I really enjoyed my time during the cultural exchange at the school. Going into it, I was definitely a bit apprehensive, as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, upon entering, I felt nothing but welcomed and appreciated. Everyone was so kind and generous throughout the experience. They didn’t hesitate to offer help with anything I may need, such as insisting on carrying my bags for me, and always ensured I was comfortable. I also found that I had a lot in common with my partner, and I had a great time having dinner at her house and meeting her family. We bonded over so many things, like our favourite songs, movies and more. In addition, staying in the dorms with the Bhutanese students was also a very fun experience. All of the girls were very eager to chat and make friends, and were always making sure that I was comfortable. I was overcome with warmth and gratitude for their kindness and hospitality. Overall, I felt nothing but welcomed, and I learned so much while visiting the school and talking to the students. This was undoubtedly a highlight of this trip so far and was an unforgettable experience.
While preparing for the trip to Bhutan, we were told to do a little bit of research about the country so we weren’t walking into this experience blindly. While reading a few articles, I noticed one constant that kept coming up; every article mentioned how welcoming the Bhutanese people are. When I stepped off the plane and made it out of the airport this was instantly noticeable, and I was blown away by the hospitality we received. When we met Karma, our guide, and his colleagues, we were each given welcome scarves. The next day we were also given the same scarfs and this became a pattern with most places we visited.
Fast forward to when we visited Gongzim Ugyen Dorji Central school. Again, the hospitality and welcome we received was overwhelming. You could easily tell that everyone was genuinely so excited to meet us and show us around. When we walked through the gate we were paired with buddies who were the same age as us. My buddy’s name was Kinley. During our first exchange we figured out that we have the same amount of siblings and similar interests, like listening to music and dancing. This initial conversation made both of us feel closer, because we felt very similar despite living across the world from each other. It showed me that despite all the differences in our cultures, we are more similar than we may think.
For the rest of the day we went to two of our buddy’s classes. I went to Kinley’s history and geography class. In history we learned about His Highness, the Royal King of Bhutan, and the contributions he has made to the country. In geography, we learned about population trends, and unemployment/employment in Bhutan. I found that the topics we were learning in geography were very similar to what I had learned in economics last year, and I found myself knowing the answers to lots of the questions. Again this made the differences between me and Kinley, as well as the other students, seem smaller.
After class we walked around campus. One of the huge differences I noticed was the bathrooms, as instead of toilets, they were holes in the ground and there were no sinks. I know this made some of us feel uncomfortable and almost sorry for the students, but then I stepped back and realised that this is their normal. This was an interesting realisation, because it was almost impossible to wrap my head around their way of life. I kept trying to imagine myself living their lives and I couldn’t, but they could say the same about us.
Later in the day, we attended our buddies’ homes where we ate dinner. This was a surprise to us all and made me feel a little uncomfortable as I was going to Kinley’s home where there was a language barrier. The teachers made it clear that if we were too uncomfortable we did not have to go. Although I considered it, I am forever grateful that I stepped out of my comfort zone and chose to go, because going to their home made me feel closer to their culture. By the end of the night, I felt a deep appreciation for the Bhutanese culture and a sense of overwhelming gratitude.
– Charlotte Warner
The cultural exchange was an eventful experience, that was one of the most memorable experiences thus far. The time spent at the school allowed me to learn and reflect on everything I had previously learned throughout the experience.
When we first arrived at the school, all the students and teachers welcomed us to the campus. I felt so welcomed by everyone, and the kindness shown was unmatched by anything I had ever experienced. I couldn’t help but notice how disciplined the students were during the morning assembly, all lined up in perfectly straight lines.
The first class I attended with my partner student was chemistry. Learning the differences between Bhutan education and Canadian education was very interesting and enlightening. All the students choose which stream they would like to study, and the students also don’t have to move between classes, which is different from Canadian schools.
Closer to the evening, some of the students wanted to show us their dorms. While there, they convinced me and a couple of other SMLS girls to get dressed in full traditional dress. The girls let me borrow their outfits, and four of them started pinning the outfit onto me. I was so astonished by their kindness and willingness to dress me and let me borrow their clothes. I felt like a princess and was so grateful for the opportunity to experience that piece of their culture.
The cultural exchange was a unique experience I will probably never have again. The friends made and the lessons learned will stay with me forever.
– Kira Patel
Before we arrived at the school we were all a bit apprehensive. We did not know what to expect, so we were nervous. But I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we were overwhelmed with what we found. We started out our day at the school with a welcome assembly, then we headed off to classes with our assigned students. While talking to the students in the class and really getting to know them, we found things in common and essentially discovered that the normalities of being a teenager are universal.
Despite having things in common, it was clear during the trip that we shared different values. Their kindness and compassion for us exceeded anything they would have seen back home. They cleaned and carried our plates after we ate, they would constantly offer to carry our bags, they gave us gifts and would make sure our needs were met, even at the expense of their own comfort. On top of their kindness and compassion, they carried themselves with a level of authenticity that back home we strive to achieve. During a culture show, they showcased a series of dancing and singing performances. After every performance they would be supportive and clap, and you genuinely felt the sense that everyone was engaged and supportive. The earnest excitement of the audience was something that would not exist back home.
All in all, this was a transformative experience that has made me reflect on my level of compassion towards others, and if I am being my genuine self.
– Sara Molinaro
International travel is not always easy. There are always expectations you have about the country you are visiting, as well as the understanding that its customs are different to your own. Bhutan is a country worlds away from home. It took two days and three plane rides to reach the town of Haa. Situated within the Himalayas, it was a quiet place that only held a few stores and homes.
Running on a lack of sleep, we participated in a cultural exchange at a local high school. This experience was unique for both the locals and ourselves. At times it was uncomfortable because I felt out of place. The students and staff were very welcoming and their excitement was a bit overwhelming. However, I realised that while the students had different interests than I, they were very thankful for the opportunity to meet us. It is one of those moments that is hard to put into words, and it challenged me because I had to adapt to unexpected situations. It was also a difficult time because while I wanted to soak up every bit of the experience, I was exhausted and wanted to rest. It was definitely not easy though it allowed me to take a step back and prioritize rest, especially during hectic times.
– Chloe Murphy