Volunteer job at Lha: English Intermediate Class, English Advanced Class and Contributing writer
It would be impossible to do justice to the kaleidoscope of cultures and beliefs that one finds upon arrival in McLeod Ganj. So where to begin?
The cornerstone of my time in Dharamsala has been teaching the English advanced class at Lha. Being stopped in the street by students and addressed as “Sir,” I’ve gradually learned to identify myself with my role as a teacher.
The classroom environment here differs significantly from that of the West (and not just because there are scattered pillows taking the place of desks and chairs). For example, the motivations that bring students to class are radically different: students join LHA classes because they have realised the intrinsic power of education, and know they can use foreign language skills to shape their future for the better.
For that reason, all of the students I have encountered – Tibetans, Indians, Nepali, Bhutanese, Japanese, Thai, Mongolians – were not only determined to learn, but also extremely grateful. They took every chance to demonstrate their feelings – sometimes in the form of a handshake at the end of class, sometimes a whispered, heartfelt, “thank you”.
Outside of the classroom, the volunteer suddenly switches from being a teacher to a student – a most humbling experience. This community is a truly vibrant hub of international cultures from which you can learn. It is small enough that you can become familiar with its people but diverse enough that you’ll never be bored. Whether you are interested in learning about Tibet’s socio-political issues, Buddhist principles or Yoga practices, you can find it all in McLeod Ganj.
Over the last months I have found myself in a host of these different situations, from drinking tea with monks to spending sleepless nights watching football with sports fanatics. During the weekends you can hire a taxi – or better still rent a motorbike – and drive to any of the nearby gems hidden throughout the Himalayan ranges. But should you visit a magnificent fort where Alexander the Great spent the night? Paraglide off the top of a mountain? Enjoy the placid Pongdam Lake? The choice is yours.