When I first decided to teach in India, I thought I could do a lot for the kids there: I could tell stories about the world as well as teach them classes like what my professors had lectured me in college. I believed everybody had a sense of critical-thinking and I could cultivate that by leading class discussions like what in my college classes. Also, I knew that kids were eager to learn knowledge from outside world, based on my somewhat similar volunteering experience in China. When I was teaching in a middle school in Guizhou, China, one day, I was in charge of a self-learning class in which usually kids did their homework and I read. When I took out my magazines, some kids rushed to my desk and asked to take a look. The next day, I brought some other magazines and the kids again took them away. I could tell that kids were eager to learn new knowledge and I firmly believed this worked out the same in India. Therefore, I felt I just needed to bring myself there and give them useful and interesting lectures to help them learn something. But once I went there, I found my expectation would be hard to come true because there was something I missed in my plan. The first and the most obvious part was the language gap. Before I went to India, I thought English worked as an official language there, so the kids should be able to understand most of what I said in English. However, this proved wrong at a school in a rural area. The program I was working with was the Love Volunteer program and the local NGO I was working with was Sankalp which is an India-based organization that has many projects, including educational projects in Dharamshala and Jaipur, and developmental projects in Maharashtra. What I did was teaching computer skills and English at a local elementary school in Bundla, Dharamshala, where most of the villagers could not speak much English. Most of the kids in my class aged from seven to eleven, and their English level was only limited to daily talks, like “how are you,” or “where are you from.”
Secondly, it really takes time to understand the local culture and to get along well with the kids. It is not only about loving them, buying them snacks and playing with them, but also understanding what they like or dislike, knowing the ways of their lives, and appreciating the local culture. There are so many things for us volunteers to learn from the local area and it takes much time to understand, to accept and to feel comfortable with it. For example, when I had my first day in class, all of the kids came to surround me and asked me to dance for them. I said, “What? Shouldn’t we sit nicely and I speak, you listen?” I expected to give them a good lecture but they just wanted me to dance. It was like a culture shock to me but I still did it for them. Gradually, as I stayed in India longer, I realized that dancing was one of most significant part of Indian culture. The dancing images are everywhere, from god statues to TV programs, and everyone is born a dancer; even young kids wave their bodies step by step with the music. After knowing more and more elements about Indian culture, I started to feel comfortable and then to appreciate what my kids did, although in my own culture people do not dance very much but sing a lot. Later, we had a picnic, and we danced there for hours during the lunch break. Although I was still not good at it, but I did not feel uncomfortable when my students asked me to dance in front of them anymore. After all, it takes time for one to accept new ideas from another culture. Still, though the volunteering experience was totally different from my expectation, I learned a good lesson from that. Then I further considered what role we volunteer from abroad were and what we could bring to the kids in India. There is something we cannot do, like what I expected teaching sophisticated concepts, but there is other thing we can do for them. For example, we can teach good behaviors and habits. This could be like teaching them do not litter, since some little kids believe that it is ok to throw trash anywhere. Rather than taking it for granted, we should remind them to pick it up and put in a trash can. Even though it is a small thing, we should take it seriously, and further educate them the importance of protecting the environment and keeping the public space clean.
I also suggest that those who really want to do something for the kids to apply for a longer program. One-month program is definitely not long enough. I would recommend staying there for at least three month, which could be useful in helping a foreigner to better understand the Indian culture and kids so that he can figure out the best teaching strategies. I took a one-month program, which was only a good start for me to make friends with the kids and then we waved good-bye. However, if under a longer program, on the one hand one can learn some Hindi to better communicate with the kids, staying longer results in more interaction with the kids, no matter through in class or leisure time, and better friendships. In the end, you are more likely to find out an appropriate way or approach to teach kids and help them really learn something – and you will learn a lot too!
– Xiaoyu Liu