In 2010 Beth Halpern, who teaches ethics and comparative religion at CCV-Bennington, was offered a year-long teaching position in Bhutan.
Practicing Buddhists, she and her husband were especially interested in sharing with their two sons the experience of living in a country where Buddhism is the state religion. “We wanted to give them a sense of where they are in the world in relation to others, to see Buddhist prayer in a lived context,” she said.
The family traveled to Royal Thimphu College, a campus at nearly 8,000 feet with stunning views of the Himalayas. The first roads came to the region in the 1960’s, but as Bhutan’s first private college the school is modern, with a good library, IT center, and a mission similar to CCV’s: to challenge students to reach their full potential, and prepare life-long learners for successful careers and to be responsible citizens.
Halpern taught two classes a semester (with 40 students in a class), ran the learning support center, and guided five students in capstone projects. She returned to teaching at CCV for the fall 2012 semester.
Some of the challenges she faced in the classroom stemmed from Bhutan’s communal culture, which is based on Buddhist principles. Raised to think more interpersonally, the concepts of cheating, plagiarism, or even writing a paper alone were new to her students. In contrast, the country’s primary and secondary schools use a traditional system introduced by the British that relies on memorizing facts for exams.
“Because of years of rote learning, it took a whole semester before I could get students to ask questions, or to talk in class,” she said. “At CCV that is such an important part of the classroom! Much of my work was to teach critical thinking skills — to help students learn to process information and then use it.”