“Now I’ll let our volunteers from the UK say a few words…”
250 eyes turn expectantly towards me. I haven’t prepared to address the entire senior school in assembly, but as a British volunteer I am an object of great interest to those I’m working with at my school in Nepal. They love to ask me to speak about myself and the UK without many further instructions. Whether it is the spontaneous speech or presiding over a class with limited English ability in a lesson that has taken on an unexpected direction, working as a volunteer teacher it can be a daunting prospect. However, I believe that it is one of the most exciting, mind-expanding and valuable things you can do during a gap year.
Once you have become familiar with your students and the school, it is surprisingly easy to conduct lessons and get involved with school life. Students tend to be enthusiastic and receptive to learning in a way English students are not and the fact that you are from a different country will make you an instant celebrity! Furthermore, if in Nepal, you will probably be working in a relaxed atmosphere where people are more likely to respond with amusement than disapproval if things don’t go quite according to plan. One afternoon I was in full flow in a class when it began to snow outside. Most of the kids had never seen snow before. There was an excited rush towards the door. I closed it to prevent the students running out, only to turn around and realise that the entire class had scurried out of the other door (oops, outwitted by a bunch of 8-year-olds). After a moment of mild panic, I noticed that the playground was packed with pupils and teachers running, jumping and celebrating in the snow.
Learning about a different country and the inhabitants’ approach to life is easy when you are immersed in the culture through being part of a school. Nepal is rich in festivals and Nepalis tend to be incredibly hospitable and friendly so there were plenty of opportunities to go to weddings, people’s houses and local festivals. My local friends enjoyed putting me in saris, slapping massive tikas on my forehead, presenting me with plate after plate of traditional food and educating me about their rituals and ceremonies. One festival I will never forget is ‘Holi’; the feast of colours. It is celebrated as people throw coloured paste at anyone in range and the streets descend into an en masse water fight between all those willing (and unwilling!) to participate. Another volunteer and I innocently popped out in the morning of the festival to do laundry. We were immediately attacked with colour by fellow pedestrians and people whizzing past on motorbikes, water balloons and buckets of coloured liquid crashed down from all directions and paint was smeared on our faces and in our hair. We raced back to the safe haven of our guest house, soaked and extravagantly adorned with a messy selection of colours. There was no option of a shower as the manager and his family had exhausted the guest house’s entire water supply drenching unsuspecting passers by, so we decided to join in the fun and launch a few of our own attacks at the water balloon wielding Nepalis on the opposite balcony.
My experience in Nepal was rich, illuminating, sometimes challenging, often bizarre, and never boring. I thoroughly recommend volunteering in a foreign country and experiencing a completely new culture as part of a gap year.
Written by Lucy Brims