Hello and HAPPY THANKSGIVING from India! It has almost been 3 weeks and still I am experiencing new smells, new foods, new colors and new sights each day. It is certainly a lot to take in. India is so insanely and completely INDIA. There is no other way to describe it. South Africa could have been a plethora of other places, but India is so distinctly India. Patrick, one of our amazing program leaders, dislikes using “culture shock” as a way to describe being in a completely new place, because it isn’t just one shock. It lasts for a long time; I am still receiving this “shock” and I can’t imagine feeling 100% comfortable here and not feeling that shock each day. Although it does add to the stressful seminars and overload on information, it is still amazing to be here. India is a pretty incredible place.
I moved into my homestay last week and am rooming with Ellie (who’s blog I will link below, she is a pretty amazing writer)(plus she has India survival tips, which are very handy and so so true). It has been so fun living with someone who I can goof off with one second, and have amazing conversations the next. We live with a host mom, dad and two younger siblings. Ananya is going on 15, and Vinayak is 10, and are living a 20-40 minute drive away from IDEX (depending on the time of day). IDEX is where we are located for seminars, and where we have lunch and where we hangout most days, also casually situated in the foothills of the Himalayas (which is a sentence I have yet to get tired of saying). But literally, the foothills. Like the mountains don’t even look that big because we are so close to them. It still would take about three days to reach the snow-covered tops, but to be this close to a mountain range I had only read about a few weeks ago is pretty mind-boggling.
I feel like the most exciting part of India, before we even got here, was the beautiful idea of Indian food. Which has yet to disappoint. From day one we have been stuffed to the brim with rice and veggies and beans and curry and potatoes and sauces that are so amazingly mouthwatering. The two most constant food items have been chapati, and chai (also the two most used words in my vocabulary now). You know how you’re taught that your body is something like 90% water? Well my body is now 40% chai and 50% chapati. In case you didn’t know, “chai” is the Hindi word for tea (for a while in the beginning we kept saying “chai tea” which is basically saying “tea tea”). But it also names the most delicious black tea drink I have ever had. It is a beautiful mixture of ginger, milk, sugar and rainbows and happiness plus a few more ingredients I am forgetting. We are given chai when we wake up, when we are at IDEX for lunch, at “chai time” (3pm) and then again at home before dinner. If we happen to go someplace new and meet new people, we are offered chai before we say hello. BUT the amount of chapatis that I have consumed since arriving here is verging on dangerous. We have them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and not just one or two. It’s more like five or six. Traditional Indian dinners are eaten with chapatis used as silverware, so really I am just trying to accept this new culture…! Or at least that is how I am justifying it!
Okay moving on from food because that was way too much…. It is just too good not to talk about!!
So, here in India, we are studying education. So far (and I know this is only our second country but still….) this has been the most challenging topic. We have been able to view our past educational experiences through new eyes, and have been able to highlight the negative and positive learning experiences we have had. A lot of our conversations have been talking about how much influence certain things have on who you are today. For instance, your socio-economic standing, socialization, nature vs. nurture etc… Education, I have come to realize, has been a constant in my life, and has had a huge influence on who I am today. Not only in school but also with my home life, and my friends, and the activities I have been involved in. I am who I am today because I have gotten such a wide range of an education. I feel like, at least in my childhood, I was taught how to question authority (teachers). Here in India, that is nonexistent. The teachers are the ones with all of the knowledge, and can never be wrong. We aren’t allowed to touch textbooks with our feet because they are next to God. A sense of power is very much so present each day. The headmaster (a male) at our school hits the children with stick when they do something incorrectly. The teachers (who happen to be all women) are as terrified as the children to speak up to the headmaster. It is not a system that I ever wanted to be a part of, but here I am teaching in this system.
We recently watched a movie called “Schooling the World”, as well as reading a speech called “To Hell with Good Intentions” (which I will link below). Both talked about being a more negative side of volunteer work. So much of Thinking Beyond Borders, and so much of my reasoning for joining this program, is that it is not a volunteer program. My initial reasoning was that I couldn’t do enough in five weeks to actually make an impact. After reading that article, volunteer work seems like a very westernized idea. But yet, here I am in India, teaching children and being called a volunteer, something I had intentionally avoided. Today we were told a quote by Robin Pendoley (the founder of TBB) and he said “The subject of study is often less important then the manner in which it is studied. Process teaches how to think, the potential the student has to be an actor, and an understanding of agency in deciding how to approach an issue and engage with other learners and citizens”. Basically the way we study something (or where, for instance, India) is more important than the actual topic of study (for us that would be education). Yes we are learning a lot about our own education and our future education, but we are also learning a lot (A LOT) about our values and morals and what we are willing to stand up for. Today, the headmaster hit 10 of the boys in the school where I work with a stick. For what reason, I am unsure. All I know is, that pit I get in my stomach means something. Am I willing to stand up and argue with a power hungry headmaster? As a woman in India, am I socially allowed to stand up to a man? Or should I stand up because I know that the women working beneath this headmaster are socially told not to, and because I am from the USA I should use my power for good? Or is it just my Western culture that believes hitting students is wrong, and I am imposing my beliefs? OKAY I AM DONE. Just a little insight in what is going on inside of my head!
I hope this made a bit of sense..! But I do encourage you to consider what parts of your life so far have made you into the person you are today. I also encourage you to read the speech linked below, while keeping in mind that this is one person’s opinion, not the worlds (also Ellie’s blog, its pretty awesome).
thinkingbeyondborders.wordpress.com (Ellie’s blog)