Beyond The Sky And The Earth, by Jamie Zeppa


fc157322815x1.jpgDirectly after graduating university with a degree in literature, Canadian Jamie Zeppa goes to teach in Bhutan through a volunteer program, and Beyond The Sky And The Earth is her memoir. The title is a direct translation of the Bhutanese expression meaning “thank you”.

One of the first signs that it will be a unique experience is the medical reference book she’s given called “Where There Is No Doctor”. She encounters cultural and personal challenges and while the particular situations she faces are perhaps more unique to Bhutan or rural Asia, many of them are easy to relate to and even chuckle over for people who have lived abroad or traveled extensively. She subsists on cookies for a week because she doesn’t know how to light her stove or cook from scratch.

This is resolved when one of the elementary students she teaches stops by to instruct her. Everyone in the village is talking about this foreigner who doesn’t eat “food”, meaning rice, but only cookies.

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She also struggles with both loneliness and a lack of privacy — at one point she is a several-hour walk away from the nearest foreign teacher, yet when she’d like to go for a solitary walk in the village, someone always wants to join her. She deals with political issues, institutional frustration (many teachers encourage her to use corporal punishment), and even — gasp — romantic involvement with one of her (college-age) students.

Most TEFL teachers will not be in a situation as extreme as Jamie Zeppa’s, but culture shock and general adjustment issues happen everywhere, so it’s an interesting and sometimes amusing read.