As I sit in the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, waiting until it is time to board my flight to begin my journey back to the U.S., I reflect on the last two weeks of my program: week 5 and week 6. If before I came to India someone would have told me that I would love the small, rural village lifestyle more than the fast-paced, busy Mumbai city life, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. However, I have to admit that, it is indeed the truth. My last two weeks in the small village of Malavli birthed some of the best memories that I will have of this 6-week journey. Of course, the best part was getting to spend my weekdays at the CEED Modern English School; teaching the students, more so the third graders, English, grammar, and various other subjects. It will definitely be hard to put into words just how much the students impacted my life and etched their names on my heart in such a short amount of time, but I will try my best.
Instead of doing this blog in sections (week 5 then week 6), like I did with my previous posts, I am just going to write about the entire experience of these two weeks and put I specific time stamps where I see fit.
On Saturday when I pulled up to the front of what would be my new home for the next two weeks, I immediately felt like I was going to like it there. The Yellow House Bungalow had a “homey” feel that my guest house in Mumbai did not share. I was warmly greeted by two other students and the cooking “maushi,” which means auntie in Hindi. I unpacked and got to know the other girls. The next day I jumped right into exploring. Martina, another African American student from Philadelphia who had already completed 7 of her 8-weeks, took me into town. We walked up a huge mountain that led to the Bhaja Caves. Afterward, we got into a waterfall, which felt amazing and was a great memory to have. One thing that I immediately noticed about the people in Malavli was that though they stared at Martina and me, they were also very friendly. Actually, before we even got to the Bhaja Caves, a barber in town called us into his shop to tell us how much he loved our hair and to take pictures with us/of us and our hair (Martina also has braids). It was my first interaction with someone from town and it definitely set the tone for the many other positive encounters that I would have. The best moment of the time spent in the barber shop was when I revealed to him that the back of my hair was shaved; he got super excited. I asked him how much it would be for him to cut it down for me and he replied, “Oh no Miss. No charge. It would be an honor to cut such a head like yours.” Not only did I get a free haircut on my first day out, but I also formed a positive relationship with the barber (We said hello and had small conversations throughout my two-weeks in Malavli). While at the Bhaja Caves, the people were also very nice and I was surprised yet again when people started to stop and ask us to take pictures with them and their children. Martina had warned me beforehand that it would happen, but since in Mumbai people only wanted pictures of the white girls, I didn’t really pay her warning any mind. It was amazing though. People wanted to take pictures with us on the mountain and near the caves and wanted us to hold their babies; it was kind of like culture shock in comparison to what I had experienced in Mumbai. I really appreciated Martina for immediately taking me under her wing and showing me around Malavli as well as the surrounding areas.
Monday was my first day at the school. Martina and I arrived around 8:45 a.m. I met with the principal and the teachers of 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th standard. I had spent about 2 hours with the older kids when the principal suggested that I go down the road and meet with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd standard students since they had not received much attention from study abroad students; I am so glad that she suggested that because those children made my experience the most amazing experience I could have dreamed of.
I spent most of my two-weeks at the school with the 3rd standard class. I learned each of their names and formed my own personal relationships with each and everyone one of them. It is amazing that in just two-weeks I was so impacted by these children. They are so happy and full of life. Though most Americans would think that these children should be unhappy due to their living conditions, they are not. They are happier than most of the privileged children that I know in the U.S. There were times when I found it to be difficult to teach them, since their understanding of English is a work in progress and the teachers seem to give them the answers to questions instead of challenging them to find it for themselves, but as the days went on, they grasped my way of teaching and enjoyed receiving homework assignments from me, since they were also not used to getting homework. One thing that I really enforced was pushing them to at least “try” classwork and homework assignments. It appeared as if they weren’t used to someone pushing them to try to figure things out on their own, and by doing that, I began to see each of them form this new attitude of independence and stronger work ethic. I also engaged with them in a more personal manner; sharing information about my family and my home and in exchange, listening to them. I also made sure to tell them “good job” and taught them how to do “high-fives” to congratulate one another on a job well done. Lastly, stickers played a huge part in my classroom. Students received stickers each time they completed a work assignment or went back and corrected their work until they got it all correct. This was a way to reward them for attempting to do the work, doing it correctly, and/or fixing their mistakes. I have so many memories and shared so many moments with these 3rd graders that I can’t even share them all. All I can say is that I was so humbled and encouraged by my interactions with my students; so impacted that I am actually working on planning a trip back next summer for a longer time period (maybe a month or two). I also plan to use the event that my university is hosting for me as a school supplies drive so that I can send school materials and classroom decorations to the principal of the school to be distributed among all the classes. My time at the CEED Modern English School opened up my eyes in so many ways and now I just want to continue my relationship with the school as well as look for other philanthropic opportunities.
My last day at the school was full of fun and the making of my last memories with my kids before I left to return back to America. We worked on our final lessons and then the fun began. Every student in my 3rd standard class gave me cards and pictures that they had drawn and every other grade in the school made me a card, in which each student in that respective grade wrote me a nice message. My third graders and I ate cake, played “Simon Says,” had a dance party, took photos, and I gave out party favors (bubbles, plastic animals, crayons, etc.) to them. By the end of the day, it began to set in that I would be leaving. my kids began to ask me when I was coming back: “Miss, please come back tomorrow.” “Miss, will you be back in August?” “How about March?” “Miss, when will you be back?” All of these questions did not make it any easier and having to reply back “No” and “I’m not sure” to them was so hard. I had been trying to hold my emotions in all day so that we could all enjoy our last day with fun and happiness, but as we got closer to the end of the day, things got more emotional. My students seemed so heartbroken when they realized that I wouldn’t be back for a long time. I started to see big, brown eyes get filled with tears around the room, and then I felt mine begin to do the same. So yes, some tears were shed, many “I love you” and “I’ll miss you” were exchanged, and so many hugs were given before I finally left out the doors of the CEED Modern English School and walked my way back to the Yellow House Bungalow to finish packing.
Spending 6-weeks in India was an amazing experience, though, it was also an emotional roller coaster. I learned so much about the country, the culture, the people, traveling abroad, and most importantly, I learned a ton about myself. I will save all of that for my final blog video when I reflect on the entire experience and share my advice and future plans. Thank you to Diversity Abroad for seeing the potential in me and giving me the additional support needed to make this dream become a reality. I am so grateful and anxious to pass on my experiences as well as to help and prepare future students to pursue their dreams of traveling abroad and immersing themselves into a new culture.