Teaching English in Nepal

by Hannah Powell

[For graduates of the level 3 TESOL module, who go on to succeed in the RSA Certificate TEFLA, we have an ongoing relationship with The UWE/ British College in Nepal, who are willing to take one of our students for their first job opportunity every year.  Our second UWE graduate on this scheme is now happily teaching pre-UWE undergraduates in Nepal. To read about the fantastic experience available, read Hannah’s blog attached. For details of this scheme contact rebecca.fong@uwe.ac.uk   or see our university link here: http://info.uwe.ac.uk/news/uwenews/news.aspx?id=2179 ]

Namaste! I have decided to write a blog for prospective teachers who are thinking about doing a CELTA course and coming here to the partner university, The British College (TBC), in Kathmandu. That said, this is relevant for anyone who is considering either doing a CELTA generally and teaching, or if you are considering coming to Nepal.

Mornings start early here in Nepal. I can often hear signs of my neighbours rising at around 5am, water pipes start gurgling, dogs start barking and pots and pans rattle. It is winter currently and it gets very cold at night time (2 degrees). From around November till February the mornings are crisp, dewy and misty, but by 11 it’s t-shirt weather again. By the time I get out of bed (7am) it seems most people have already been up for a while, the sun is rising and the chilly neighbourhoods are beginning to warm up.

I walk to the local shop to get milk. The cheerful man opens the refrigerator and scoops his metal pint can into the tanker of milk, he then pours this into a small plastic bag, ties it at the top with an elastic band and then hands me the bag. Outside some of the small shops families congregate, slowly waking up together with hot cups of Chiya. I was so naive to think that drinking tea is only an exclusive English tradition. Here they live off the stuff. It is made by boiling half part milk and half water, adding the tea (ground masala leaves) and a (very) generous dose of sugar, then straining it and serving it in small cups. I can’t imagine going back to English tea, it’s too good.

On my way back from the shop I I’ll often lock eyes with locals. They double-take to see a white face. I am the only foreigner or ‘bidheshi’ in the area, Shankhamul. I once saw a white man coming out of a hotel near my house and had to double-take. I often walk past women (maybe grandmas) on the same route as me getting milk, they are always wrapped up in colourful yak shawls and will often study me in an kind of amused way, raising their eye brows. Expect to be stared at, you look different from everyone else, I am used to it now and often I’ll just grin back. They will usually give me a subtle and reproachful slight-smile back. And  maybe a “head waggle” if I’m lucky.  This head shake or waggle is the English equivalent of a hello nod or an affirmative yes. I was so confused at first, I’d ask my class if they all understood something and I’d be received with a sea of shaking/wagging heads.  This rolling waggle, which appears most similar to an English reluctant ‘I don’t know, I guess or maybe’ has become second nature to me now, I waggle to show I understand what someone is saying like an English ‘mm-Hmm’, to say hello, to say goodbye, to say thank you. My Nepali is weak but it seems I have learnt the body language quickly.

This is my first teaching job and it’s great. I find it very enjoyable and rewarding to teach the students but only if my class are enjoying themselves too. Obviously it can’t all be fun, but I’ve realised a lot of it really can be. I always come prepared to the lesson, each one is 2-hours long. I teach classes of around 30 students who are about 19 years old and most have just completed their A-levels. I teach two modules Academic English and Study Skills. This is the students’ foundation year, their pre-degree year which they take at the university. Graduate teachers coming from UWE will also teach this level – these two modules in the first semester and a module in the second term called Effective Business Communication. I like to push them so the lesson will usually be crammed with different activities. My one piece of advice to potential teachers would be just to keep mixing it up, don’t let it get dull, give them energy and they’ll give it back to you. The students appreciate this interactive and engaging style of teaching so much, as they are not used to it.

Another piece of advice, don’t just think doing a TEFL or CELTA allows you a free pass travelling, yes you get to live abroad in an exciting country, dive into the culture, eat the food, but don’t forget you will be working a full time job (including Sundays), so the reality is you won’t be out every day of the week. I work 6 days a week and have to do 24 teaching hours, and the rest is office time where I’m planning lessons and marking students’ work. So it’s not a just a holiday.

Teaching abroad is the experience of a lifetime and an opportunity I am so glad I have taken. By living somewhere you really get to feel the culture and the way of life in a much stronger way than you ever can by travelling or stopping through to different countries. Now I can see the tourist areas that I pass through in a new light, the light that the natives see it. For example if you know anybody who has been to Kathmandu they will have stayed in Thamel. In Thamel the prices are, relatively, high, Westerners can wear what they please and this area is the only hub of nightlife in the whole city. This area is a great place to meet other young people who are living here, working here or just travelling through. But, my experience feels much more authentic staying in a residential area surrounded by Nepali families.

On a normal working day I’ll put my Chiya on the hob, get ready and walk one minute to the main road, Baneshwor. From here I’ll hop into a tempo (also known as a rickshaw). These are metal can like vehicles which run on electricity, it chugs up the hill and takes me to work for just 15 Nepali Rupees (9p) There is a fuel shortage here currently, so these come in handy. The maximum amount of people that have fit in with me so far is 19. The roads are complete carnage so either be prepared to be chugged from side to side in this or pay the price for a (slightly) safer taxi.

After living on my own out here in quite a simple way, I’ve really began to appreciate the small things. I do zumba every morning around the corner from my house which I love – imagine Bollywood style music at 5 30am pumping out onto the quiet, dark neigbourhood. About 20 of us in a small, sweaty studio mimic the instructors booty shaking and belly dancing style moves. What a way to wake up!  I am living a much healthier lifestyle than ever before. I have realised how carb hungry we Brits are (or I was?!) and how big our portions are too. The main flavour/spices in Nepal are cumin, turmeric and ground coriander. These 3 are the base for everything you eat here. And of course onions, garlic, ginger and lots of chilli. The food here is great and doesn’t get enough credit in the UK. If you’ve ever been to Thali Cafe in Bristol, this is what I eat every day. Ok, I could get really carried away now I’ve started talking about food, so I’ll stop myself. Maybe another blog. The food here is like a fusion of Indian and Chinese, as its sits in between the two countries, but it has its own unique spin.

If you want to live cheap, you are in the right place. But do not expect to be saving much money (to spend internationally) as wages are generally low too. TBC is one of the most high fee paying universities in Kathmandu and I make around £350 a month. I spend my money wisely and often feel like I have more than I need. When working at the college you also get accommodation (including wifi) provided which is an excellent perk. You would probably make less working at private schools and next to nothing working at government-funded schools. So if you want to teach in a different school, you will be greatly appreciated, but either come with money saved or expect to be living with minimal disposable cash.

You can eat a delicious lunch for under £1, and if you want to go a bit more upmarket and pay for cleanliness you will still be getting it for under £3. If you like being frugal and choose to eat in one of the many cheap family run cafes you can live off £1 a day. These kind of cafes line every street, they are not in any way fancy, but the food tastes good. In these cafes it is very normal for people to come and sit at the table with you when they don’t know you, people just squish into the place and sit where they can, order their food, eat it and go. As I am typing this someone just plopped onto the other side of my table where I sit and eat my lunch (chana – chickpeas). There is also a jug of water on the table that people share from drinking out of it which is the norm here, so don’t be alarmed! I always just buy a cup of chiya for my drink. People are way less hygiene/germ conscious – so beware of this if you are used to complete cleanliness. If you have a sensitive stomach, don’t worry, there are the nicer cafes too within a five minute walk from anywhere, where you can pretty much buy everything, from plain noodles or rice to things like wraps, chips, burgers. The local shops even sell bread and pasta. But it helps if you like your curry!

Saturday is everyone’s day off. In the morning I walk to do yoga in an area called Patan. There is often loud religious sounding music coming from the temple by the river. You will see ladies cooking sweetcorn on the side of the roads from a small fire they have made from wood. On the more crowded roads there are also people selling fruit, including coconut chunks and watermelons, on a little makeshift table. When I get back from Yoga it’s time to do the weekly wash. But, without a washing machine, instead, I do it by hand. I have sworn to myself to appreciate washing machines when I go back to the UK, let alone the two day weekend! On Saturdays most things are closed, hence washing day for everyone. I will always see women scrubbing or hanging it all up as I walk to yoga. No one here has a washing machine, even people who work in the college too (who are really well off.) So if you are coming be prepared for this. When I first arrived I had been promised a washing machine but the one in the apartment is broken so now I have got used to doing it by hand and hanging it up on the roof in the sun. I quite enjoy doing it to be honest! They are getting round to getting me one though so future teachers you may be in luck. Nepali people are more relaxed when it comes to things like this, their attitude towards fixing things, time keeping, or getting things done is much less rigid and strict, things are not taken so seriously. This is nice but don’t be surprised if you feel frustrated at times if compared to what you’re used to.

The people of Nepal, it seems, are always smiling. They have a lovely temperament and are so friendly and genuine. Festivals are always a reason to smile and here they come what feels like nearly every month! They are great fun and it is a lovely way to live. I have been here 2 months so far and have already experienced over 3 festivals. The first was Teej. This festival is a celebrated by Nepali women, for marital happiness, well-being of spouse and children and purification of own body and soul. We were to celebrate it at college so I decided to buy a green Kurta for the occasion, the staff ladies all enjoyed lunch together at the College and then we all had a laugh and danced to Nepali music in the main hall (see picture).The other girls showed off their Bollywood moves and I even had a go too (and failed)!

We have also had Dassain and TIhar while I’ve been here, which are the biggest festivals of the year where students get a month off from college. Dashain is a 15 day festival and the biggest festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. Thoroughout the Kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations is worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess in blood for days.

A few days later and there is another festival, Tihar. This is also known as Diwali and is a five-day festival, which comes just after the Dassain Festival. Tihar is all about worshiping of different animals such as crow, dog, cow, and worshiping of the Hindu Goddess of Fortune or Wealth (Goddess Laxmi). This family oriented festival is all about cooking great meals at home, brothers and sisters shopping for gifts, flying kites, decorating homes and streets, playing cards with friends, resting and relaxing, and finally ending the festival with an exchange of a special temporary mark on forehead (tika in Nepali). The last day of the festival is known as Tika day or popularly known as Bhai Tika day (Bhai in Nepali means Brother). I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s home on this day. The family and I made a traditional Rangoli (see picture) played poker… (I won) ! And ate a delicious meal that her mother had prepared. This is generalising a lot but I can’t help but think people take things less seriously here, there is not such a need to rush and people can go at a more leisurely pace, stopping to talk to to each other and appreciate the most important thing around them, the people. Family is so important here, you will stay with your parents when you are married and all live together. You can tell it breeds love and security. There are very few homeless people here. People are shocked when they find out I live alone, they cannot imagine it!

As well as all this there are many beautiful sights to see, temples and religious places to visit, such as Swayambhu, Durbar Squares, Pashupatinath (see pictures).  When the pollution and craziness of Kathmandu gets a bit much and you want to clear your lungs, you can always pop on a bus and follow a windy road out of the city for just 45 minutes and you’ll see lush green hills and mountains. The road bends and swerves up steep hills and thin paths, rivers and rice paddies (pictures). Nepal is great for trekking. It is home to the highest peak in the world, Everest. I am yet to do any real trekking but I hope to soon in my time here. The Annapurna Circuit is also supposed to be beautiful and is just near to the lovely lakeside city, Pokhara (see picture).

As great as this all sounds, if you are thinking about coming you must be aware of the whole picture. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it might not seem it on the surface but the cracks appear the longer you live here.  The devastating earthquake which happened in April and killed 9000 people, breaking apart many families in the country, especially the poorer areas. People in the more rural areas are still living in tents which I can only but imagine in these cold winter months. This is sad enough. Many families lives were destroyed, along with their houses too. Millions were given in foreign aid to the country but people complain that they have not seen where this money has gone. My students give me a one word answer: corruption!

The current fuel crisis is another big issue. Democracy is still burgeoning here and has been for decades. There are constant protests and demonstrations and it seems always unrest or problems. The petrol crisis is a consequence of a new political constitution which took 8 years to draft. A minority ethnic group of society, the Madheshi, who have close ties to India, feel underrepresented and that the constitution does not consider their needs. It has been said that India is not happy about this, and have imposed a supposed blockade on all goods from India to Nepal. The hashtag #backoffIndia is often seen signposted around the city. Lots of people have different views on why this situation is happening (See website for more details: link). But there is one thing for certain and that’s that everyday life in Nepal is more difficult now. The large majority of Nepal’s imports come from India. Every day people struggle, buying expensive petrol, coping with spiralling oil prices which they can’t afford, queuing up in three day queues and getting more agitated by the day. Compared to the UK, problems just don’t get dealt with as quickly. There is a huge pollution problem here, Kathmandu is currently the 3rd most polluted city in the world, there is always garbage strewn on the floor and the roads are very poor. Load shedding, which is when there is no electricity, happens at two separate intervals each day. This gets worse in the winter as Nepals energy mainly comes from hydropower, and the rivers are largely snow fed meaning the winter months see little river activity. Be prepared for this, especially when you run out of battery! Change happens slower here. So if you are thinking about coming you must be up for a challenge, open minded, resilient and adaptable.

If that last paragraph didn’t put you off, and you are currently studying Analysing Culture: Language and the Visual or TESOL and thinking about teaching, I would definitely consider this option. If there is more than one of you then the transition or culture shock would be easier to adapt to as you’ll be living far from the tourist area and there are no other non natives at TBC. TBC are always keen to welcome native English speakers to the team so as long as you have graduated and have a teaching qualification you should be considered, no experience necessary. As the foundations year is internal and run by TBC, and not UWE, there is a lot of freedom here and potential for students coming from the UK to take it where they want. Lots of resources (books, old lecture slides, lesson plans) are available to use too. Most of the students have good spoken English but their written work contains errors. As they will be studying a UK degree either in Business or IT, this foundation year really is essential in improving their English skills and massively benefits them. They are expected to write essays, do presentations and everything is taught in English. The college has only been open for 4 years and the first lot of students have just graduated. This college has massive potential and is a fantastic opportunity for anyone looking for a first time teaching job in an exciting and beautiful country.



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