Students from Bhutan experience life in England

Life in England: Bhutanese students at Pestolazi

Students from Bhutan are continuing to be awarded scholarships to study their secondary education in the UK thanks to the Pestalozzi International Village Trust.

Life in England: Bhutanese students at Pestolazi
Life in England: Bhutanese students at Pestalozzi/ Photo: Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi is a UK-based charity that has been providing life-changing opportunities to young people from disadvantaged communities around the world for more than 50 years. Among the students currently taking up residence in the trust’s multi-cultural community in East Sussex is Kinley Rabgay from Phuntsholing and Sonam Wangdi from Samchi, both 17.

“Pestalozzi is for people who do well in their studies but also lack family support,” Wangdi said as he explained the selection process. “In my own case my parents are divorced and I didn’t stay with my father. I was with my mother and she had some issues herself. So I came from a difficult situation.

“I came to know about Pestalozzi after they went to the education ministry in Bhutan and the education ministry then asked all of the schools to select candidates who fitted the description and personality Pestalozzi was looking for; students with good records but at the same time having problems in the family. So from my school I was the one. There was a selection process and from a few students in my area, I was selected. Then at a national level out of 22 from Bhutan, two of us were selected, me and another student here.”

Students chosen to join Pestalozzi spend two years in the UK where they complete their secondary education. Rabgay, who has been in England for six months, said life in the UK was “one hundred percent” different from home but noticed a particular difference in the education system.

“The way the education system is set up here is very different,” he said. “In Bhutan we needed to stay there in the school for the whole day doing studies but here we get breaks in between and we do a maximum of four subjects per day, in Bhutan we had to stay for a maximum of eight subjects per day. Eight subjects in a day felt like too much,” he said.

Sonam Wangdi in action
Sonam Wangdi in action

Life at Pestalozzi isn’t all about education however, and students are encouraged to undertake a range of extra-curricular activities such as volunteering, learning new languages and participating in sports.

The diverse community also brings people together from nine different countries, including Belize, India, Nepal, the Tibetan communities in exile, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Wangdi noted that this was the highlight of the scholarship: “I have come to know about Mugabe, I’ve come to know about Tibetan issues, I’ve come to know about what they do in Indonesia and I know where Belize is and how they are as a country. These are the things I like; even in the UK, I like a lot of things about the UK.”

Neither Wangdi nor Rabgay are certain what they plan to do once they have completed their secondary education but both agree that the opportunity has given them experiences that life in Bhutan could never have offered. The trust hopes that the scholarships will ultimately encourage all of their students to eventually return home and utilise their experiences to make a positive difference in their communities.

Pestalozzi is due to open a new building later this year, at the cost of £1 million. It will provide an improved learning environment for the students and include up to three flexible spaces to be used as tutorial rooms, conference spaces and meeting venues. The trust says the goal of the new centre is to bring the learning environment into the 21st century and replace their current facilities, which were constructed in the 1960s by students and volunteers. It is being financed through funds raised by the trust’s sale of land and generous donations from supporters.

Steve Shaw is a UK based freelance journalist working for BNS as volunteer columnist. Steve has worked for BBC as election correspondent and researcher, reporter for Tibet Post International, academy coordinator at BBC academy and reporter at P1 magazine.. He also has number of other training in BBC and The Guardian. Steve can be reached at [email protected] – Editors