“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world, you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.” – Anthony Bourdain
When the morning light awoke me every morning in India, I always had the same first thought: “I’m in India. I’m halfway around the world. How incredible is that?”
It’s one thing to hold up a globe in your classroom and show students the location of other countries or how the earth revolves around the sun. We look at world maps to locate the places we read about in the headlines, satisfied that we know where they are, should we ever need that bit of trivia for our time on Jeopardy! We logically know we are part of a big, blue earth, and we are very familiar with our place in it.
But when you’ve actually been to the far-away places you read about, when you’ve spent time touring the significant places and meeting some of the people who work and live there, you have made real connections.
And those connections change you.
Working with the intense and intelligent students of Shri Shikshayatan School in Kolkata, India, was exhilarating and exciting. These girls are playing for keeps. Our lively discussions ranged from climate change to black holes in space to single gender schooling to the caste system to how does your hair feel? With students this serious about getting as much from their education as possible, it felt like I was learning as much as they were.
On our first full day in India, one of the four Fulbright TGC hosts from New Delhi took us to the village some of his family members lived in: Pachayara. From beautiful chairs covered in bright pink material to offerings of food and drink at every home to the genuine smiles and laughter, I felt like I was with members of my own family. My Southern mother-in-law had taught me a thing or two about hospitality, but I’ve never experienced it like I did in Pachayara. It made me want to expand my own offerings at home.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia was asking a student to explain exactly how the new smart board worked. It wasn’t that Sisodia didn’t already know; he was using questioning techniques learned from his educator mother and honed over twelve years working as a journalist in New Delhi. As the wife of a journalist, I very much enjoyed talking with him about how he shifted from being a news person to a politician. He believes that information empowers and had worked on several committees dedicated to making that a reality. In 2013, when “the people wanted a change to help their children,” he felt called and was elected to office where he has worked to empower students with (among his many projects) “Schools of Excellence” where Growth Mindset and Entrepreneurship are being piloted. It was wonderful to talk with him. But seeing him interacting with the students and hearing the passion in his voice showed that New Delhi is no longer satisfied with anything less than first-rate schools and motivated students. It made me want to work to get more journalists and teachers into policy positions back home.
The best part of my month in India was meeting wonderful, beautiful people: the Skype educator friends I got to meet in person and my wonderful, amazing hosts in Kolkata and New Delhi who were so gracious and welcoming; the students from all across New Delhi and Kolkata who were as excited to ask me questions about America as they were to tell me all about their country; the smiling strangers who shyly walked over and asked for a selfie with me.
What I learned was that we all want the same things: health and happiness, kindness and support, and, of course, a great education for our children to ensure their future.
Did India change me?
No. But her people did. I will always carry them in my heart.