One of the biggest reasons that I am studying abroad in India right now after having finished my graduation requirements last spring is because of the community engagement and development course. Although it is not exactly what we expected beforehand, I can appreciate the parts that make up the whole of the course.
We attend the class every Friday for 3 hours, during which we usually have a guest lecturer on select topics related to development. The speakers are professors and/or experts on their topics, so it is always extremely informative. So far, from the various guests we have gotten to hear about: India’s spatial diversity, socioeconomic theory, Northeast Indian states and education in development.
One portion of the course is a journal we write weekly, providing reflections on our experiences. A lot of my weekly journals have been reflections on the class’s lectures and attempts to connect them to what I see and do. The lecture on spatial diversity was the first by an invited guest, and it was by the professor who had taught the class previously. As one of the first classes we had, the lecture was great as a brief introduction to India’s geography and history, as well as Hyderabad’s. I had based a previous post off of the information from this.
I enjoyed the class on the economic theories quite a lot. Some of my previous courses in the U.S. have been on economic theories of course, but predictably not in terms specific to India. The speaker also had experience working with NGOs and other fields, and I very much appreciated the reflections that he shared. The eight Northeastern states in India are distinct from the rest of India historically and culturally. Certain areas and tribes in the region could better relate to the history and culture of Nepal or Tibet, for example. Our speaker’s specialty had been in the politics of states in the Northeast. I admit that political science is not of special interest to me, but the region and its known cultural distinction from the rest of India in themselves fascinate me.
The other characteristic component of the course is being involved with a local NGO. Our NGO is called Kriti, which works in one of the slum areas in Hyderabad. Their two main projects are skill development for women (making and selling handmade products) and support of local government schools (including school maintenance and student scholarships). The lecture on education was probably the most relevant to this aspect of the course because I have been going to one of Kriti’s supported primary schools each week.
Mainly, I agreed to supplement English teaching for a small group of fourth- and fifth-graders. I come to have lessons once a week to help improve English skills of children who are below grade level, especially in reading and comprehension. I have created worksheets, sung songs, and done improvised lessons gauging students’ levels. It is certainly a challenge because the students have different sets of strengths and weakness, and I have minimal prior experience in catering to this. I often talk to my cousin about the school because she is a primary school teacher and taught abroad earlier this year. She gives some advice, and it is simply nice to confide in someone who better understands primary education.
Although figuring out effective lessons is difficult, the children are so lovely and lively. There is a definite language barrier because most of the kids speak Telugu natively, and I (and often they) have limited practice in speaking Hindi. Nonetheless, I must say that I love going to see them and love talking to them. On the first day, one of the kids guessed that a friend that came along is from America and that I am from China. I said I am also from America, and he was confused then appeased when I responded saying that people from America look all kinds of ways. Another student also thought that I was Indian or from Northeast India. This comes up with people I meet in general, too, and more frequently since I have gotten tanner here. They are always kind of funny exchanges.
To be honest, I am not sure whether I will have helped the students in any significant way before I leave, but I am glad to be able to interact with them. Because of this development course and NGO involvement, I decided to come to India for one last semester. It is not as expected, and it is imperfect. There are more positive aspects than not, though. Beyond that, my time in India I largely owe to this course.