An Overview of my Year

Andrew Chen - India


April 5, 2019

Today’s my final blog about my life here: I’ll be talking about the big picture schedule here and summarizing what I’ve been up to during each of the past few months.

When we first came to India, we stayed for a week just outside of Pune city undergoing entry training, which consisted of presentations and seminars on all parts of Indian customs, culture, and norms, as well as program regulations and expectations. We also began language learning, with our Hindi teacher taking about 3 hours a day to run us through the basic grammatical structure and useful phrases in Hindi.


The cohort undergoing entry training our first week in India.

We then spent a week with our host families, getting to know them as well as having free time to explore the city on our own for the first time. This was a period of big change for many fellows; not only did they have to adapt to a new family situation, many of which had different norms than what they were used to back home, but they also were both simultaneously excited and nervous to explore a new, foreign environment that they still knew little about.


Playing a board game with my host brother during my first week in Pune.

After this week, we met up once more to discuss our experiences and be introduced to the next part of our time here: our apprenticeship with Teach for India. We met our mentors at a cafe for an introductory briefing, and then began school the following week.

The first picture I took with my students on my first day at school.

Two weeks later, at the beginning of October, the Hyderabad cohort came to Pune and we went to a hill station hostel just outside of Pune for 3 days to discuss our experiences at school and how to share them. In late October, the Pune cohort returned the favor and we went to Hyderabad for 5 days to listen to guest speakers, close this introductory period of our time in India, and reflect on what we wanted to achieve with the rest of our year.

The cohort gathering on the rooftop for an end-of-day session while we were in Hyderabad.

November is the month of Diwali, so there were roughly 2 and a half weeks off of school. During this time we were free to explore whatever we wanted to; I used the time to go cycling with one of the other host families, playing board games with a local board game community, and spending time with other fellows exploring the city. The Pune cohort came together for a Thanksgiving potluck just to reconnect and discuss the logistics ahead.


Me out on a cycling trip with my friend’s host dad (the one taking the picture) and his friends.

In mid-December, we went as a cohort on a 5 day trip to Bangalore, to reconnect, see another part of India, and discuss things we’ve noticed about Indian society and placing that within a global context. For me, this was an extraordinarily productive session where I regained a lot of clarity on not only my place within global society, but my goals, purpose, and morals.


The Christmas celebration and gift-exchange we held in Bangalore.

Immediately following our trip to Bangalore in mid-December, our independent travel period began, meaning that we had 14 days to travel around the country (but not leave it), though we were responsible for our own expenses. Although many of the fellows chose to visit parts of south India during that time, I chose to come back to Pune first. My first trip was a trek in the Indian Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand. I signed up with an Indian trekking group, and many of us took the train there through Delhi; my fellow trekkers were very friendly and they helped ensure that taking the train alone for the first time in India was a smooth experience. Since I had two half-days to spend in Delhi, I was also able to see various tourist attractions and landmarks such as the India Gate, the Red Fort, and Akshardham. During the third night of my trek, when we were at the highest campground and planning the summit for the next day, we got almost 3 feet of snow overnight. Thus, we were forced to trek all the way back to base camp the next day instead of summiting, since the campground planned for the 4th night was unusable; the experience of trekking through the forest with no trail in sight and only the knowledge of the locals and was one I’ll never forget.

The morning that we had to hike down to base camp.

I returned to Pune for a week before going to northeastern India with GCY, visiting the city of Shillong and getting to see a much different part of India; the culture, history, and geography there are different to such an extent that most Indians don’t consider part of “mainland India,” even though it’s connected by land through a narrow passage.


The cohort doing some reflection during a session in Shillong.

Following Shillong, I came back to Pune for another week, and then met up with my dad, who had come to visit India. We went first to Chennai together, and then to the former French colony of Pondicherry, where we spent time seeing the city and relaxing on the beach.


On a beach in Pondicherry.

I returned the last week of March, and the past month has been spent predominantly focusing on school and my community project of creating a small library for my school. I had a lot of fun working with all of the kids, and I’m really happy with how the project turned out!

My students stayed after school with me for two straight weeks helping me sort the books that had been kept in storage and make decorations for the library.


There wasn’t much available space at school to make a library, but we were able to find an unused storage room. This is what it looked like before we cleaned it up and coordinated with the city government to install electricity, lights, and a fresh coat of paint.

The completed library, with all of the books sorted by reading level (we taped the spines with different colored cello-tape depending on the level) and the shelves labeled.

Finally, the entire cohort has been spending this past week at a hill station outside of Pune to help close our time in India, share memories and lessons, and simply have one last week of quality memories together. I’m posting this on my last full day in India!

A group picture from when the cohort went to see the sunset together two days ago.

And since I never mentioned it, here’s a sample schedule of what my life was like in Pune:

8:00 AM: Wake up, shower, brush teeth, etc.

8:30 AM: Leave home, either cycle or take Uber to school (an 8km trip costing about 2 USD)

9:00 AM – 1:00 PM: Apprenticeship at school

1:30 PM: Cycle or take bus to somewhere for lunch

2:30 PM: Go to gym and workout

4:00 – 8:00 PM: Flex time; hang out with friends, complete various tasks (e.g. grade papers, plan travel, write blogs, do research for community project), spend time with host family

8:30 PM: Dinner at home with host family

9:30 PM: Play games with host brother

10:30 PM: Go to bed.

Till next time!

Andrew

Andrew Chen