Mistaken Assumptions

Yes, I’m still a virtual tag along on Jeff’s journey through China and/or Tibet via Pigs In the Toilet.

In Part 28, Jeff discovers that Tibet was not quite what he had expected:

Contrary to the tourist slogans, the signature landscape of Tibet is not snow…Tibet is barren. Most of it is brown. It is essentially a desert, which just happens to be situated between 3,000 and 8,000 meters above sea level.

The most apt metaphor to describe Tibet’s landscape is the boardroom table: Most of it is a single broad stretch of dry, brown nothingness, where human subsistence is a miracle that recurs on a daily basis. Surrounding this table is a ring of white-topped behemoths. They’re the board of directors, if you will – the Himalayas. Mount Everest, I suppose, is the CEO.

While your desk at school is unlikely to be surrounded by a ring of white-topped behemoths, I don’t think misplaced expectations are strangers to TEFL at all. What were some of yours?

It’s hard to look back objectively, but while I think I had a fairly realistic idea of what TEFL had in store for me, I was surprised to find the extent to which language schools really do operate like businesses in many ways, and also that, while most students do generally want/need to know English, they are perhaps less than earnest about this pursuit. I’m certainly no stranger to the field of customer service, but mixing it with something which would otherwise be considered education was and still is strange to me.

As for the places I’ve taught in, the biggest surprise was probably in Bosnia.

It doesn’t take much time in Bosnia to find out that people are in fact quite friendly, and sadly I think there are many widely held assumptions about Bosnia that are just not true.

As for the physical landscape, there’s a whole lot of green – Bosnia has one of the highest percentages of undeveloped nature in Europe (and the lowest number of kilometers of four lane roads). There are also a whole lot of mountains – right around Sarajevo but also throughout the country. And the biggest surprise?

There might even be pyramids in Bosnia older than those at Gaza.

What surprised you about your job or host country?