After officially finishing my semester of studies in Delhi, I can’t help but reflect on the amalgamation of experiences, feelings, and emotions that I have experienced while studying abroad in India. My short six months of studies and travel have flown by, and yet I have experienced such an array of confusion, juxtaposition, and contradictions that have made my experiences in India at times overwhelmingly indescribable and extraordinary. While reflecting on my past six months, one of the only continuities that I can honestly say extended throughout my semester abroad is a sense of inconsistency and unexpectedness that I had yet to ever experience elsewhere. My experience in India was undoubtedly meaningful and life-changing, but above all it taught me to expect the unexpected and adapt to life’s continual surprises.
Despite the countless lessons and understandings that my semester in India has left me with, one very concrete learning experience from my semester abroad is my decision to volunteer at a local NGO called Prayas. The Prayas Juvenile-aid Center for underprivileged is an organization that specifically houses adolescent girls within the Delhi area who have experienced sexual assault, violence, or other traumatic experiences in their lives that prohibit them from returning home safely. This organization provides psychological care, housing, general education, vocational studies as well as sexual health and wellness education for both the Prayas girls as well as local underprivileged slum children. At this organization, I volunteered weekly through lesson planning, teacher assistance, English language and grammar teaching, and academic material preparation in order to help the organization achieve its academic objectives.
My experience volunteering at Prayas was by far one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding experiences during my semester in India. Despite numerous challenges I overcame with transportation, language, culture shock, cultural differences, and more throughout the semester, none of these concerns compared to how difficult it was to volunteer at an NGO in a foreign country. Although I initially predicted difficulties because of my own limited knowledge of Hindi, I never suspected the vast differences I found between NGOs in India and the NGOs I was more accustomed to back in the States- particularly within organization, implementation, administrative corruption, and overall quality of education. Despite these many differences that initially left me questioning my overall place and ability to help improve Prayas’s accomplishments, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to step back and reestablishing my own goals towards a personal learning experience about Indian NGOs and facilitating the NGO rather than attempting to completely reorganizing the center within a short six months. Through this mindset, I was able to minimize my own imposition as a foreign volunteer and instead focus my own work around how I could best aid the organization in its own pre-established objectives.
Through my weekly visits to the Prayas campus, I learned how to establish meaningful and consistent relationships with my supervisor, the Prayas teachers, and the students despite very apparent cultural and language barriers. While many aspects of the organization were overwhelmingly heavy at times, particularly the living conditions and personal lives of the students I worked with, I aspired to encourage the students towards academic achievement and personal strength towards their futures. On a weekly basis, I prepared English-learning games, activities, and lessons in order to get to know the students better and make them more comfortable with myself as a volunteer. By the end of the semester, I struggled on my own to say goodbyes to the children I had become so close with. On the final day when tears were shed and hugs were dispersed throughout the classroom, I could only hope that my semester of volunteering made some sort of long-term positive impact within their lives and with the organization itself. While my experiences at Prayas spanned from motivational, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking, volunteering during my semester abroad was one of the most significant decisions I made while in India. I only hope that future students hoping to study abroad in India also choose to volunteer at Prayas or another similar NGO, as it was a truly wonderful way to both give back and receive one of the most meaningful foreign volunteer and cultural immersion experiences I could have imagined.
In addition to personal growth in my own physical and mental flexibility, endurance, and independence, India has left me with a plethora of uniquely hilarious anecdotes that I will bring with me throughout the rest of my life. From the time I had a bag of Kurkure (Indian-style Cheetos) stolen directly out of my hands by a monkey in central Delhi, the time I was pelted by water balloons while riding in an Auto-rickshaw the day before Holi, or the first time I walked out onto marble to see the magnificent Taj Mahal at sunrise, India has bestowed me with a set of inconceivable, unimaginably funny, exhaustive, and at times overwhelming memories that will always remind me of my semester abroad. My semester in Delhi has been undeniably one of the most significant and extraordinary experiences of my college experience, and I will always remember my infinite memories of confusion, shock, awe, and endearment when I think of the six months I spent abroad in India.
– Ellie Kaufman ’14