University of Guelph India Field School

Since our Field School group has arrived in India at the end of April, we have done so much in such a short amount of time. Together we have gone to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, listened to many guest lectures, went hiking, toured around Dharamsala, visited the Masroor Rock Temples, and many more activities.  Individually we have all been doing our best to adjust to a new culture, reflect on our actions, evaluate and increase our intercultural competence, and learn how we can be useful and productive at our volunteer placements.  Overall, it has been a constant amount of activity, learning, and reflection.  As the end of our trip draws nearer, however, I find that I am grappling with the question of how can I continue to learn from my experiences and time that I spent in India once I have arrived back in Canada?

Kendall at DAR

Of course we will have the souvenirs that we bought, our pictures, and in my specific case the puppy that I adopted to remind us of our trip.  These are the easy things to show and display to our friends and family at home.  What will be more difficult is to demonstrate what we have learned and the lessons that we have taken away from India.  In our pre-departure course we read about examples of young adults that had participated in volunteer trips in that past, that without reflecting on their trip after they got home, had gone on to forgot much of what they had learned.  Some of these volunteers even described their past trips as a dream like experience, or break from reality.  Many even said that they didn’t bother to describe their trip to others, and didn’t reflect or think about it much after they returned home.  But I don’t want this to be the case for myself when I return home to Canada.  I feel like I have learned so much about myself and the reality of short-term volunteer placements that it would be such a shame to ignore or forget this knowledge.  That is why I think that it will be important to continue reflecting even after the trip is over.

Post-trip reflection is also important because I do not feel that all of what we have seen or done while in India will sink in until weeks, or maybe even months after it is all over.  Only after we have all returned home and adjusted back to our regular routines, is when I think that personally for myself, I will really be able to evaluate everything that I have learned in India.  As a result of this I feel that the reflection that I do when we get home will be equally, if not more important than those that I do here.  It will also be important after India to visit past reflections and see if my attitudes and feelings have changed since leaving India, and why this might be the case.  Thus, through continued reflection, and the way that I describe and discuss my experiences in India with my family and friends at home, I hope that even though the travel portion of my India adventure is over, the learning will not be.

Kendall B, Dharamshala Animal Rescue

University of Guelph 2015

Gamru School, Kendal ClarkAt this point I have been at my placement here in Dharamsala for about a week and a half. I am working with the Gamru Village School, and like Natasha I was surprised with my role at my placement. I am teaching English, which I feel extremely underqualified for. As you will soon find out by reading this post, my grasp on the English language is somewhat lacking. It has been a whirlwind experience going into this school, but it has been so lovely to see the depth of the community at this placement, and how everyone knows each other in one capacity or another. However, I want to discuss something I experienced in class today while teaching the students in first standard who are around age five.

I was teaching opposites today using a set of flash cards for the first time. One set of flash cards was displaying ugly and pretty. The ugly character was the classic green witch, popularized by The Wizard of Oz. However, it was the figure used to depict the word pretty that gave me pause. Pretty was represented by a white women, whom I suppose you could describe as ‘traditionally pretty’. This made me realize that all of the flash cards that are being used in Gamru School, which is attended entirely Indian children, use white people to depict various words and activities.

It had been pointed out on a separate occasion that the presence of flash cards in the classroom as resource was a rarity. As it turns out, the flash cards used at the Gamru School for the entire English curriculum were made by a woman from the UK who is heavily involved with the school. I mean no disrespect to her, as the number of flash cards and resources she has painstakingly created is incredibly impressive. However, I realized that today I felt supremely uncomfortable as I went around the class repeating pretty, and ugly while pointing at this image of a white woman.

I think that previous blog posts here have done an excellent job of discussing concepts of power and privileges and how those are intertwined with skin colour and race. This is especially true of posts where my classmates have discussed fears of perpetuating the notion of a ‘white expert’ at the front of a classroom. In that moment in class I became very worried that I as a white volunteer with this specific flash card was really engraining and perpetuating ideas that ‘white is beautiful’. I do recall a day last week where one little girl came up to me with her Disney Princess pencil case, and pointed to Snow White while telling me how beautiful she is.

This situation has also made me think about how representation is so important with the other flash cards, and the curriculum itself. I think that the kids in this school should be using resources that reflect who they are, and that they can relate to and see themselves in.

Kendal Clark

Gamru School, Dharamshala, India

Himalayan Explorers welcomes University of Guelph

Learning’s the order of the day here for the next month as we embark on our service learning programme with the University of Guelph from Ontario, Canada.  This is our first year of partnership with them and we hope there will be many more to come.

The group of fifteen students led by Assistant Professor of Political Science at the university, Andrea Paras, has come to Dharamsala India to learn about giving service in a community abroad. The focus of the students’ course is to examine in a practical way the benefits, challenges and negative impacts of international volunteering. They also look at the ethics of short-term volunteer experiences and how the benefits of these programmes can be maximized for organizations and volunteers, and how more meaningful partnerships can be developed. They will write a paper based on their studies and their subsequent experiences working in an NGO here in Dharamsala.

The students have been placed in a variety of NGOs in the area, ranging from human rights organisations to schools in the slums to animal rescue.  The experience for them will not only benefit their university education, but also give them invaluable human connections that will remain with them all their lives.  The NGOs in turn should benefit from the students’ hard work whilst they are here, and from their findings and observations they will report at the end of the programme.

Apart from the voluntary work, we have a plethora of guest speakers who have kindly agreed to talk with them on a range of topics from women’s issues in India to life as a Tibetan in exile.  Their life experiences and knowledge will enhance the learning experience and help give a wider view of what exactly is going on here in the community.

There will also be time for some relaxation and enjoyment.  Yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, local temples and forts and a Himalayan trek are but a few of the activities we have lined up for the students.  They are sure to be happily exhausted by the end.

Stay tuned for updates as the programme progresses and don’t forget to tune in to the students’ reflections here:

India Field School

Guelph group photo Amritsar