first day. I think that we’ve mastered the story teaching technique. This is how it goes:

  • Introduce the story and give any important historical context, etc
  • Talk about where in the world the story is taking place. Show a map.
  • Introduce the main characters and give the most important information about them.
  • Define the most important vocabulary words… the ones that, without understanding their definitions, the kids won’t understand the story (for Julius Caesar, examples would be: assassinate, betray, democracy, dictator, etc).
  • Give a brief but thorough plot summary.

If you’re thinking, “Wow! That’s a long process, and you haven’t even started reading the story yet!”, you are correct. Okay, continuing on:

  • Read the story, pausing every few lines to explain in different words what is happening.
  • Ask questions about what happened in the story, walking the kids through the plot again.
  • Show a video that summarizes the story again.
  • Talk about the character traits.
  • Have the kids answer some questions in the textbook about the story.
  • Write out a plot summary for the kids to copy into their notebooks.

In case you weren’t counting, that’s about five times that you go over what happens in the story. FIVE TIMES. At least I finally figured out what works, just in time for me to leave. Jenrika said that she likes my strategy though, so maybe it will live on in my absence.

Post-school relaxation swing… on the roof!

By the end of the third day, they were doing a satisfactory job of answering our questions about the story, how the characters must have felt, and why different people decided to act the way they did. It only took 9 hours of class, but we did it! That’s nothing short of a miracle. I also learned a lot because I never read Julius Caesar in school, so I had to learn the whole story along with the students. Thank you, sparknotes! Though I will admit, understanding Shakespeare was surprisingly easier to do now than it was back in high school. I guess I have learned something over the last… 8 years…

Next up, three fun-filled (said with much sarcasm) days with class 9! I have my fingers crossed for a pain-free experience.

Today’s adventure in teaching included me, a smartboard, and the story of Cinderella which I partly stole from the internet and then mostly rewrote myself. I didn’t really like any of the options that I found, and I tried to change the wording so that the kids would actually understand the story. I was hoping that some of them would know it already because we’re working on practicing visualization. It is so hard to teach people how to do something that you now just automatically do in your brain! For those of you unfamiliar with the official English teacher terminology, visualization is when you read something and make mental pictures to go along with what you’re reading.

“The little girl stopped to pick the wildflowers that grew by the side of the road.” I’ll start you off with a good one.

We’ve been working on this for a few days now. I tried to explain it to the kids as “making a movie in your brain”, and I got the “you’re insane” blank stare/eye blinks from most of them. They had homework last night to draw pictures to go along with some sentences I gave them, so that’s the artwork you’re enjoying in this post. Some of them were awesomely well done, and some of them were just awesome for other reasons… hehehe. I was laugh-crying in the staff room as I graded a few of them. I know that’s not very nice, and I shouldn’t be laughing at the artistic skills of my kids, but please, just give me this. I need something to get me through the day.

Anyway, today was Cinderella, our first attempt at visualizing something longer than a sentence. To help you visualize class, just imagine me solo-acting the entire story of Cinderella. I was Cinderella. I was the fairy godmother, explaining to the class what a “wand” is. I was ugly stepsister #1 AND ugly stepsister #2. I was the prince. In my opinion, I gave a very compelling performance. The kids even laughed at me at some points which I see as a positive because it means that they were paying attention (also, this is a total sidetrack BUT… I was thinking today about how much I don’t care if they think I’m ridiculous because I’m twice their age. And then I realized that I literally am TWICE the age of some of them. You know what though? I think that’s kind of awesome).

“The crowded street was filled with people, cars, and motorcycles.” Id like to draw your attention to the people who are face planted in the top two streets.

I don’t want to be too optimistic, but I felt okay about how things went. When something happened in the story, I asked how they thought certain characters felt about that thing. That’s an area where they were really struggling a couple weeks ago. To be able to understand how a character feels, you need to have a decent understanding of what’s happening in the story and who the characters are. That means that you need to see it as more than just words. It needs to be a story that feels somewhat real, and the characters need to be people/creatures with thoughts and hopes and feelings.

Anyway, who really knows? All I can do is try my best and hope that something sticks.

“The two friends walked through the scary forest in the middle of the night.” Check out the ghosts in this one.

Also, I was thinking about it and I realized that with as much as I complain to you about the kids and their English skills, I need to make something clear. Yes, some of them stink at English, but they, in general, are still way more linguistically accomplished than I’ll ever be. Most of the people here are amazing, in my opinion, when it comes to languages. My favorite question to ask people is how many languages they speak. In India, there are SO MANY, and the people I’ve met generally know at least three pretty well. The states all have different languages (and more… there are over 100 languages spoken in India and over 1500 dialects), the two national languages are Hindi and English, and in Jaigaon, there are so many countries close by that it helps to know some of their languages too.

More scary forest!

So for example, here, it would be normal for someone to speak Bengali (the state language), Hindi, and English at the very least. Then, many people also know at least some Nepali because that’s very prominent here. After that, they might know a few more. Most people I ask know somewhere from 3-6. They usually say that they know three or four well and the other 1-3 aren’t great but they can get by.

This one… facepalm. My sentence literally said “in the middle of the night”. That is definitely a sun. A HUGE sun.

Want to guess how many Pastor Daniel can speak? Ten. That’s including Korean though, and he said that he’s not fluent. Ha. He’s in the process of learning #11, one of the major languages of Bhutan (Dzongkha). Ready for what I think is one of the craziest things? The church service here is advertised as “Hindi and Nepali”. After weeks of wondering and since I can’t tell the difference, I asked Ruth how it can be both. She said that the songs are a mix, usually the scripture and prayers are in Hindi (but maybe Nepali if that’s what the person is more comfortable with), and when Pastor Daniel preaches, HE USES BOTH. For the entire sermon, he’s translating for himself! Am I the only one who thinks that’s insane?? Ruth said that he’s so used to it now that he doesn’t even need to think about it. That’s crazy!!!

This girl is my hero. How beautiful is this???!!! I gave her a 6/5. She deserved like a 10/5.
She. Is. Amazing. I love this. I love it!!!

Oh! Another thing… Ruth and Pastor Daniel grew up in different states which means that their families and the languages they grew up speaking are different. Okay, that’s not SO crazy, BUT… then they moved here and had kids, and their kids don’t know the languages that either of them grew up with because no one speaks them here. Let me try to create an incredibly simplified semi-equivalent for you. I speak English and some Spanish. Imagine that I marry someone who speaks French as his first language and also some Spanish. Then, he and I only speak in Spanish to each other because that’s the only way we can communicate. When we have kids, they learn Spanish, and they also learn German and Italian because a bunch of people who live near us speak those languages. We don’t bother teaching them English or French because no one around speaks either of those except for us. One difference between my attempted equivalent situation and the actual one is that many of the languages have different alphabets too, whereas all the ones I listed use the same one. So there’s another level of complexity to add on.

Anyway, everyone here is so nonchalant about languages. “Well, I know three fluently and can read and write too. I am okay with three more, but I’m not completely fluent yet. Oh, and there are two others that I can understand but can’t speak. What about you?”

That’s when I lie, and imaginary Lara is completely fluent in English and Spanish and at least 50% fluent in Armenian. Actual Lara is fluent in English, a generous 50% in Spanish, and an extra generous 2% in Armenian (but I can read it, so we’ll bump me up to 3%). And everyone THINKS that I can speak Nepali, so that must count for something, right?

Yesterday was a fall-asleep-while-writing kind of day, so I decided to call it quits and go to sleep rather than post a pile of nonsense. The last two days, Ruth and I have been doing morning walks, so that means a 5AM departure to avoid the heat and the dust. She wanted to do 4AM, but like… how? If we’re eating dinner at 8PM, that already means 8 hours of sleep is impossible. All those nights of little sleep add up to me eventually crashing and going comatose for a whole day. No exaggeration.

Myra managed to wake up to join us yesterday (and by “managed to wake up” I mean “was forced out of bed by her father and not given the option of not coming”), but today it was just me and Ruth (apparently Myra got smart and locked everyone out of her room). We mostly just powerwalked, but it still made me feel good all day. I missed that feeling… you know, of not being a total bum.

Smog-filled sunrise from a trash-filled field.

We walked to a field about 10 minutes from the house and then did some laps around there. I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else exercising, but the field was actually a pretty happening place for 5AM! There were a few packs of ladies walking back and forth and some solo guys running/walking/potentially doing yoga but maybe just lying on the ground (corpse pose?). When we got back, I did some stretching and tried to summon back the flexibility and strength that I had 3 weeks ago when I last worked out. Too bad it doesn’t work that way, right?

My first real classes were yesterday, and in both class 9 and class 10, I planned to have the kids read stories from the textbooks. There were only a few issues with that plan: 1) I only have one copy of each book and 2) the reading and comprehension level that the textbook assumes is not even close to right. The vocab and the structure of the included pieces is way more advanced than the kids can handle. I guess I just need to do whatever I can to simplify and over-explain things.

The class 10 period was not great. I wanted to have the kids each read a couple sentences and then pass the book, but everyone whispers when they’re reading and they’re horrible at staying focused and it’s hard to follow along just by listening in a language that’s not your own. I don’t think anyone had any clue what the story was about by the end. I knew that I had to do something different for class 9, so in my one period break, I typed up the class 9 short story and pulled it up on the smartboard so that they could read from there.

That worked so much better!! After each person read, we went through and talked about all of the words that I thought they might not know… which ended up being practically every other word. That was a little discouraging. I don’t have time in the next 4 weeks to catch them up on years of material and language skills, but I am going to see if there are any reading strategies I can teach them so that they at least have some tools to help them in the future. This is a learning process for both of us.

In class 10 today, I typed up their story too, and we completely re-read it. I’m hopeful that maybe it worked? We’ll find out soon enough. Next step is teaching some vocabulary. I picked out words in both stories that I think are good to know, and they will learn them. I’m determined (and determined is one of our vocab words).

The other current struggle is homework. Everyone just copies each other, and with writing assignments, it’s incredibly easy to tell. They all use the exact same words, same order, same errors. I mean, if you’re going to copy, at least put in some effort. I gave them all 3/5 for their copied homework (which I thought was VERY generous… should have been a zero for all of them), wrote “Don’t copy!” on their papers, and outrage ensued.

One person says, “but they copied off of me!” I say, “how am I supposed to know who copied who? All I see is that your answers are the same. And did you let them copy you?” She looks at me with a why-does-that-matter face, “yes.” The next person says, “why did I get a 3/5?!” I say, “did you copy from someone?” “Yes. But why did I get a 3/5??” Oookaaayyy… tomorrow we’re going to have a fun talk about expectations, what “cheating” means, and the importance of homework. Woo! Jenrika, my English teacher friend at school, agrees with me, so at least I have some backup.

Well, it happened about a week earlier than I was planning, but on Wednesday, I had two English Literature classes to teach. Okay, no pressure. I didn’t have anything too crazy planned for the day because I wanted to have some time to get to know the kids, try to gauge their levels and just cover some introductory stuff.

The school… Those kids on the top floor must be in fabulous shape because there are A LOT of stairs to climb to get there.

I have a new friend at school, Jenrika. She is covering the English Grammar classes, so she told me that if I have any questions, I can ask her. Thank goodness because I have lots of questions, and even though I’ve asked her about a million so far, she doesn’t seem even slightly annoyed by me. She also speaks English very well which is a nice break from the constant communication struggle that I have with so many people (it usually goes something like: say something, see confused face, say thing more slowly, see confused face, rephrase, get answer to question you didn’t ask, rephrase one more time, finally get the answer you were looking for. It won’t be like this forever though. I just need to learn how people speak here/what kinds of words they use and adjust accordingly. Give me another week or so). Anyway, Jenrika is my savior and the only reason why I have any clue about what’s going on. I think she has a good information source in the office too because she has the most accurate school details like when breaks start, adjusted class schedules for events during school, etc. I can already tell that she’s a good friend to have.

My first class was with grade 10 (or 10th standard as it’s called here), and I started out by introducing myself, giving a little info about my background, and explaining what I studied and the basics of what goes into designing a building. After that, we started talking about literature. I had the kids introduce themselves and say their favorite genre… which was a struggle and got me thinking that these kids don’t read outside of school. Since I’m all about setting unrealistic goals, I’m now determined to instill a love of reading in them, though I’m certain that won’t happen with the readings we have in the textbook. Maybe I can find something more fun to read after we get a few weeks in.

The courtyard

Anyway, from there, we talked about what literature is, different genres and formats, and attempted to make a list of reasons why literature is important and why we study it. They’re such high schoolers… the reasons they gave were mostly “to improve our English”, “to improve our reading skills”, etc. When I tried to explain that you can learn something from reading, that you can learn about what it’s like to be someone else or to go to a place where you’ve never been, they looked at me like I was a nut. Okay, goal #2, convince the kids that this is true. For homework (because I can assign homework because I’m a real teacher and everything), I gave them two questions to answer:

  • Why is it important to be able to see a situation from someone else’s point of view?
  • If you could go on a trip to anywhere in the universe, where would you go, and why?

Question #2 is super easy, but I have a feeling they’re going to struggle with #1. That’s okay. These are mostly so that I can see a little bit of how they think and evaluate their writing level.

After that, I went and did the same thing with 9th standard. They looked at me like I was even more of a nut, and that made me happy that I started with 10th. I guess we’ll see what we end up with. There’s no class until Monday, so that’s more than enough time to come up with something. I’ll be fine with them writing practically anything. Being able to talk your way around a question you don’t understand is a good life skill.


I wanted to spend a couple of days at the school just observing and getting a sense of how things work, so that’s how I spent Monday and Tuesday of my first week. On Monday, Andrew and I went to the school assembly in the morning, were welcomed as honored guests, and said a few words of greeting in which I sputtered out some nonsense again. I’m not good at the whole honored guest thing. My goal is to become a normal human as soon as possible so that I can stop being treated like I’m some sort of royalty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice and I appreciate how welcoming everyone is being, but I’m going to be here for two months. At some point, I need to stop being a guest or else everyone is going to get sick of me. I don’t want to feel like a burden!

Can we all agree that there’s nothing worse than on-the-spot public speaking? Or is it just me who feels that way?

We spent the morning going around to different classrooms and sitting in the back to observe. I tried to melt into the background so that the kids would stop staring at me like I’m some kind of alien and start paying attention in class, but I’m not a very good chameleon.

Learning Hindi with the 10th graders

After two mornings of this, I went to talk to the school coordinator to try to figure out how I can fit into the school. It’s very hard to get straight answers out of people here. I say, “what do you need help with?” and they say, “what do you want to help with?” NO! That’s not the point. I want to fill in existing holes, not create holes for myself to fill in. Does that make sense? I said, “is there anything that the kids aren’t learning that you think would be helpful?” She said, “you can teach them whatever you want.” AHHH!!

Kindergarten class learning about fruits

Finally, I squeezed out the information that one of the English teachers has been sick, and no one is teaching her classes. Also, one of the Science teachers has to leave at 11, and no one is teaching his afternoon classes. Perfect. This is exactly what I was looking for. I said that I could definitely take on both of those things, so that’s how I found myself assigned as the English Literature teacher for grades 9 and 10 and the Science teacher for grade 8. This is ideal because without me, they would be learning nothing, and I’m at least better than nothing. Low-pressure situation. I agreed to start teaching on Wednesday… so much for taking a full week to get my bearings! It was good though because then I had a sense of purpose and stopped feeling like such an imposition, taking and taking and giving nothing back. Anyway, she gave me the textbooks and just like that, I was officially a teacher. My qualifications: I’m from a different country and speak English.

View from the school roof. They have a nice covered part, and I asked what they use it for. Taking tests, apparently. Can you imagine taking a test with this as your view??

Oh yeah, another important thing to note. I’ll tell you more about the school later, but everything there is taught in English (besides the language classes of course. I think they take Bengali and Hindi). Since the students are from such diverse backgrounds and all speak different languages, English was chosen as the school’s official language. That’s good news for me because otherwise, I’d be worthless.

The pastor’s conference meeting

Monday and Tuesday were both very busy! Monday afternoon, there was a women’s prayer meeting with women from all of the churches in Jaigaon. Our church was hosting, so that was nice and convenient for me. I understood approximately zero things that were said, but it was still a cool meeting to be a part of. They prayed for India and for the community and probably some other things too. I prayed silently to myself until I started falling asleep from the warmth and having my eyes closed. Oops. Then I just sat there and willed myself to stay awake.

Random fun fact… my bed got eaten by termites!

Tuesday night was another meeting, but this one was a part of a pastor’s conference that was going on. They gave out certifications to the new pastors and then the conference speaker shared a message. The best part? The whole thing was in English because the pastors came from all over, so that’s the common language. The speaker was awesome. His name is Rev. Dr. Ivan Satyavrata, and I’d recommend looking him up if you’re interested! He talked about how our greatest challenge is accepting the call that God puts into our lives. We have to make a decision about who/what owns us. Is it money, comfort, etc or will you give Him your life? It was a good message for me, especially right now where my future is so up in the air! I left feeling so encouraged, both by his words and by the atmosphere created by the people there. The Holy Spirit was definitely filling that room.

Okay so this is what I was trying to explain about the hospitality here. They asked me what fruits I like. I said apples and grapes. The next day, this was delivered to my room. Keep in mind that they are also feeding me at meal times… it’s not like they’re starving me and I need food in my room to survive.

The more time I spend here and get to know this community, the more excited I become for the rest of my time in India. I have so much to learn from the people here, especially Pastor Daniel and Ruth. They have an amazing story and amazing faith. This is going to be a good environment for me to keep growing in my faith and in my confidence in general! I can already tell that I’ve made a lot of progress since the beginning of my journey, simply based on the fact that the thought of teaching on my own doesn’t throw me into a total panic anymore. And if they keep putting me on the spot unexpectedly, maybe I’ll even learn to quickly form coherent thoughts instead of just babbling.