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Dalai Lama inspires Canadian students on teaching practicum in India

January 18, 2016

By Tracy Sherlock

Vancouver Sun, January 15, 2016 - Teaching in India for a couple of months has made a group of Canadian teachers-in-training more resilient, creative and open minded.

Ashley Faber and Ariana Debreuil, both 22, and Rick Kumar, 23, are in Simon Fraser University’s professional development program, in training to become school teachers. They were among 16 students from the one-year program who spent two months in teaching practicums in Dharamsala, India.

It is the home, in exile, of the Dalai Lama, whom they got to meet.

“That was incredible. We were all quite nervous and shaking — sitting on the edge of our seats and smiling so big. It was very surreal and when he walked in, it was so calming and relaxing,” Faber said. “He’s like a god to the Tibetan refugees we had been working with, so hearing their stories made it more real to see him and to hear how much they appreciate him, made us try to appreciate him even more. We felt really special and privileged.”

The Dalai Lama told the group, in the gently humorous way that he has, that he couldn’t give them advice about teaching math, because he doesn’t even know his times tables. But he did give them some advice about teaching children.

“He emphasized teaching compassion and patience for children and how we need to teach moral ethics and emotional intelligence in schools,” Faber said. “He spoke a lot about religions and diversity and how we’re all different in what we believe but we all have a human tendency for love and compassion. We all want the same things.”

The Dalai Lama also told the teachers to treat all students equally and fairly.

“I thought what he was saying was quite true, we should not look at the age of someone to determine how much respect we give them,” Kumar said. “We shouldn’t look at someone’s cultural identity as a marker for how much compassion we share with them.

Meeting the Dalai Lama was an inspiring opportunity for the group of young Canadians, Debreuil said, adding that he gave them some words of wisdom.

“(He said) it’s important to try to help people find out how to be a good person and the rest is minor details,” Debreuil said. “If you are able to good choices, the rest will fall into place. It’s important to put others before yourself.”

Debreuil, whose undergraduate degree is in First Nations studies, said the entire experience of teaching in India made her a lot more flexible.

“We had very limited access to what we in Canada would call basic resources — like paper, for example — so we had to be more creative and adaptive,” Debreuil said. “We could really think on our feet. When you have to do something when there is no power, for example, you become a lot more resilient to struggles, conflicts or challenges that we face.

“It think that will be helpful in the classroom because when you focus on students, which is what we had to do in India, we weren’t as bothered by the conflicts and challenges that we face.”

Faber, whose undergraduate degree is in English, said the experience made her more resilient and resourceful.

“We were showering with buckets and we didn’t have flushing toilets. We were lucky our school paid for hot water tanks. We were living in concrete rooms and sleeping in sleeping bags,” Faber said. “Also, because you know you only have two months, so you’re very in the moment and you try to appreciate every day. You’re outgoing and friendly, trying to make connections with people. I think coming back here, we don’t want teaching to become mundane or routine — we want to be excited for each day.”

Faber also said experiencing both Indian and Tibetan culture and working with refugees made her feel blessed.

“Working with refugees at a time when Canada is taking so many refugees from Syria, I learned so much from people who have been through so much and have so little. I feel very appreciative of everything we have here,” Faber said.

Kumar, whose undergraduate degree is in English, said the experience opened his mind and his heart.

“If you don’t have the right type of attitude India can be very challenging, and teaching under the amount of pressure we had would break you,” Kumar said. “That isn’t to say that we didn’t all break in some way or another, I can’t name a single student that didn’t cry on this trip, but I believe that it’s only after being faced with the hardest challenges that we can show the greatest resilience.”

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