During the winter of 2005/06 we traveled to India to teach English at Gandhi College for several months. After an abrupt immersion in New Delhi (which is totally unlike any American city), we arrived in Mirda Village, the home of Gandhi College. We were to teach English to the girls and boys of the college, but exactly what this meant was not clear until we began to negotiate the rather substantial differences between the Indian and American systems of education. (There was also the small fact that in the beginning almost no student understood our American accents!)
After some adjustment, we realized that we would be most effective teaching English to small groups of students. This was a combination of conversational English, and heart-to-heart talks (which are always only possible in small groups). Some of the girls in particular could and did open up to us with some powerful as-yet unspoken feelings. We got to know a number of students and became really attached.
At the same time that we were teachers, we were learning an immense amount about Indian village culture, especially since we lived in the ancestral home of Professor J. Shukla with his older brother’s family. While we were treated as daughters, we also experienced the huge difference between modern American culture and that of a small Indian village.
While we cannot pretend it was easy, it was also one of the most educational experiences we have ever had, and one that we strongly recommend, particularly to young American women.
Excerpt from a letter from Shannon Gray:
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for my trip to India, to Mirdha to live with your family, to teach at your school, to conduct the survey of your village, and ultimately to receive a new set of eyes. I think about India and your family often, the trip has really changed me in so many positive ways. After India I began working in the sustainable construction industry and have decided to focus my attention on water and more specifically wastewater issues in rural and underprivileged communities…this passion of mine is due mainly to visiting India and living in Mirdha. Being there made me realize that improving sewer, sanitation, and drinking water supplies would improve the lives and health of the villagers and the local environment. I’ve been volunteering with a group called Water for People that support water and sanitation projects in developing countries and I regularly daydream about working with them in Mirdha.”