GSSE INTERNSHIP SERIES: Passion for alternative education from Bungkee

Punyisa Suptasan, or Bungkee as friends usually call her, is a second-year student at GSSE. The passion for alternative education led her to complete the first-year-internship in Ladakh, India. There she met self-motivated dropout students and volunteers from around the world and was eventually inspired by their positive energy.  

1/ What do you care about and why?

I’m interested in education, especially alternative education because of my background. I received education from Waldorf, an alternative school in Thailand. The school focuses on hand-head-heart, unlike the mainstream education that focuses on your head, which gives you a headache whenever you try to mesmerize lessons for the standardized test.

2/ I heard that you completed an internship in India. How did you know about it?

Before I attended this university, I took a gap year. I was in India and I learned about the conflict between Tibet and China through a project called “Student for free Tibet”. I went to visit a school called The Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) in the Northern part of India, Ladakh.

SECMOL is an alternative education that provides a new way of learning for the students in Ladakh. Most of the students at SECMOL drop out from the mainstream education in India. They do not want to study in typical schools because they feel like they are useless. Besides giving an opportunity for dropout students, SECMOL also supports students to go to college after they finish high school.

There are teaching volunteers visiting SECMOL every month. The students have a chance to meet a lot of people around the world and learn English from the conversation class with the volunteers every day. The volunteers also teach students the basic knowledge that they can apply in daily life. For example, how to do the basic agriculture, how to grow plants, or how to milk a cow. That kind of thing!

                                                                     With Ladakhi students (Photo credit: Bungkee)

3/ What did you do at SECMOL?

First, B and I wanted to teach them storytelling. However, on the first day, we went there, a student had drowned, so the mood of the school was very low. It was not a good time to do storytelling or make them do a lot of activities, so we changed what we wanted to teach. So while B taught them photography, I taught them watercolor painting.

I had a chance to teach painting 3 times a week and joined the conversation class every day. To join the conversation class was a requirement because that made me understand more about the students. This was the part of my internship where I learned a lot from the students and exchanged knowledge.

                                                                     Conversation class (Photo credit: Bungkee)

4/ How was life in Ladakh?

At first, I didn’t expect much, because I planned to do the internship for 3 weeks. After that, I would travel around India. So I was excited to travel more than to intern. I didn’t expect anything at all. But after 1 week I got to know more about the students. And I started to feel like this was the place where I didn’t have to worry about anything at all because there was no internet connection (laugh). It was in the middle of nowhere, with just nature: mountains and rivers.

                                                                         View outside the school (Photo credit: Bungkee)

Everything I saw was beautiful. Every day I woke up and every student I walked past would say “Hi” to me and smile. I did not want to leave that place on the last day. I think it is the positive energy and the way they lived that interested me.

                                           My last day in SECMOL and last hug with the student (Photo credit: Bungkee)

5/ You said that you took a gap year. What led you to that decision?

It was 2 years ago (smile). I think it is because of my background: I’m a student from an alternative education, Waldorf, and it is from Germany. It is very normal for Waldorf students to take a gap year if they don’t know what they want to do or if they want to relax and do what they want [outside of classroom].

So I took a gap year because I was not ready to sit in the classroom or to study with a fixed schedule. I wanted to do something without anyone tell me “You need have to do that” and learn how to manage my time. When I had a year off, I had the opportunity to do things  I was not sure I wanted to learn.  But I had to learn. And I learned a lot.

6/ Is there any memorable experience you want to share?

The students at SECMOL were very focused and knew exactly what they wanted to learn. Most of the time, even in the big city of Ladakh, the wifi connection is still very weak, so it is hard to contact anyone. Whenever the students wanted to learn anything, they found a book or asked someone questions. They were very willing to learn.

There were some students that were interested in painting. Even though I had the class 3 times a week, every day they kept asking me how to do this [painting] or other techniques they could use. They had a lot of energy. It’s sparkling in their eyes. It is a different world from here.

                                                                      My watercolor painting session (Photo credit: Bungkee)

7/ How have you changed?

I think that what changed me the most is the energy.

After 3 weeks I had a lot of energy. I fulfilled myself. I learned a lot from the students: how they were willing to learn, how they interacted with each other, and I also met a lot of volunteers from other countries. The volunteers shared the same mindset [with me]. They wanted to change something in the world. They wanted to help the students gain more knowledge and open their world. They had a sense of purpose for making a change. It is the energy I received from them that has changed me. I have hope after seeing them.

                                  Cultural exchange activities between volunteers and students (Photo credit: Bungkee)

8/ Do you have any plans for next summer?

After the gap year I joined the “Students for free Tibet” project, and last year before becoming a sophomore I learned about alternative school, so now I’m interested in the culture and people of Tibet. Here is the rough plan: maybe I will do an internship to learn about refugee and life in Tibet.

                                                            Hiking in the mountains behind the school (Photo credit: Bungkee)

9/ Who should I talk to next?

Tangkwa and Pure from cohort 3. Tangkwa had an internship in Netherland, and she’s very interesting.

 

By Khanh Thuy Mai Nguyen, Vietnam.

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