Final Impressions of India

India was unlike any of the other countries we had been to. It was my biggest culture shock of the trip so far: the food, clothing, traditions, views of women v men, and language were all so different frm what I had always known. Although there was a complete lack of traffic patterns, Arden and I both admit that we loved ridin in the tuktuk auto rickshaws to work at Idex or after work activities such as the gym or mall. It was so exhilirating! Seeing the city flash by, people wating at the bus stop, pedestrians deciding when the best time to cros was, etc. Six weeks in Jaipur I thought had made me a pro crossing streets - much less "running for my life" than determining when there was a big enough gap for me to safely cross, if I ran haha - but Delhi taught me that I still do not know how to walk in India.

Everyone - car, bike, pedestrian, tuktuk, motorcycle, camel, whatever - is just focused on getting to where they need to be and right-of-ways are a joke. After a while, I grew tired of the no shame staring (Indians do not seem to have any concept o personal space or staring as being rude...at least from my experience) the culturally and religiously established traditions around what women can/cannot do, and the trash piles (no guilt about throwing wrappers or bottles on the streets).

However as I stared out the window, catching glimpses of people's lives, leaving Jaipur and heading to Agra and Delhi, I found myself thinking aout the children I had taught for the past six weeks...I missed them already. Their smiling faces, jokes, eagerness to learn and show me what they remembered, calling me Didi "sister" (similar to how people called us Sisi in South Africa)...Am I headed down the path of a teacher? Do I want that? Do I hesitate because of the values and perceptions society has placed on teachers and teaching as a profession?

Looking out the window, I started to reflect on the simple things ib life that other countries like India seem to have down, but in our fast development and various technologies, we have hastily cast aside. Is simple so hard to do? When did handiwork become less valued? I see farmers in the countryside using cow paddies as fuel, people creating pulley systems to fix wires or lift construction materials, drivers fixing their own tuktuk vehicles on the side of the road with a group of friends (they all learn how to fix their vehicles when something goes wrong vs most of us in the U.S. would call someone to come do it for us), and lives centered around family vs friends, kids playing hopscotch outside instead of sitting and watching TV inside... Technology and other developments seem like such great advancements, but are they really? When did technology and big supermarkets overtake handiwork and homemade/farming/farmer's markets??

After living in a host family for six weeks, teching in the slums, and being independent with Arden around the city, I have a renewed appreciation for how close-knit my family is at home, the kind of innovative education my parents have provided for me and the experience TBB has given me around the world - "learning how to fend for myself," use my common sense, and not be so directionally-challenged. India was an amazing experience to try out many new things - adjusting to eating spicy foods, embracing their beautiful colorful clothing, and learning some Hindi words as well (colors and directions - very handy in the tuktuks!). Off to China! Zhong guo jia you!! :)


Mon, Feb 6, 2012

Quick post before I go eat breakfast! :)

Life in Jaipur is busy as always. But I absolutely love riding in tuk-tuks! It's like this invisible trust bond that you form with the tuk-tuk driver as you get into their auto, and then they step on the gas and start maneuvering the hustling-bustling that is Jaipur. You think you can't or cannot believe that you are, but you trust them to get you to your destination safely haha.

We finished our Education seminars and I was left with more questions than I had anticipated... What is the best way to teach a child? If each individual is different, how do we ensure that they all get the best education we can provide? Does teaching have to happen just in the classroom? What kind of learning can happen in and outside of the classroom? What is the goal of education anyways? Why does it seem different in various countries?

This weekend was really fun. Going into the weekend, we did a Bollywood dance class on Friday -- which was sooooo much fun!!!! I am not the dancing type, nor can I usually move my body the way I want...haha. But it was so FUN! And our teaching instructors were two sisters who were incredibly sweet and nice. On Saturday, Arden and I hung out, worked on our media projects, went to the gym, and grabbed a couple bites to eat. On Sunday, we headed to our cooking class near Idex and then another Bollywood dance class (I didn't dance this time), as well as media project worktime. The cooking class was really awesome and our teacher was super sweet too. We made Paneer Tikka, Chana Masala, Chai, Dal, Veg Pakoras, and many more! My favorite was the veg pakoras -- which were basically fresh veg tempura :D Indian style! DELICIOUS.

We're coming to a sad close this week in Jaipur, India...however, we will be enjoying our enrichment week in other parts of India too. And our media project presentation is this Friday -- I can't wait to see everyone's final products! I'm also curious about the closing ceremonies that Claire and Julia are planning...they asked us to each write something down that no one in our group knew about us.

On Tuesday, we're welcoming a student from Germany who is doing an exchange program with our host sister's school. She's staying for a week, and then in a couple of months, Ridhi will go to Germany to see her school.

Arden and I are munching on our last few Indian snacks too -- peanut brittle circles, coconut balls, jelly cookies, etc :D YUMMY.


Fri, Jan 27th, 2012

Happy. Sad. Culturally immersed. Homesick. Proud. Frustrated. At Peace. Head Exploding.

For the past couple of weeks, I've definitely cycled through the emotions above doing weekend excursions, traveling to Udaipur for IST, teaching my kids in Katputali Nagar, and working through my media project. Quite frankly, our time in India seems like it's gone by pretty fast, but I find myself slowing down in these last few weeks. I'm tempted to think about home in the U.S. more often, not feel like doing much but sleeping when I get home, and want nothing but a good burger instead of the variety of spices and sauces I taste at each Indian meal.

We've thus far finished our renovation/beautification project at the other school. It looks really nice -- all dusted, cleaned, and painted. So we've shifted our focus to more detailed lesson planning in our primary schools and creating/preparing our media projects for the PL Review on Thursday. Yikes!

I've taught my kids a basic set of emotions and introduced the phrases "How are you?" (with responses of various emotions vocab), "How old are you?" "What do you like?" (with responses of fruit and color vocab). It's been fun seeing when what we're learning and speaking clicks (Eureka!) for individual students, as well as just fooling around with them [putting the lesson on hold--which sometimes I have a hard time bringing them back to...] when they have too much energy (helps me see a different side of them and they like to grab my attention and hold it individually to spell or speak all the English words they know to me in one breath haha). My lessons in Katputali Nagar have been going pretty well, and I've enjoyed myself in general coming up with innovative and creative ways (games, activities, etc) to teach my students, but my media project has been a different story.

My media project has at this point, been a HUGE BRAINSTORM. I've thoroughly enjoyed all the seminars we've been having on the topic of Education and all the resources/questions/players that brings up, but I've been struggling with understanding how students can still be learning via a "banking education." It's been intriguing to look back on my education at High Tech Middle Media Arts and International to see that project-based learning, socratic seminars, discussions, SPECS (Significance, Perspective, Evidence, Connection, and Supposition) all along ARE the future direction of education or should be a part of it -- and I'm glad to have had experienced it, because I am now even more proud of my school, peers and teachers who were in it with me. Side note: We watched the film Finland Phenomenon, which was a study into the "why" and "how" Finland is top by almost every educational standard. It touched on a lot of things that I had experienced in project-based learning and I very much agreed with many of its points.

In the process of emptying my brains onto paper in multiple notebooks, I came up with MANY MANY questions I still had about the educational process and the purpose of education. It seemed to me that if many agreed that the purpose of education was to "prepare the individuals for the world/life after school," then why are we still so stuck on cramming content into our students (theoretical v practical)??

Why can't learning in the classroom take place through collaborative efforts between the teacher and students? Why must the teacher be put on a pedestal above the students? The students must respect the teacher, but, in my opinion, it does not have to go so far as to instill this complete opposite relationship where the teacher supposedly knows everything and the students are only there to receive this new knowledge and information. With project-based learning, I learned how to analyze information, think for myself, connect unrelated things to each other, and dig deeper in any kind of discussion or research I chose to undertake. After thinking about all this for so long, I have come to the realization that no question has one single answer. There's always more to it and more to find out. So why teach our kids in school that one answer is right, one answer is wrong, and the teacher has the right now? We teach students, in the majority of schools around the world, to memorize information and facts and ask them to regurgitate them on tests to see if they've "learned" the material. Does this really prove that they have learned something? Going out into the world, they are going to need to know how to distinguish between information -- especially when they come across something that is one person's opinion, but presented as fact or truth. How will they ever be able to do this and develop their own thoughts on the subject, if they are only taught to accept the information given as correct? Then I started thinking about the past Hindu education system with gurus. The literal meaning of the word "guru," which were teachers in the past, is one who takes you from darkness to light. These gurus were given the utmost respect and not questioned, but in modern terms, a "guru" is just someone exceptionally skilled or well-versed in a particular subject/activity. Would it be so wrong for students to be gurus alongside their teachers? Why are teachers and students so restricted to the roles society and the education system seems to expect of them? Why can't we change this and learn how better to teach our students?

Amidst all this frustration, it's been nice to hang out and bond with Arden over being roomies -- driving in tuk-tuks together, stocking up on snacks from the street shops, keeping each other in check (getting work done and working out :)), etc. Our weekend tuk-tuk excursions to Gaurav Tower for Pizza Hut/shopping/froyo, malls, sightseeing, chilling at the Crossword bookstore, have been much needed [to get away from the crazy life sometimes].

IST! This time I went with Julia and Claire to Udaipur –- weekend slogan: EAT, SLEEP, SHOP ☺ It was a bit of a cold journey getting there at night, but after our train got delayed and we somehow survived the freezing cold train the entire eight hours, it was incredibly relaxing. We attempted to go see the City Palace (beautiful on the outside!) – our only tourist sight of the weekend – but we ended up only enjoying the outside walls and exhibits, because there was a fee for bringing in your camera… We had fun café-hopping, shopping the streets, waking up late, sitting on the side of the lake, eating at rooftop restaurants. It was an amazing weekend. Much needed break from the hustle-bustle of Jaipur.

Side Note #2: My favorite seminar reading so far has been Chapter 7 of The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. He talked a lot about changing the nature of education by concerning ourselves with “how” we teach, instead of “how much” we teach. He also mentioned Steve Jobs and his speech to graduating Stanford students, from which I extracted a quote that was interesting to me and made me realize to not sweat the small stuff.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”


Sat, Jan 14th, 2012

Quick update because Arden and I have to go participate in the festivities of the Kite Festival today on our roof! :)

Not much has changed since my last blog post -- still enjoying the food, people, culture, and schools of Jaipur. Although I am really excited about exploring a new city in India next weekend for IST! I think I'm heading to Udaipur with a couple friends.

Teaching in Katputali Nagar is still fun and frustrating. I have had some proud moments and funny experiences trying to teach the words to English songs to some of the kids. It was interesting getting them to understand "turn," "shake," "left," and "right" so I could sing the Hokey Pokey with them HAHA. Their favorite word was, of course, SHAKE. However, Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, we didn't teach because there was a holiday declared due to the cold weather. So instead, we walked around Katputali Nagar and did family visits -- which was just as intriguing and nice to do. Most of the parents are puppetmakers or drivers (tuk tuks/auto rickshaws in the city), and want their kids to go to school and learn EVERYTHING, so they can get other jobs (like a teacher or doctor).

Arden and I are currently impatiently waiting for our saris to be done at the tailor :D

Last night was super fun because we all danced on the roof with lots of music (just like New Year's) to celebrate anticipation of the Kite Festival. Arden and I, along with the four other Idex volunteers (staying with us for a couple of nights), danced the night away with Ridhi (our host sister)'s cousins. Then we played Housi again (Bingo, but playing for money!) -- I won a couple times each round hehe -- and did a round of musical chairs as well. We definitely felt like a part of the family. They are all so nice!!

P.S. Last weekend, we also split into mento groups and visited Amber (Amer) Fort, Jantar Mantar (the observatory), and Hawa Mahal -- in addition to some fun shopping. :)

Arden and I are hoping to go to a movie, get some Seminar/media project/IST stuff done, and get our saris back this weekend! We'll see!


Sun, Jan 8th, 2012

A little over a week spent in India and I'm already well stocked up on Indian style clothing! :D I've bought two kurtas (?), two shirts, two pairs of loose pants, a pair of bangles and a sari!! Yay! Haha. It definitely makes me feel more a part of the community here when I wear my new clothing and random people walk by and smile.

Besides various shopping excursions, Arden and I have gotten to know our Indian family and the daily/nightly routines pretty well. We greet them all with "Namaste," and have started hugging our sister and mom goodnight too. They are all so sweet and always smiling. They communicate with us fairly well in English -- Arden and I love it when we say thank you and our mom simply says "welcome," or we ask her if something is okay and she smiles, nods, and says "okay, no problem" in her accent. Arden likes the food a bit spicier than me, but no matter -- we always have fun trying to eat the right sauces and foods with the chapati (bread) or rice at mealtimes. As if our family doesn't feed us enough (they are always asking if we want more of this or that), Arden and I are also guilty of making multiple trips to the small snack shops on the street corner to satisfy our mini cravings for chocolate or Oreos at odd hours of the day. :)

The work project is amazing. I am working with Hope, Sarah and Tom in the government run upper primary school in Katputali Nager. So far, I've been having the time of my life. I think the Education unit is my favorite. The kids are so eager and so cute that I constantly wish we could spend more than two hours a day with them! Our kids are 2nd and 3rd graders, but often of mixed abilities and levels. And all of them don't come every day, so it's difficult to account for games/activities and steady learning & teaching to the whole class. I've had the most success with being flexible and willing to improvise with different students. We usually split them into at least two groups for both English and Math class. With the students I teach, I tend to use the blackboard and ask them to come up one by one and match/write/identify a letter/number. We are currently working with them on the alphabet (writing/pronouncing every letter), their English names, and numbers 1-100 (pronounciation and some spelling). My proudest moments have been when particular students have exceeded my expectations and I've been successful in pushing them further -- quickly improvising to give them another challenge. Can't wait to teach them again this week!

Seminars here have also been super interesting. Seminar 1 was somewhat just an introduction to our opinions about the purpose of education and thinking about our personal educational experiences (both positive and negative). But Seminar 2 and 3 really got me thinking... It was funny because I started the group off on a tangent in Seminar 2 that got us discussing, debating and arguing about who education should be taught for. We were tackling and analyzing the question "Should education be taught for the growth of an individual or the society?" In other words, where is the balance between the standards of society (subjects/concepts needing to be taught - ie. Math, Science, English, History) and letting kids pursue their true passions and curiosities (allowing them to choose what they want to learn)? If education is to be taught purely for the individual, then it doesn't matter what they learn; they can choose whichever path and grow up only learning about one thing, if they are really interested in it. Whereas if education is to be taught for society, thus building the country's future engineers, teachers, lawyers, doctors, then there needs to be standards (to make sure those kind of students get pumped out of the system and fulfill those job positions).

Then, we recently had our usual Seminar 3: (same question in each core country) "What is development?" and the journaling process that came post-seminar surprised me. Though we tried tackling this curious question in three countries already, I still don't quite know how to answer it [and I'm beginning to think there isn't an answer :/] This is what I'm come up with so far, sort of just what I've been thinking... Development is any solution that betters life in a community (ie. introduces more job opportunities) or gives that country a greater edge as a player on the global stage. These authors, especially Leonard Frank, have helped me realize that development should not just be going into a country, and building for them a new device that we think betters their life in some way. As Arturo Escobar mentioned, everyone needs to be involved in this process. So, in my opinion, development should not be a top-down process. Those that the development is going to affect the most, should obviously have a say in what is being built/done. As has everything we've done so far on TBB, these authors have only make me more confused about what real/beneficial/successful development should look like. I don't know what I assume anymore. But what sticks out to me most is when 1st world countries send people overseas to carry out a single development project that they think the locals will want and thank them for, and then just leave. How do we support other countries in development without continuously spoon-feeding them solutions/technology and money? They shouldn't be dependent on us forever. How do we make sure we account for the human factor in all development projects overseas (so we don't feel/act so detached and not caring about the people hurt/affected by the project) but not become so attached in our human relationships that we keep them wanting more and more from us and not pursuing sustainable developments on their own?

How do we break away from this "we want to lend, they want to borrow [so what's the problem?]" mentality??


Sun, Jan 1st, 2012

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Wow, we're in India! We got here a couple of days ago, after taking multiple flights, sitting for hours on planes, and falling asleep on airport floors... Our host families are incredibly nice and all the staff members we will be working with at Idex are warm and welcoming. The hustle-bustle of the streets of Jaipur reminds us that there is never a dull moment here :)

So far, we've just started getting into the routine of the Indian lifestyle and the way things work at Idex. Arden and I are in the same host family -- we both think our house is big, beautiful, and extremely accomodating! The food we've had for breakfast and dinner are traditional spicy vegetarian options, but at this point, we have no real complaints. It's been really fun getting to try so many new things, while having the support of so many people (including the family, because they each speak a good amount of English - I was surprised) around us. Our mom will often just sit with us while we eat, stare curiously at us, and ask us if we want more of anything. Even though it doesn't seem like much, it's nice just to have her there sometimes and see that she cares. The older brother and younger sister are very friendly and talkative -- they are big game players (especially UNO!) and love to answer our questions or help us practice our Hindi phrases.

At Idex every morning, we have been absorbing and learning a lot of new information about India's history, politics, caste system, education, women, etc. as part of our orientation activities. We have happily become accustomed to the tea ("chai" in Hindi) breaks multiple times a day at Idex too! We got introduced to the project staff and community projects today that we will be working on starting Tuesday. We will be split into different groups, because the projects are split into two different slums and include computer education to women and teens or basic primary education to students in schools. I'm excited for either one!

Today was so much fun! After coming home in a tuk-tuk (Jaipur's taxis) from Idex, our sister and cousin took us out to a mall to buy some Indian style clothing and shop around for other accessories. Arden and I ended up buying a couple "korta" (?) shirts and pair of pants -- as well as bangles to match. We enjoyed ourselves with that excursion for sure. :) Another day, our mom is going to take us to buy saris (women's traditional dress)!! Then we came back home, met all the family (cousins, aunts, etc), ate dinner with some of them, and joined the dance party on the roof. They set up a bonfire and we jammed out to Hindu and English music. It was really fun! And at midnight, they set off lots of fireworks from the garden terrace (level above the roof we were on)!! :) Lastly, we played a Bingo type game and won prizes for specific patterns!! :D Arden and I both won a couple times!

changed March 2, 2012