Student abroad experiences essentials behind happiness

September 17, 2008 — by Aditi Jayaraman

I have teachers with college degrees, and years of classroom experience. They don’t. I have a limitless amount of supplies at my fingertips. They don’t. I have a comfortable classroom setting, with air conditioning and proper desks. They don’t.

I spent this past summer teaching at a K-10 school named Suddhanandha Vidyalaya, located on the southern coast of India in a small town called Uthandi. The school was built in an effort to educate less fortunate children.
The school consists of nearly 560 students from nearby villages, the majority of whom belong to fisherman families. The children are the first members to be receiving an education.

Upon arrival at the school on my first day to meet with the head coordinator, I had barely taken one step onto the campus before hoards of children were running toward me. “What is your name, miss?” “Where do you come from, miss?” “You are very tall, miss.” The younger students asked me almost every question possible, nearly ripped my hand off in their attempts to grasp if I was a real “foreigner” on their turf or just an illusion, and of course, hurled any little fragments or phrases of English they knew at me.

The next morning began at 8 a.m. with a bus ride that I shared with other students and faculty members to school. While on the bus, I observed the conditions in which they were living. One first grader, Manju, left her family’s thatched hut and climbed into a nearby seat.

Once we arrived on the campus, I assumed there would be far less commotion compared to the day before. How wrong I was. Students, once again, came running towards me, smothering me with their attention, love and questions. What surprised me most was that despite the fact that I was a mere high school student, I was being given such clout by not only the students, but the staff members as well. I was always welcome to speak at the daily announcements and teachers often came to me for help with English or suggestions for lessons plans.

I began by teaching the kindergarten classes basic shapes for drawing, a fairly challenging task, as they did not understand any English beyond the basic terms like “cat,” “dog,” and “no.” I then moved on to working with students in first, third, fourth, and fifth grades on more tough, intricate projects varying from tissue paper flowers to decorative photo frames. I also spent time teaching fourth graders Indian vocal music in the form of short songs. By the end of my stay, two weeks later, I had worked with the 6th-8th graders on art projects as well.

What stood out throughout my teaching process was the attentiveness of students, and their innocence. I learned that what the students valued most was the praise of the teacher. Throughout my session with the first graders, students continuously came up to me for my approval of their work. If I expressed any doubt, anything less than “very good,” the student stood motionless, unaware as to what they should do, discouraged and waiting for a more positive reply. If I told one student, “Wow! Amazing!” and then told the following student, “Very good!”, the second child would consider my words void Considering that many of these children lacked material items, I assumed that they would want to take their projects home with them. Yet I was proven wrong by a number of children who offered me their projects as gifts. In addition, students showered me with other mementos like a pair of earrings, a miniature vase, chocolates and the students of one class even gifted me with all their pens, when a dearth of writing utensils exists for most of them. Such generosity shocked me, and made me wonder how children with so little, had so much.

Since my experience at Suddhanandha Vidyalaya, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the life that I live here in Saratoga. I no longer have the ability to write one word on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it away, or hit and curse my computer (which I now realize is a gift) when it freezes on me. Perhaps, the greatest thing I’ve gained is a better understanding of affection and generosity and the power they have on those around you.

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