Tuesday, June 13, 2006


This morning during the assembly, I had to speak about a random topic. So I choose to talk about what it is like to be here in Bhutan. My experience. Feel free to smile ;-).

For xmas, I got Jamie Zeppa’s book ‘Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan’. I read it eagerly and was asking myself: What will it be like for me? What will I bump into? It’s a fascinating book – but sometimes it was really hard for me to relate to the things that she is describing.
In the beginning of the book, Jamie describes that the girls of her class help her to get properly dressed. Well, I couldn’t really understand that. I was used to pants – and it is not too hard to put on pants correctly.
After having stayed here in Bhutan for a bit of time, I can relate extremely well to what Jamie is describing.
I know exactly how it feels to come to school and not be properly dressed.
I know exactly how it feels if you have to ask students to help you put on your Gho.
I know exactly how it feels to have problems to properly dress yourself.
I know exactly how stupid you feel walking around campus and your Gho is all over the place – but just not the way it should be.
I’m honest with you guys; sometimes, that’s pretty hard. Sometimes I have to fight. Sometimes it is humiliating. But that’s ok because it’s the only way to learn how to wear a Gho. You have to be able to put it on correctly in the mornings when you feel really bad. Only if you are able to put it on correctly in one of those mornings, you really know how to do it.
During the last few weeks, I have not only tried to learn how to put on a Gho correctly. I have gotten in contact with a new culture. Being put into this new context, I have lost part of my frame of reference.
Often, I’m not quite sure how to act.
Not quite sure what to do.
Not quite sure what to say.
Sometimes it costs a lot of energy to be not quite sure. But that’s ok – it’s the only way to get exposed to the culture and learn about the way it works.

Assume that you are blind. You have been living in a room for the last year and you know every inch of that room. You can move around without danger of bumping into the walls or chairs. You know exactly how your environment looks like. But one good day, you get a second room. On one side, that’s a great thing. You have more space and can organize your furniture differently. On the other side, you are lost in the new room. You don’t really know how this new room looks like. The only way to explore this new room is to bump into walls. If you don’t bump into walls, you don’t really know where the boundaries are. You can bump into walls softly or with full force. If you bump into them too softly, you might not explore the final boundaries. And if you bump into them too hard, you might get hurt.

Here in Bhutan, I have been bumping into a lot of walls. Bhutan is the room that got added to my apartment. Sometimes, it hurts to explore it. Sometimes, it feels just great. And I know that I will bump into more walls. But bumping into walls means to expand the space that you can live in. Bumping into walls is hard – but I know that it is the only way to learn. To really learn.

New rooms are getting added to your personal apartment - so you are bumping into walls. But as well the apartment of your country gets expanded – and you as a nation are bumping into walls. Sometimes, it hurts. Sometimes, it feels just great. Nobody claims that it is easy. But it’s the way to learn new things. Don’t be afraid to bump into all those walls – it will help you to expand your apartment.

If I had to name one person that is responsible for whom I am today, this person is one of my teachers. He helped me to choose a good subject for my studies. He is responsible for me staying here in Bhutan. It’s not his subject knowledge that is the reason why he shaped me. It is his personality. It’s the way he taught. It’s the way he interacted with us.

You will shape the next generation of Bhutan. Teach those kids how to bump into walls. Teach them how to bump into walls in a responsible way. Nobody claims that it will be an easy thing. Sometimes, it’s probably going to be a pretty hard task. But that’s ok. That’s how we learn.

That was the long version of what I wanted to tell you. The short version basically says the same – just in a different way.
Thanks a lot for letting me bump into walls. Thanks a lot for showing me all those new rooms. Thanks a lot for expanding my space of living. Thanks for accepting that I’m sometimes different and that I cannot adapt to how you do things. Thank you.
I bumped into a lot of walls and have learned a lot. Sometimes, it’s pretty hard. But I know that this is the way to learn. I learned here in Bhutan what is important in my life. And I learned about all the things that I don’t care about. I’ll return back home as a different person. Thank you.

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