Undergraduate from China pursues his interest in India
Brandeis-India Initiative Fellow tells his story on film and in words
India has always been a mysterious country to me. I spent ten years in Chinese schools, but it was really my experiences abroad that broadened my vision and piqued my interest.
Rumor in China was that Indian cities were packed with slums and the rivers were filled with dead bodies. At the same time, news articles also told us India was one of the largest economic powers in the world, and was going to be one of China’s greatest challengers.
Opposite points of view raised my curiosity. When I attended an international school in Yangon, Myanmar, I became friends with many Indians. They corrected some of my misunderstandings of their country, which heightened my interest further.
When I started at Brandeis, I enrolled in “Introduction to South Asia,” taught by Professor Harleen Singh, who gave profound yet pellucid lectures on Indian history and culture. During the class, I heard that the university recently had launched the Brandeis-India Initiative, which, among other things, supported Brandeis students to work, study and volunteer in India. I thought it could be a great opportunity for me to develop my knowledge of the country.
I had participated in community service in Myanmar and enjoyed helping children, so I searched for opportunities to volunteer in Indian schools.
I was really excited to be named one of the inaugural Brandeis-India Initiative Fellows. When I returned to China, I bought stationary, toys and water purifiers, since I'd heard many Indian children in rural areas did not have access to clean water. I prepared short presentations on places I had been to, in order to broaden my students’ visions and inspire them to explore the world.
The volunteer program was based in Palampur, a small town in Himachal Pradesh in the snow-capped foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, two hours from Dharamshala, where the Tibetan government in exile was located. During my volunteer period, I stayed with a local Indian family. I had my own bedroom and washroom, but there was no showerhead or Internet. Blackouts were frequent. I enjoyed the time when I simply laid on the balcony and stared at the sky. It made me feel so relaxed and peaceful.
My duties included taking care of children at a daycare center and teaching English and computers at a local school. I spent three hours a day at the daycare center. I played with the children and taught them alphabets and numbers. Some of the children were hesitant to talk, so I usually brought chocolate and candy bars to encourage them. My favorite child was Munish. He would climb up my leg to hug me. I was also in charge of feeding Munish. Since I had no experience in doing so, I was really nervous at beginning. Later I became more comfortable with this work, and I started to fall in love with these naïve and innocent children. Sajal, a two and a half year old girl I watched at the daycare center, told her parents that she wanted to marry me. Although everybody laughed when she said that, I was still deeply moved.
I spent another three hours daily at a tutoring school. I taught English and computers to students from a government school. I taught computers in the morning before they went to government school, and I taught English after they finished government school. Even though I had no previous experience, I was a patient and precise teacher. In order to raise their interest, I organized games and competitions related to the lessons. My students’ thirst for knowledge surprised me. They were quite active in classes, and curious about the outside world. Most of them had never seen the sea, so they had a particular interest in beaches and oceans. I hoped I could take them to the seaside and let their dream come true.
My time in India changed me a lot. I am more comfortable taking care of children, and my interest in South Asia is greater than ever. The Brandeis-India Initiative program provided a great platform for me to volunteer in a place I was curious about.