My Advice for Volunteers in Dharamshala – Xiaoyu Liu

mapWhen 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. mountainsBut 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.”

kidsrockSecondly, 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. playingStill, 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

My Summer at TIFR – Tanvi

This past summer I visited Mumbai, India where I interned at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR.) This institute is a deemed research facility and specializes in research in the fields of the basic sciences and mathematics. The institute also offers great PhD programs. I was fortunate enough to work under the guidance of Dr. Maitreyi Narasimha in her cellular biology laboratory. As a summer research student I helped with her study on cellular behaviors and cellular reorganization during morphogenesis, using Drosophila melanogaster or fruit flies as a model organism. I helped set up crosses to breed progeny with specific manipulated genes. Furthermore I was able to set up my own cross with a mutated gene of my choice to be examined. The experience was amazing and I really enjoyed my time in the laboratory.

I was accompanied by two other summer research students and the three of us carried out several experiments together that involved setting up crosses, collecting embyros and staining and visualizing embryos. Dr. Narasimha was a great person to work under and her whole laboratory staff made me feel at home. The other researchers in the laboratory frequently helped the summer students out and helped us initially by showing us the procedures. It was interesting to note that my experience at Brandeis and in the biology laboratory at Brandeis helped me immensely! I was able to better navigate around the laboratory than the other summer students and as I had worked with flies before I knew how to set up crosses swiftly and efficiently. It felt great learning about the way college students learned in India, and there were many days spent just talking about the difference in our educations. Although students studying in India knew a whole lot about the field and the research behind the experiments being carried out, I was better adapted to working in the laboratory in a more practical way. I enjoyed learning from the other students and I hope that they felt the same when I helped them carry out the experiments in the laboratory.

Dr. Narasimha encouraged us to present our findings and work every week in front of the entire laboratory and she gave us many useful hints how to go about the various experiments. She made sure that we grasped what was going on at all times and took a real interest in helping us understand our basic knowledge of her line of work. One of the best moments for me was when she allowed me to see the confocal microscope in the laboratory. Undergraduate students were not allowed to use the microscope but Dr. Narashimha still gave the summer students a very interesting demonstration of the microscope. I do believe that my two months in Mumbai were a huge success!

I learned a lot during my time at TIFR and in turn I did manage to stem some curiosity about Brandeis and the research that goes on in the university. It was humbling to have my colleagues in the laboratory forming only good impressions of Brandeis and I know that I will keep in touch with everyone in the laboratory. At Brandeis, I hope to use my new found laboratory skills to further use and further evaluate the differences in research facilities and research in the United States and in India.

   Tanvi's Lab Tanvi's Lab2

Blog posts from Aneil Tripathy – Summer 2012

Aneil Tripathy '12 with the Nutrition Initiative, Ashoka Foundation

Aneil Tripathy ’12 with the Nutrition Initiative, Ashoka Foundation

Leaving for India!

This entry was posted on May 31, 2012.

Tomorrow morning, I am off to India. It has been three years since my last trip to India, and I am very excited to be back. After seventeen hours of waiting/flying through Boston-London-Bahrain, I will arrive in Delhi. I am travelling with my friend from Nursery school, David Manning, a recent graduate in economics from George Washington University. Upon our arrival in Delhi, we will meet up with Anjulika Sahgal, a Brandeis Sophomore. She lives in Delhi and has graciously allowed us to stay in her home.

We hope to see many museums in Delhi, along with the Lotus Temple. This temple adheres to the Baha’i faith, and I was very moved by it the last time I was in the city. It is an incredibly serene and open temple surrounded by gardens. We will also spend one day in Agra to see the infamous Taj Mahal, as well as the Red fort and other Mughal buildings in the area.

After Delhi, it is off to Ranchi, the capital of the state of Jharkhand on June 9th. My paternal family lives in Chakradharpur, a town three hours by road from the capital. Once I arrive in CKP, the railroad abbreviation for the town and colloquial slang, I will get to work with Ekjut, located in Pansua, Jharkhand.

What happened in Delhi, along with the Taj Mahal

Every time I come to India I always see something new, and indeed the air-conditioned metro system in Delhi was incredible to see. Covering a distance greater than the Boston T, for only a couple rupees, David and I traveled around the whole city, from India Gate to the Lotus Temple. However, we were not able to enter the temple because it was Monday, unbeknownst to us the temple was closed on Mondays.

While in Delhi, it was very interesting to stay in Gurgaon. Gurgaon is a city to the Southwest of Delhi that has developed tremendously in the last ten years. Filled now with malls and apartment complexes that seem to have spontaneously risen out of the ground, the landscape seems to be in a state of flux, with overturned soil giving way to golf courses, gas stations, and highways. Along with these developments there was also a large track of land with a billboard proclaiming an effort to keep Gurgaon green by planting one million trees.

In Gurgaon, I stayed with Brandeis Sophomore Anjulika Sahgal. Although her mom had not been to Brandeis, she said she was very happy to have met President Fred Lawrence on his last trip to India with other parents of students. We spent much time playing Risk with her brother Nikhil and even saw Men in Black 3 in 3-D in a Gurgaon mall. I’ve found that the speaker system in Indian movie theaters tend to be much better than those in the US. We also met two Filipina girls that David had a mutual friend with. They had just been in Delhi for two weeks working for a Japanese financial news company.

We spent a day travelling to Agra on the air-conditioned Volvo bus. The ride was very pleasant, as the road is not bad between New Delhi and Agra. We were able to sleep along most of the way. Once in Agra, David and I spent the whole afternoon at the Taj Mahal, relaxing in the Mosque to its left. Many people came up to us wanting to take a picture with David. We also met the whole family of a newlywed Muslim couple. Although one of the group initially scolded us for sitting the wrong way in the Mosque, we later talked for some time with the family. Apparently the newlywed husband had just graduated from school with a degree in economics, and his wife was a teacher.

I’m sure that after the time in Delhi, it will be a very interesting contrast to be in the village. I have only seen one mosquito so far, and am sure that this will now change. With regards to Ekjut, I also just found out that the NGO has been shortlisted for the India Initiatives Awards. Very excited to be in the village and work with Ekjut.

Read more on Aneil’s blog:
See more photos:

Facilitator Sumitra leads women's group in prioritizing community health concerns

Facilitator Sumitra leads women’s group in prioritizing community health concerns