Life at the top

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
It is nearly impossible to try and whittle down where on Earth you want to go to spend your Gap year, given the number of possible choices but eventually I decided on teaching for three months in Nepal.

When we arrived in Kathmandu, I looked up and saw the mountains above the city and felt such a surge of awe and excitement that I almost forgot how nervous I was.

I began my posting with a three-week adventure of trekking, white-water rafting and a trip to the Chitwan National Park. This was the best introduction we could have had to Nepal. Not only did it reveal the breathtaking beauty of the countryside, but it also gave us a sense of the culture as we passed through the villages. Our guides even taught us Nepali songs in the freezing evenings.

It was also the time for getting to know each other. When you share the same hole in the ground for a toilet you begin to feel that you have nothing much to hide.

By the time we arrived back in Kathmandu, I felt a million times more confident than when I had arrived. Before teaching started, we had a week-long orientation course in the city. After that, I really began to feel independent. Small things such as using public transport in this new place gave me a real sense of achievement.

We were staying with local families, adjusting to the customs and food of Nepal. At first it was rather nerve-wracking. For instance, you can't use your left hand to eat, offer or accept anyting because Nepalis don't use toilet paper and the left hand has a very specific function instead.

I was continually struck by the warmth and hospitality not only of the families we were staying with but also all the people who invited us into their homes over the four months.

The school where my partner and I were placed is an English medium school in Kathmandu. We were staying in the school hostel with the newly-wed principal, his wife and six boarders aged five to 14. The teaching is all from text books. The children learn purely by rote and corporal punishment is not unusual. At first the children exploited the fact we wouldn't hit them but, in time, they accepted we had other ways of getting their attention. It wasn't all easy though. Sometimes, teaching was monotonous and the students were restless.

I formed some special relationships at the school with the children, the principal and his wife and with the Nepali representative of Gap Challenge, who gave us so much help and support. Saying goodbye was a wrench.

Now I'm home, I miss walking out of the front door and seeing cows on the street, temples and shrines, all the brightly-coloured saris and prayer flags sailing over the rooftops. Most of all, I miss all the smiling faces.

Jodie Abraham's teaching placement was arranged through Gap Challenge, World Challenge Expeditions, Black Arrow House, 2 Chandos Road, London NW10 6NF. Tel: 020 8587 7980.

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