There are a few things I would do differently if I was lucky enough to go to Bangalore again. In an effort to help prepare the the next streak of tigers, I’ve put together this list of recommendations as you plan for the amazing journey ahead of you. They’ll tell you, “nothing can prepare you for India”. This shouldn’t be mistaken for, “don’t prepare for India”. There are definitely things you can do here that will make your time there far more enjoyable. Here’s what I came up with:
1.Read past participant’s blog posts
For obvious reasons, I have to start the list with this one. There have been quite a few participants at this point so it might be a good idea to ask Gabrielle which ones would be of most help to someone preparing for their first trip. Better yet, get coffee with a past participant in Columbia. I know anyone from the 2016 trip would be happy to reminisce. I did this with the legendary Rachel Newman and I’m so glad I did.
2. Communicate with your school
I can’t recommend this enough. On your first day of school, if not before, exchange email addresses with your host teacher and use it. Come with a clear idea of what you want out of your school experience and communicate that to the teacher(s). Don’t be afraid to ask to lead lessons. Not every teacher is going to invite you to take charge. You may have to just jump in there when you feel comfortable. And don’t be afraid to fail. No first lesson is perfect anyway. I bombed on an eighth grade math lesson in which I got half way through Einstein’s proof of the Pythagorean theorem, and then forgot how to finish it. I was super embarrassed, but the students didn’t care at all. They were really understanding and encouraging. Remember, they want to see how you teach as well as showing you how they teach.
3. Pack light
Don’t shop for this trip at home. Seriously, you can get everything you will need in Bangalore just walking distance from Casa for, with the exception of electronics, less than half the price you would pay in the US. It’s not hard to find quality name brand clothing and supplies between Brigade Rd, Lifestyle mall, Garuda mall, and many more. It is not nearly as primitive a place as most of us imagined. Save your money and shop in India.
One thing I HIGHLY RECOMMEND buying as soon as possible is a power surge protector. Mine and Liz’s laptops both crashed due to a power surge during the second week in Bangalore. Power surges are common in India and since it affects the motherboard, there is no fixing it. Luckily, we were able to retrieve the data, but the computers were toast. You can buy one of these strips at Reliance Digital near IKC. Really wish I had known this ahead of time… you’re welcome.
4. Get an Indian Sim
The Internet at Casa sucks; be warned. And there’s no nearby place with free wifi. The wifi at most of the schools isn’t reliable either, but you can connect using the computer labs. My solution? My Galaxy S4 has an easily removable back plate so replacing my US AT&T sim with an Indian sim was simple and very cost effective. Contract free, I was able to purchase 1 gig of 3g/4G data for under 300 INR ($5). I used Whatsapp and Facebook messenger to text. Go with Vodaphone or Airtel as they have the best coverage all over India. There is a shop down the street from Casa to do all this. Just make sure you contact your current service provider, unlock your phone, and put a hold on your US account before leaving the states. This process varies slightly between carriers and phones, but here’s a good guide which should point you in the right direction. Unfortunately, I was not able to set up a wifi hotspot with the Indian sim 😦
5. Stay in India
Not forever. But, if you can, please do travel or work at an NGO after the program. You will learn a lot from the 6 weeks in Bangalore, but Bangalore is only a tiny slice of India, and admittedly, one of the most westernized parts. India is a backpackers dream, especially the Himalayas. Explorers from all over the world come here. I’m currently typing this in Leh, Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir where I have made many friends, none of whom are from the US. I started alone in Delhi, but I haven’t been alone since. I made friends with a guy from Kerala and a girl from Japan at Zostel in Delhi, who were also headed North. Then we met some guys from Germany and hopped from village to village in Himachal Pradesh, staying in a new guest house or hostel every night for about 2 weeks. When the others had to go home, I broke off and caught a bus to Leh. I ran out of money a little sooner than expected so I decided to join a free Vipassana 10-day silent meditation. It’s been a truly eye-opening experience. India is a diverse, fascinating, stimulating, and spiritual place and I fear that if you don’t take advantage of this opportunity to see more than just Bangalore, you will miss out on a lot of what makes India India.