For Peter L. Schneller, a long-standing friendship, a commitment to teaching and a willingness to travel paths unknown have made a significant difference in his life.
As a student at Wittenberg, Schneller became close friends with fellow Phi Mu Delta fraternity brother Mark A. Erwin ’72. The two stayed in touch throughout the years, and by 2003, Schneller and Erwin caught up for a game of golf. By then Schneller had left his 20-year middle school teaching career to pursue his Ph.D. and was now in a tenure-track position at Mount Union College. Erwin had traveled the world teaching middle school in Finland, The Czech Republic and Germany, and now was teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and social studies at the American Embassy School (AES) in New Delhi, India.
Their links conversation soon inspired action, and by 2005, Schneller found himself in India teaching exiled Tibetan teacher candidates, all of whom will eventually teach in one of the 12 Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV) Schools in India.
“Many people don’t realize that there are about 130,000 Tibetans in exile in India,” Schneller said. “More than a million have been killed since 1959.”
Schneller lived in a guest room, slept on a thin mattress-covered plywood plank and walked to class each day, where he then spent time introducing students to basic technological teaching tools and answering questions about American pop culture.
“Pop culture really grabbed them. They were fascinated with a lesson on slang and wanted to know about Christmas and April's Fool’s Day,” he said.
Schneller also took time to meditate, to read the words of the Dali Lama, and to have his students prepare lessons to teach him about the language and culture of Tibet.
“The Indian and Tibetan cultures value respect, and teachers are to be respected without having to earn it,” he said.
Schneller plans to continue his study of Tibetan life and write about his experience.
“Perhaps the biggest cultural difference that I noticed was the equanimity in the Tibetan and Indian people as opposed to the loose rage that seems to reign in the United States,” Schneller said. “It was especially dramatic when I arrived back in the states and was thoroughly chewed out for being in the 10-item line with 12 items.”