A group of students from Norway joined us at Dream School on Thursday and will be staying in India for a few weeks. The group is comprised of fourteen young adults, ranging in age from 18 to 21, and two faculty. They have 12 girls and 2 guys, an even more unequal gender ratio than that of this year’s GCIL program. When the director of Dream School first mentioned this group to us when we first arrived at the organization weeks ago, our APSA team dreamed of working alongside this cool fellow foreign students. However, over the weeks of hearing more stories about their previous group and being told by the director to babysit them, our perspective has began to change, culminating in our meetings with the group so far.
Thursday 10:30 am: our APSA team is sitting patiently in the Dream School amphitheater waiting for the guests. The classrooms are quiet with closed doors. Visitors from Norway and funders from the UK mean that the children are scolded into a studious, silent state. This is nothing like the Dream School we know.
10:45 am: the Norwegians begin to arrive. Despite our efforts to talk to them, the large majority of them sit, decked out in elephant pants and Indian attire, on their phones or talking in Norwegian to each other. Padmaja was insistent that we make them feel welcome, so we tried to get to know their group and what there plans were here. They didn’t know what they were doing there or what APSA did. I offered to teach some of the girls Kannada. “Doesn’t everyone here speak Indian?” one girl asked. We explained the state language is Kannada and that the kids here mostly communicate in that, so the students appreciate if you know the basics. “Actually everyone here speaks English so we don’t need to learn Kannada,” another girl piped up. I’ve yet to see them talk to any Indians outside of the APSA leaders.
11:15 am: Padmaja and Mr. Lakshapati arrive. Padmaja asks us to go take care of the classes because the kids would be distracting if they left their classrooms. We were glad to get to go spend time with our students. The Norwegians were taken into a room with chairs- chairs that we had never seen before- and were served coke in mugs. We had never seen anyone there drink coke or use these mugs before. Where do they hide these supplies typically? The GCIL team spends time with the kindergartners and get beat up by little fists trying to help Vani separate fights that break out. We play games we taught them, like duck duck goose, and feel comfortable in our own routine.
1:30 pm: the Norway students are driven to the hostel. The GCIL team travles with the students down the street, through the slum, over the bridges above waste water streams, to the hostel. We laugh, chat, and joke around with the girls. Reaching the hostel, we pay our 15 rupees each and get our food with the students, sitting alongside them on the floor. The Norwegians appear, marching in a straight, single file line, carrying shopping bags that miraculously appeared. They do not look up either to us or to the students. They are taken up stairs into a room we have never seen and are served Western food we didn’t know the chefs knew how to cook.
Friday morning: a few Norwegians showed up by mistake. They were dressed intricately in Indian clothes. One of them told us that she absolutely had to wear mascara today because she knew they would take lots of photos in their Indian clothes. We told them about our GCIL project and two APSA projects with our impending deadlines. One girl then immediately commented that it must be nice to come here for three months and get credit for doing nothing but vacation.They didn’t want to talk to any of the kids and wandered off when we offered our help to figure out where they were supposed to go.
Saturday morning: APSA has a graduation for their Skills Training Center at ISI. The Norwegians come decked out in even more Indian clothes. Their wardrobe far surpassed ours in the 48 hours they had been here. We were impressed. Their head faculty member sat on the stage with all the leaders and directors of APSA. She was given a small tree as a token of appreciation for all she had done for the Skills Training program. We sat quietly in the back and got a mumbled shout out from the director after he talked in depth about the Norwegian group.
While writing this blog and talking to the rest of the APSA team about the Norwegian group, it was the differences between our experiences that stood out to me. I am not writing this out of jealousy or to poke fun at their group, but rather to comment on how their status as major donors changes how they are treated by APSA. Our team discussed how we are grateful for the experience that we have there and that we aren’t treated as much like outsiders as they are. It doesn’t feel like Dream School puts on a show for us, but just threw us into the beautiful mess of their school since day one. Whether this is because the GCIL professors asked them for it to be this way, because we don’t donate major sums to the school, or because of some other qualities we contribute, our team is grateful. Furthermore, I couldn’t imagine exactly how I would act in a group of my peers here when I was 18. I think university does a lot to mature a person, and I am glad that I am not the same person now that I was 4 years ago. With wealth and age driving large differences in experiences, I am just grateful to be in India now. In conclusion, I love APSA. I love Dream School. I love my GCIL team and wouldn’t want to trade a second of the time I’ve gotten to spend immersed in the enthralling mess that is the Indian education system.