Sunday, May 19, 2013

Travels, Travels

So, as I wrote in my previous post, I did some traveling this summer. I ended up spending three weeks in India, about a month in Nepal, and then topped it off with a week at the beach in southern Thailand. I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time.

Just kidding. It was absolutely amazing. I cannot relay all of my experiences in a single post, but I’ll try to give some anecdotes over time that sum up the experiences I had.

Montfort School in Jongla, Meghalaya
I’ll begin at the beginning—India. My friend and coworker Emma and I taught at a school in a very small village in the northeast part of India. I originally thought I’d be teaching there for about three weeks, but due to timing and holidays, I unfortunately only got to teach for a week and a half. Nonetheless, I was totally blown away by the experience.

I ended up teaching quite a smattering of classes—English, health education, general knowledge, and chemistry. In English I played some fun, 

never-before-seen games both inside and outside of the classroom, including one in which, to the students’ great amusement, the short, stout school director stood in front of the classroom and tried to mime being a giraffe. In health education, I got to shock the 9th-graders a bit by giving an impromptu lesson on safe sex (while I was really supposed to be teaching a bit of a rigid curriculum about “body changes” during puberty). It was good fun to see eyes popping out of the 14-year-olds’ skulls, but I have to say my favorite class was chemistry. And I was lucky to be teaching the same topic as I had taught during my student teaching days—chemical reactions. I was reinvigorated by teaching something I know so well and love so much
Although I only taught for a week and a half, I became comfortable with the students quickly and developed quite a fondness towards them. What wonderful kids. Wonderful. It occupied a lot of cognitive space during my stay there, knowing how different these kids’ lives were from the life I led growing up. Shoddy electricity, little money, very basic amenities, virtually no motorized road transportation, no travel... Yet, here they were everyday, filling their brains with some hopefully useful information, skills and habits. For this, I had a tremendous amount of respect for them.

To say the least, I loved working with the kids at the school, and it became clear that they loved me too when they offered me something so precious as a goodbye present.

It was my last day at the school. I was sitting in the teachers’ office, showing some of the teachers how to cut out paper snowflakes (they had never seen this before were completely enthralled with it), when the 9th-grade homeroom teacher called Emma and me into her classroom.

We stood at the front of the room, facing the students who were all standing as well. They had written a personalized goodbye song for us, and they sang it beautifully with the accompaniment of an old, beat-up guitar. I was touched. I teared up. Some of the girls in the back were crying as well. It was one of the best presents I have every received. It has become a memory that will always stick with me, and will constantly serve as a reminder for me of a very important lesson—that what I do, what we all do, makes a difference.

Big or small, we affect the world and the people around us. Sometimes we think we’re just having a good time, moving through life without much aim or intention. We pass by people in our lives and don’t think anything of it. But we make a difference. In the people we interact with, teach, learn from, lead, follow...we make a difference. It’s truly in the little things that differences occur: a short interaction; an act of kindness; a show of generosity or understanding; the giving of time. We are the sum of the people we have met, and you better believe that you are included in the sums of many people’s lives that you’ve met.

 “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” –William James