ETSI: In India

I am in India to teach physics to Tibetan Buddhist Monks and Nuns through the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI).  This is my 4th summer teaching in this program, and I will be returning to Drepung Loseling Monastic Institute, located in the south of India (in Karnataka).  This year I will be teaching the 3rd year curriculum to the monks, which covers matter, heat/thermodynamics, and waves.  I taught the same material last year.  After teaching the monks, I will be covering the 2nd year material (Mechanics) with the nuns.

There are many ways in which teaching in this program is different from my typical teaching at Agnes Scott College.  One challenge is that most of the monks and nuns do not speak English well enough to be taught in it – so we work with Tibetan translators.  This makes everything go more slowly, and it is adds certain barriers.  For me, the classes are bigger here – about 90 monks, and 40 nuns.  It is also very intense – we teach 3 hours each morning, and then hold 1.5-hour “lab” sections on each afternoon.  So, there isn’t a lot of time to prepare between classes (for the instructors) or study (for the students).  The monks have many of their normal responsibilities, so we cannot expect them to do reading or homework between classes.

The monastic students are incredible to work with, which is one of the reasons this program is so fun.  Many of them have not previously had the opportunity to study science before, so they are “clean slates”.  Many are excited to be able to ask questions – for the first time! – about how certain things in the world work.  We work with monks who are in the final stages of their Geshe studies, so they are effectively graduate students.  They are very smart and are good learners, so they ask great questions and participate enthusiastically.  This is also a break from their “normal” studies, so they inherently think these classes are pretty fun.  The nuns come from institutes all around India, but few nuns are able to come, so they work incredibly hard knowing that they have a rare opportunity.

I am always very busy when I am here, preparing classes and demos, but I hope I can post some pictures and notes throughout the coming weeks.  I love being here and I want others to learn more about this program and the Tibetan monastics.