It is hard to believe that I only have one week left in India, what a summer it has been in the land of snake charmers! This past month has been filled with fashion, educational experiences, and travel. Although, to be perfectly honest, the more I see and learn, the more I feel inadequate in my knowledge of this incredibly diverse country. In the past, when I have spent my summers traveling, I went for some task, but I planned enough time to travel, or my planned engagement was not so important and I could take a few days off if I wanted. My biggest challenge in India has been that I learn about the amazing things India has to offer, but then I am sitting in a cubicle Monday-Friday 9-5. Working abroad is not as YOLO as I had pictured it in my dreams. (But for any fellow UNESCO employees reading- work has been great too! 🙂 ) I am excited to share some highlights of the last month.
I have done a lot of shopping in India. I may be able to justify some of the spending, since I know Poonam Auntie (the mother where I stay) takes care of my meals. 🙂 There is one exciting purchase I wanted to share about, and that is a sari. This is so much more than just “a typical Indian dress for women.” When you embark on the adventure of getting a sari made, there are a lot of decisions along the way. First, you purchase the fabric and print you would like, a choice that is nearly impossible to make because they’re all fabulous. Unlike buying clothes in the U.S., you don’t just get to take it home and wear it instantly and feel that satisfaction of a great addition to your wardrobe, all you actually have is a 6 meter long piece of fabric.
Next you go to a tailor (and not just any one will do- Indians are very loyal to their one person who alters their clothes, and may make several trips there within one week). You get measured for a blouse that is fitted to your exact size. THEN you get to tell the tailor exactly what kind of blouse you want. I ended up going down the rabbit hole of Pinterest in trying to decide on sleeves/no sleeves, low cut/high cut, embellishments, square style/circular style, etc. For a few days, I felt like a fashion designer who would come up with some amazing idea, but after that stress I settled on a simple design. After just three days I had TWO blouses delivered to the house (the very nice women saw how indecisive I was and decided to make me a second style) and the remainder of the sari. This gets proper stitching around the hems, and extra fabric added to the bottom to give the skirt some weight. You now have a 5 meter piece of fabric, along with the blouse.
The fun (totally kidding) part is draping the sari. Let’s just say after trying four times, I still have no clue and need Poonam Auntie to help me drape it. What is beautiful about saris though, is that since it is just one piece of fabric worn over a blouse, there are endless ways to drape it. The way a woman chooses to wear her sari can show they are preparing for a beautiful occasion, presenting at a conference, or even working with their hands (I have seen women doing hardcore gardening or construction in their saris and it amazes me). Here was my debut at work!
Since hopefully some of my fellow educators back in the U.S. are reading this blog, I wanted to take some time to talk about what I have learned about the education system in India, but more specifically in Delhi. As an overview- the ratio of public to private schools in India is 7:5. There is a huge demand for private schools among middle and upper class families, because usually a private school ensures that a child will learn English as well as Hindi (or local dialect). This will provide a wider variety of job prospects in the future.
I recently learned from some fellow teachers that it is incredibly difficult to become a teacher in a public school. It requires more training, which usually costs money (although you can negotiate your price), and an examination which many prospective teachers do not pass. Once you get into a public school, you are ensured a much higher salary than private school teachers, however, the public school curriculum, provided by the government, is said to be quite dated. I found it interesting that it is so challenging to become a public school teacher, but then the level of instruction is (generally) considered inferior to that of private school instruction.
The government provides free education for students ages 6-14, although families choose to send their children to private nurseries, sometimes called pre-primary or lower KG schools earlier, just like we have pre-school in the U.S. Whether a child is in a private or a public school, class sizes are quite high in India. An economically advantaged private school might have 20-30 students, and a more disadvantaged private or public school might have class sizes of 40-60 students, at any age. This makes it very hard for teachers to differentiate any learning. Most teachers I speak to just drop their jaws when I tell them I’ll be going back to a class of 18 fourth graders, it makes me feel incredibly lucky to have the Title 1 system that we have in the U.S.
It has been marvelous that the family I am staying with is made up of teachers. Poonam invited me to her lower KG school one weekend when they were doing parent teacher conferences. (It is required that all the teachers wear a sari for interacting with the parents, and they all looked lovely.) This school is private and works with children from age 3-6. Each class (or section, as it’s called in India) has about 40 children, even for the 3 year olds! I imagine this experience would be similar to attempting to herd 40 cats, while also teaching them their alphabet in Hindi and English…the patience of these teachers cannot be understated! The school itself was very nice, each classroom equipped with a smart board and beautiful artwork made by the students and their families.
Prior to starting the international education program at GWU, one of my main goals was to learn about how schools in a variety of countries operate. The masters program has given me the opportunity to visit and experience schools in Cuba, Northern Ireland, Japan, and now India. There is always something new to learn from seeing another classroom and meeting with hardworking teachers!
It is a shame that I will have to leave the MGIEP office after I have gotten into a really good groove with my coworkers and projects. Between my last blog post and now, I’m happy to say that I have learned a lot more about how international organizations plan events, hire consultants, and budget for projects, along with improving my writing skills. The office is already excited and planning for their biggest annual event, TECH, which happens in November. It is an international conference which focuses on how technology can transform education. I wish I could be there for it!
My responsibilities for the LIBRE project have taken a turn I hadn’t expected in the beginning of the summer. As I mentioned in my first blog, the LIBRE curriculum will be 6 modules delivered digitally to 13 year old students, with the goal of enhancing empathy, compassion, critical inquiry, and mindfulness. In order to focus on the empathy and compassion portion, we have decided to include storytelling from ordinary people. If you are familiar with Humans of New York, this was our inspiration, it is a photo blog series where people share stories that usually evoke emotion. In our case, I have been responsible for compiling short, recorded stories from people who have experience with the topics we are covering in the curriculum. These include: provocation, migration and belonging, decision making, identity, citizenship, and exposure to violence. This has involved networking and contacting people, speaking with them on the phone, and then editing the phone calls down to about 5 minute stories. We are even trying to find an illustrator to add a visual element for the stories. This has been a cool project that is time consuming and inspiring!
I have also been contributing to a lot of publications for the DICE (digital intercultural exchange) program, in addition to helping with outreach to schools. We are hoping to maybe get some schools in DCPS on board with the project. I am looking forward to learning more about the research results that DICE yields in a year’s time!
I am writing this as I have three more days at work, so I need to make sure they count! I have made a lot of great professional relationships here over the last three months, but also friendships. I can’t express enough how welcoming everybody in the office is, and how much they look after me, knowing I am a young woman traveling alone in India. I will miss them dearly.
Being a Tourist
These photos are from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have an old best friend from college who is a teacher at an amazing IB PYP school there. Literally the school is surrounded by forestry and monkeys and happiness- full of true project based learning. She’s livin’ the dream there… if you ever get a chance to go to Kuala Lumpur, go! Eat a banana leaf meal, go shopping, and get 2am foot massages!
I was able to hop on a coworker’s last minute trip to Jaipur, Rajasthan, in the Thar desert of India. This was one of my must-see places on my India list, and the ancient “pink city” did not disappoint!
And let’s not forget how cool the city of Delhi is itself, here are some photos from Humayun’s Tomb
I am sad to be leaving India, it’s been a fabulous summer! But I have not forgotten to take care of my doggos here- I am in contact with an organization who will come to the park where I feed one litter of puppies to help me vaccinate them. How could you not want to do everything you can to help these sweet little pups?
Many people have messaged me to ask “how many of those dogs are you taking home?” I am happy to announce I will be bringing home two or three! I am going to be their flight buddy, and will be taking little Turbo home with me to be a foster pup until he finds a home of his own! A fellow volunteer will meet me at the airport to pick up the other pups and take them to foster homes. I may have had to seriously coerce my boyfriend into this arrangement, but in the end I will be glad to take home an adorable slice of India with me!
As always, thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about India and my time here.
2 thoughts on “Sari, not Sorry: Life in India”
Emily, wow, you have been involved in some amazing, interesting projects! And you look lovely in a sari too! Looking forward to hearing more about your learning and adventures when you return to Randolph!😊 Yolanda
With your mom’s help, I’ve been keeping up to date…and a bit ahead..of your adventures. I admire your adventurous self and all of your accomplishments Emily!! Maybe in another year, when I’m retired, I’ll get a chance to see you again. I wish you health and happiness, and congratulate you on all you’ve learned and done in India!!