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Megan Elliott


Volunteer teaching English in India

In April of 2010, I departed on what I would later call the most incredible adventure of my life. My volunteer experience was made possible by an organization called International Volunteer HQ. This organization helped me plan and organize my trip to India, where my friend, Sarah, and I would volunteer as English teachers.


Upon arrival to India I was immediately overwhelmed by the different world I had landed in. The term culture shock would be an understatement. Fortunately, knowing that transition into the Indian way of life would be difficult, our first week became an “Orientation” week which allowed us to slowly become immersed into the Indian culture.


During this week we explored India and drank up every last detail of our surroundings, seeing sights such as the India Gate, The Lotus Temple, and the Taj Mahal. We began eating Indian meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and every morning would have Hindi lessons, the language spoken in India, to help lessen the language barrier. Many Indians spoke English, however, in the less fortunate areas, the areas of our volunteer focus, the English rate is much lower and a basic knowledge of Hindi helped an extreme amount. During the extent of our Orientation week, we were housed in an Indian style apartment set up similarly to a hostel.


There were nine of us from around the world participating in the orientation week and we became a little family, continuing to stay in touch once at relocated to our volunteer projects and rejoining to travel together to nearby cities on weekends.


The next step of our journey occurred in the capital of India, New Delhi. My friend, Sarah, and I stayed with a local family who ran a school for underprivileged children. For the next two weeks, Sarah and I taught English at the school to children ages five to fifteen.


The children looked forward to our visits into their classrooms and would call us “didi” which translates to big sister. Seeing these children who possessed so few material things yet wore big, radiant smiles everyday made my heart melt. When we handed out stickers, construction paper and crayons during craft time the children's eyes would light up in such a way that we had no doubt in our minds that we were making a difference in their lives. Seeing first-hand the way some are forced to live their lives has made me appreciate the opportunities I've had like never before!


In New Delhi, we were fully immersed in the culture, living and eating the same as the locals. The school where we taught was located in a very poor part of town and it was rare for “white people” to visit, therefore, upon hearing of our arrival to town, many neighbors would visit simply to shake our hand, take our photo or have a chat (although conversation was quite limited due to the language barrier).


The heat in Delhi was unbearable at times, and you gain a whole new level of respect for the laborers. Once on a visit to the local market, we took a Ricksha. We were exhausted and warm from just sitting in it, while the man had to carry our carriage by bicycle through 50 degree heat for a mere 40 Rupees (less than $1.00). The work ethic of these men amazed me.


To escape the New Delhi heat (it would reach up to 50 degrees at times) for the last two weeks of our Indian trip we travelled to Dharamsala, a small town nestled in the Himalayas. For the duration of the two weeks we stayed in a Monastery where we participated in Conversation Class and taught English to monks. Dharamsala is a town highly populated with Tibetan refugees as well as, is the home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.


The host family who were also located in the Monastery were Tibetan, and would prepare for us Tibetan meals morning noon and night. The ambience of this town was unlike anything I have ever experienced and overwhelmed me with a sense of spirituality, calmness and relaxation. Living so closely with Monks and becoming familiar with their beliefs and practices made me discover an entire new world and the opportunity to experience Buddhism first hand.


Sitting face to face with Monks, learning how to pray, chant and understand the basis of their beliefs was an incredible and educational experience. I do believe that in the end I was the student while they were the teachers. The town was filled with amazing restaurants and shops selling jewelry, scarves and clothing, and amazing people. Everybody we met had a smile and were willing to lend a helping hand to a stranger.

Upon return to our Western society, I couldn't help but shake the feeling of sadness from leaving India. I had fallen in love with the country and had a new respect for its people.


Through volunteering abroad, I discovered new things about myself, the world, and gained a new sense of independence. I am a true believer that volunteering overseas is a life changing experience, and provides an infinite number of benefits to each person involved, from the volunteer, to the children and monks being taught English.


This experience will forever remain one of the best in my life and I can do nothing but recommend this endeavor to future volunteers.