Cochrum embarks on journey to India

September 10, 2014 — by Spring Ma and Simi Srivastava

Science teacher Lisa Cochrum traveled in India during this past summer break.

Science teacher Lisa Cochrum was scanning the towering trees of Ranthambore National Park in India through her binoculars this past summer. In her jeep, she was trying her best to remain still to avoid startling the wildlife, only slightly rotating her head to pan her line of sight across the mountainous terrain.

Just as she was about to move on to the next spot, she suddenly saw the piercing yellow eyes of India’s national animal, standing 20 feet away from her — a Bengal Tiger.

“[In that] moment I was like ‘I don’t care if I get eaten, if I get my legs ripped off, I am totally mesmerized by this tiger looking right at me,’” Cochrum said. “It wooed my soul.”

Cochrum is known for her summer travels to exotic countries. She has explored the topography of every continent, including Antarctica, eaten tarantulas and even patted a great white shark.

These adventures later become the  first-hand accounts that fill her lectures,  and her room is decorated with eclectic souvenirs she picks up along the way. Her walls are plastered to the brim with photos, each representing its own detailed story.

This year, her students can look forward to tales of dashing tigers, encounters with the interesting locals and breath-taking historical structures from her trip to India this past summer.

“I really did my research [before going],” Cochrum said. “I read books. I talked to our students about what to wear [and] how to be culturally appropriate. I really thought there was nothing that would surprise me, but I was dumbfounded.”

Cochrum traveled with her former roommate and travel partner for 20 years, Shana Nistler, a teacher at Castilleja School. When they were planning their trip, they were disappointed to find that no tour guide companies did long tours in the summer months, due to the hot weather. However, she was able to set up a trip with an independent company that allowed her to travel around India with private tour guides, transportation and five-star hotels.

Cochrum’s three-week trip took her around the northern part of India through the capital city, New Delhi, then to famous sites such as Ranthambore National Park, the Taj Mahal in Agra, the ancient caves of Elora and Ajanta and parts of Nepal. With the help of her special tour guides, she was able to get the full Indian experience and be immersed in the culture by traveling to both rural villages and large cities.

According to Cochrum, one of the highlights of the trip was the astounding hospitality exhibited by the locals. When walking through a village, Cochrum recalls doors flying open — people offering tea or a place to sit — even though she was merely a visitor.

Cochrum said that through a brief encounter with an elementary school teacher, she realized how much teachers throughout the world had in common.

“Kids are kids, and it doesn’t matter if they are rural kids in India, or fancy-pants highly educated kids going to Harvard, [like in] Saratoga — all boys are naughty [and] all girls talk.”

Cochrum said the country’s dense population greatly affects the way Indians live, causing them to be as resourceful as possible and work hard as a team. She was especially surprised by the work ethic of the women.

“We never saw a woman sitting,” Cochrum said. “We never saw a woman having a cup of tea. We saw women working morning, noon, and night — constantly. Women run India; I’m convinced of it.”

As a teacher, Cochrum was especially interested in the way children and young adults showed dedication to schooling. Every day, she witnessed students going back and forth from school to tutoring lessons for hours on end, spending scarcely any time at home.

“[The children] are so committed to believing that education is the only way to change not only their position, but their family’s position, that they will do anything,” Cochrum said.

In hindsight, Cochrum said she will never forget the “amazing beauty and the delight of people” from her three weeks in the 78th country she has visited.

“It was such a fun cultural experience, like nothing I had ever [seen],” Cochrum said. “If you want to understand something, don’t read about it; you do not know a country until you go [there].”

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