After saying goodbye to the schools, the next farewell would be to India. India started out as such a foreign exotic place to me. At the beginning of this journey I felt like an outsider looking in when it came to assimilating into Indian culture. However, now I can say that India truly holds a special place in my heart and I consider it to be a second home. Bangalore had become such a haven for us and it was sad to say goodbye as we headed out to see one of the seven wonders of world. We left the comfort we’d settled into in Bangalore and headed to the far north.
Our goal of this journey was to get to see the Taj Mahal, despite the unbearable heat of the northern part of India, we were still determined to make this goal a reality. We left the comfort of our air conditioned bus to enter the gates of the Taj Mahal. Nadeem, our tour guide briefed us on some history of this monument before entering. The Taj Mahal is actually a tomb built for an Indian king’s beloved wife who died during child labor. This monument was so extravagant it took twenty two years to build and nearly bankrupt the empire. I could go on about the fascinating history of this historic monument, but I’ll wrap it up by saying the story behind the Taj Mahal’s creation is nothing short of fascinating.
I’ll never forget when we turned the corner to go through gate that leads to the Taj Mahal. It absolutely took my breathe away and the beauty of the monument and it’s surroundings can not be put into words. Between the white marble tower, pristine blue pools and impeccable grounds, it is a sight I will not soon forget. After an obligatory photo opp with this gorgeous scenery, we headed into the Taj Mahal. As it is a resting place, guests are asked to keep their voices quiet and refrain from photography as a sign of respect. Inside the Taj Mahal is the tomb of the late King and Queen in the center of this miraculously ornate room below an ornate chandelier. The sight gave me chills and it was incredible to be so close to history. The inside is lavished with the most expensive and exquisite gem stones money could by in the 1600s. The king chose these because when then moon hits them at night it makes them glow which would illuminate this mausoleum.
I still get chills writing about this experience because it was so unbelievable. Never in my life did I think I would find myself at the Taj Mahal. Being at this incredible monument was such a culminating moment for this entire experience for me. This made me realize how fortunate I was to get to take part in this experience and how grateful I am that this trip changed me the way it did. I can truly say I am a more worldly, laid back and inquisitive person than I ever was before. I’m never going to be the same again after this experience and what a beautiful thought that is. India thank you for showing me some of the most incredible people, scenery, and culture that I could’ve ever imagined. This trip has impacted my life significantly and I can’t wait to take back all I’ve learned and experienced to the US. Finally, I want to thank everyone who allowed me this incredible opportunity to go on this trip. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity. Farewell for now India, I know I can’t stay away from you too long.
It’s unbelievable to think after 6 weeks with the staff and students of AECS my time with them has come to an end. I went into my last day of teaching with a heavy heart, but grateful to have one last chance to say thank you to everyone who made my experience so wonderful. When I arrived at school the students were already begging me to stay just a day or two more. One student insisted that I stay until her birthday and stay with her at her family’s home. While I had to sadly decline this offer, I was flattered to see the kindness of my students. I was showered with letters and well wishes all day long. My folder I have kept for notes from the students nearly doubled in size in this last day. I made sure to make time to visit each and every class I had been a part of at one point or another throughout my time at Magnolia. I chatted with them, learned with them and ultimately had to say goodbye to them.
The hardest goodbye would have to be my students in class 3E. I have worked with these students in particular quite closely since my first day. The bond I have created with these students has far exceeded anything I had anticipated coming into this experience. These students are some of the most kind, intelligent and fun students I have had the pleasure of knowing. At the end of the day, I found myself in class 3E receiving a long and drawn out group hug. The students wanted me to promise I would come back and visit them. I assured them that I would do everything in my power to make this happen. On their way out, I asked each student what they wanted to be when they grew up. Answers ranged from being a dancer to being a scientist. It brought me so much happiness to hear these students aspirations, as I know they can make them all a reality.
After school, the staff of Magnolia threw us a farewell celebration. I was lucky enough to get to speak at this celebration to be able to thank the staff for making my time at Magnolia so unforgettable. I even got to sing a song for the teachers that Lakshmi Ma’am taught me, which was in Hindi. This step out of my comfort zone reminded me of just how far I have come from the beginning of this experience. We wrapped up the celebration the best way we knew how, a dance party. We blasted Indian music and the teachers taught me all kinds of new dance moves that will surely be a hit back in the States. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to the teachers at the end. I realized what incredible role models these women had been to me and how lucky I was to have had them as a mentor and friend. We hugged goodbye and promised to keep in touch, a promise I fully plan to keep.
Thank you AECS Magnolia for being such an incredible home to me for the past six weeks. Especially, thank you to Dr. Seema for allowing me this opportunity to be a part of this school and forever impacting my future in education.
Before I left for this trip, I naively thought that America was the center of the world. I thought the eyes of the world were constantly on our nation. I had predicted that the Indian people I met would be informed about events in America and I would get questions about things such as the upcoming election. That is certainly not the experience I have had. If anything, I realized how insignificant America is in the scheme of the entire globe. While I have still met my share of Indians with a good bit of knowledge about America, the majority have such a broad range of knowledge about several countries all over the world. I think this really opened my eyes to how it is so easy to live in a bubble in America and be blind to the issues of the rest of the world. I really feel like this trip is already helping me to achieve my goals of having a global mindset.
On the topic of thinking global, we met with a US Foreign Service ambassador of foreign affairs in India Dr. Craig Dicker today. Dr. Dicker joined us for brunch and was kind enough to share his stories about his travels across the world for his career. He spoke about what it was like raising a family while he was living in countries like South Africa, Yugoslavia, Turkey and many more. He told us that he asked one of his sons, who are our age now, what he thought of their global upbringing now that they were grown. His son told him that at the time he hated him for it, but now he realizes it was the best thing that has happened to him. My conversations with Dr. Dicker really opened my eyes to the possibility of living abroad in the future. I would love to be able to teach abroad one day and get to experience a true and full immersion. I am very grateful to have met Dr. Dicker and have my mind opened to the possibilities that exist in the world.
So exciting to see these overarching end goals we set for ourselves in the pre-departure meetings start to come to fruition. I can’t wait to see what my very last week in India has in store for me.
In Bangalore this week, the bus drivers’ strike has significantly impacted our teaching week. The bus drivers in the area are protesting for higher wages which forced the schools to close their doors for a few days. I am on my third day of holiday as a result and have been counting down the hours until I can see my students again. The silver lining to all this free time is that it has given me a chance to reflect on the teaching that I have done thus far.
My first official lesson was a reading lesson last week. My host teacher showed me the story I would teach the day before and sent me back home with materials to prepare. After reading through the story multiple times, I realized I wasn’t very fond of it. However, I was determined to still make the lesson fun and try to work in some deep thinking into my lesson. The story involved good karma, I wanted to engage the students by having them share a time when because of a good deed they did, something positive happened to them in turn. I had prepared a personal example to get the students thinking. When I arrived in class and tried this activity with the students, it didn’t get the response I had hoped for. The students were not able to come up with any personal examples of a time where they had been positively affected by good karma. I still am unsure if this aspect of my lesson didn’t go well because students are not used to this type of thinking and making connections or if the connection I wanted them to make was too specific. Either way, I think I learned a valuable lesson about improvising when a lesson plan doesn’t go how you expect.
Later that day, I had a very impromptu opportunity to teach a grammar lesson to a group of first standard students. The lesson was about the articles a and an before nouns. For this lesson, I was thrown into it so I had absolutely no planning. I engaged the students in a refresher on vowels and consonants and how that helps us to distinguish which article to use. I made it interactive by letting the students yell out vowel or consonant as they identified which one a word started with. The students caught on very quickly to using a and an. Even though the classroom got noisy, I was really pleased with the student learning that occurred.
Looking back, I don’t think I have a concrete reason why my one lesson flopped and the other one went off without a hitch. However, I do think both my successes and failures in teaching here has significantly helped my growth as a teacher.
On Friday, I had the unique opportunity to visit People’s Trust school right outside of Bangalore. A trust school is one that is funded half by the government and the other half is funded by a group of donors. I was lucky enough to be invited to partake in this trip with some Vidyashilp staff and students. The sixth standard students had prepared various lessons to teach these students.
When we pulled up to the school we were greeted by many smiling children. The grounds of the campus were beautiful and all the trees were fruit trees. We tried to talk with the students but for the most part the only English word they knew was hi. We all settled into their meeting area as the students from People’s Trust lined up and got prepared to come meet the students. The little ones, still in class inside the school poked their heads out and waved at us. Once all the students from both schools were together, they split into small groups. The Vidyashilp students began to teach their lessons, the lessons were taught mostly in Kannada, so that all the students could understand. It was clear how much work these students had put into their lessons and they even made them fun and interactive. Lesson ranged from balloon experiments, atlas reading, fraction lessons and a lesson on the planets. I was quite impressed with one young student as he carried out his lesson. He was very patient with the students and seemed so enthused about what he was teaching. I told him after what a great job I thought he did, to which he responded “teaching is a tough job, ma’am!”
As the lessons carried on, I was lucky to get to speak with the owner of People’s Trust whose father founded the school in the 70’s. He told us about how his father was working his way up the corporate ladder, but all of a sudden realized he wasn’t cut out for that lifestyle and wanted to instead help people. He founded People’s Trust within a village that was one the neediest in the greater Bangalore area. It started small, but the People’s Trust now provides a variety of services to people within that community. Some of the services include counseling, life skill education, vocational training and many more. One of the things he said that really stuck with me is that they try to expose their students to many different activities throughout their time at the school. They believe talent is inherent and a student can discover a hidden talent simply by being exposed to something new. I loved this idea and I think it was a testament to the well-rounded educations the students are receiving. He also mentioned that not all of these students will make it all the way through school at People’s Trust. Despite this, their goal is to make these students into good humans and community members who will make the world a better place.
I was sad to leave the school after our tour. On the way home, I spoke to one of the Vidyashilp teachers about their partnership with the school. She told me how much the students want to help and rather than bringing in money from their parents, she wanted the students to work for money to donate to the People’s Trust school. The students create crafts and knick knacks to sell at the school, the proceeds from this go directly to the People’s Trust school to help them buy essentials like lighting, fans and books. I loved how Vidyashilp taught their students about work ethic and the importance of giving. Overall, I am very grateful to have been able to take part in this experience and thank you again to Vidyashilp academy for allowing me to tag along.
Two words can summarize my week at school, Parent’s Day. Parent’s Day is a program that each class puts on to showcase their accomplishments in academics and the arts. Each day of the week, there has been three sessions of Parent’s Day programs, each one specific to a particular class. The three of us hosted by Magnolia were asked to attend these sessions and speak about our experience thus far to the parents in attendance. It has been a great opportunity to get to meet some of these parents and share about my last three weeks at the school. I was happy to take the opportunity to tell them how proud they should be of their children. The children at AECS are so internally motivated to learn and focused on their studies, this is something I haven’t seen as much of in the United States. I think the parents were happy to hear how impressive their students were.
In addition to getting to speak at these Parent’s Day sessions, I also got to see the students perform songs, dances and skits. This was by far my favorite part. It was evident how much time and effort these students put into memorizing lines, lyrics and dance moves. Each time I sat through the program I loved to watch the parents light up and whip out their phone to record as their son or daughter had their special part in the event. The kids were just as proud to be able to show their parents the fruits of their labors from all of the hours of practice they put into making this show a success. The teachers also deserve a big shout out for coordinating the program, helping students with their lines and being amazing hosts. I am sure that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into organizing the event and it certainly showed.
When I was not taking part in a Parent’s Day program, I was sitting in on Parent’s Day rehearsal for my 3rd and 4th standard students. The skit they have chosen to perform for their program on Saturday is about the issue of child labor in India. The skit is very deep and informative, it teaches the audience about the dangers of child labor and educates them on what they can do to remedy the issue. I am pleasantly surprised about how the students are dealing with the subject matter and taking their roles seriously. It is great to see this group of young people taking a stand on such an important issue. In the moments between rehearsals I have been telling the students about life in the States. They were fascinated when I told them about the difference in the schooling between India and America. Particularly the fact that in the younger grades you only have one teacher for all the core subjects. I almost got trampled when I pulled out a five dollar bill to show them. They had a million questions, which I am more than happy to field for them. I’ve had such a blast working with this intelligent and incredibly fun group of students. To wrap up, I’ll leave you all with a list of some of my favorite questions I’ve received about America this week.
-Do you have Monopoly in the United States?
-Have you acted in Hollywood?
-Why do Americans have American names?
-What language do you speak in America?
-Why don’t they play cricket in America?
Our first excursion out of Bangalore landed us in Coorg this weekend. Coorg was a welcome change from the city life of Bangalore. Coorg is a smaller community up in the mountains with a rain forest feel. Our hotel was tucked up in the mountains surrounded by nothing but trees and fog, it was beautiful.
Our first outing in Coorg was to the Dubare Elephant Sanctuary. We took a boat across the Kaveri river to get to where the sanctuary was located. We pulled up to the island to see three huge elephants bathing in the water. The elephants were all sprawled out as their trainers gave them a thorough scrubbing. After their bath time they impressed the crowd with some tricks like blowing water out of their trunks onto us. One of the rebellious elephants wasn’t into command performances and let out a frightening noise I didn’t know an elephant was capable of making.
We then headed over to the feeding area where we could feed the elephants and touch them. I must say elephants are definitely not the most enjoyable animals to touch, but nonetheless it was incredible to be so close to them. We watched as the baby elephants stuck right next to their mothers sides trying to eat whatever scraps of food they could. The elephants made their way out of the feeding area to a more open area where guests could really get up close with these beasts. I must’ve pet 6 different elephants in this area and got some amazing pictures (one of which I’ve included below). I also got hit by a baby elephant’s tail which was surprisingly painful.
After the elephant experience, we headed back across the river to go rafting. I have been rafting once before in America and was unsure of how this experience would compare. I got to sit in the front row of our raft which was a thrill that I definitely welcomed. Some of my other raft mates were a little uneasy as we approached the first rapid but I assured them they would be fine (and that if they fell out they could take me with them). The first rapid was intense as we dodged branches and rocks, trying to listen to our guides instructions along the way.
We all survived our first rapid, thankfully. After floating in some calmer water for a while, a couple of us decided we wanted to take a dip. We launched ourselves out of the raft into the warm, muddy water. I would say we definitely started a movement because the rest of the group followed our lead and at one point we all found ourselves floating down the river in our life jackets. Getting back in the rafts was a part we didn’t necessarily think out so well. Our poor guide struggled to drag us all back in the raft. Eventually we got a strategy down and we all safely got back in. We did not find out until after our little swim that there are crocodiles in this river. Thankfully we all made it out without any crocodile bites!
We then tried what is referred to in the rafting community as “surfing”. Surfing basically is when everyone in the raft paddles against the current into the rapid, while one lucky individual is laying on the front of the raft looking into the rapid. Then at some point the raft will tip into the rapids waves and a huge wave will come over the person hanging off the front. I watched horrified as Liz was brave enough to try it first. It then became quite fun and we ended up going through 5 times with each person in the raft taking a turn up in front. I went last, as soon as the wave overcame me and I accidentally swallowed in way too much river water, I knew I was going to get sick. Sure enough, the next day I had a fever and sore throat. Still glad because I can now say I surfed the Kaveri river though!