Our first day in India and what a culture shock! My first impressions were overwhelming to my senses – the smell of pollution, sewage and something indiscernible, the loud and constant noise of car horns, the fast and seemingly erratic driving and the smog, as well as the amount of families and people living on the streets. I couldn’t believe the amount of people that could cram into a tuk tuk or onto a motorbike, and how the women did not catch their beautiful sari’s in the wheels of the motorbikes I will never know!
The first school we visited was the Akram Science School in the Amba district of Ahmedabad. We arrived just as the school closed so we only got to meet one class of students. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and happy to show us around. The culture of the school is revolved around the child’s inner development and aims to instil values of friendship, respect and non-violence. It was an interesting philosophy and a relatively uneventful visit until we went to have a group photograph taken in front of the shrine. There was a dodgy moment when we committed a cultural ‘faux pas’ by wearing our shoes when crossing the shrine floor, but locally our hosts were very forgiving!
The following day we visited a private school in an urban area of Ahmedabad. All appeared calm as we walked into the school until we were spotted by the pupils. Mass hysteria and pandemonium broke out until teachers were able to gain control and send students back into their classrooms. Small groups of us were invited to sit in on classes but it was a tight squeeze for each of us to fit in behind the desks. We appeared giant like in the class and the pupils kept sneaking looks at us. I don’t think many students had come across westerners before and everyone was particularly interested in the blonde-haired among us. Everywhere we went people wanted to have their pictures taken with us (Indian ‘selfie’ mania). We felt like celebrities!
After meeting with teachers and organisation representatives from CEE to translate, share and compare knowledge of the Australian education system and the Indian education system there are some differences but there are also a lot of similarities between them. It took me a few days before I felt comfortable (and wasn’t in fear of my life on the roads!) but India and its people have a way of growing on you. My lasting impression of India is of a warm, respectful and accepting country and people. We made many friends and I know many of us will be looking to return there in the future.