24.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

On Thursday, I made it in after the morning session as I still didn’t feel great, and taught half a day in the school. The good thing about school starting and ending so early with only one short break, is that everyone is out by 1.30, and you have the whole rest of the day! I feel like I have more time than I know what to do with.

When I got back to the shelter today, there was a new boy sitting with Shruti and Dr Pandey; they were speaking to him in Hindi so I didn’t find out much about him for a while. His English was non-existent, though he later told me he wanted to learn. The boy had run away from home to earn money, but had ended up being pretty much enslaved in a local bakery where he worked for two months with no pay at all. He stayed for a couple of days, managing to make a bit of an annoyance of himself in terms of hanging around in my room and generally being a bit odd.

(I later found out that the boy was in fact addicted to drugs, and seemed to be causing some disruption and so was moved to another shelter.)

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22.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Worst luck; ill again on Tuesday. Spent most of the time in bed working on le blog and reading whichever books I can get my hands on. I uploaded a few photos I’ve taken so far onto my computer and showed them to the girls, who seem very interested in anything computer related!

In the afternoon, Dr Pandey and Shruti came by as usual, and we had something of a conversation class with the girls. I have found that the girls are far more forthcoming with their answers and attempts at English when they aren’t in a big group being quizzed! Understandable, as most of them speak only very poor, broken English and so often don’t have a clue when someone asks them a question.

In some ways, it’s difficult and frustrating to teach them, especially when just getting started. But once they’re stuck into something, they do seem willing to learn; less willing to do outside work and studying though!

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Benefits of being a polyglot; life with languages

Polyglot; noun; a person who knows and is able to use several languages.

Recently, when I was in Germany, it occurred to me that its quite rare for me to travel somewhere where I don’t speak the language… In the last couple of years, I’ve visited (not counting English-speaking North America!) Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, France and Poland, and in all of these places, I can at least get by with the native language. I’d point out that my Spanish is VERY basic, though I’m trying to improve it, and the only reason I can understand most Polish is that it’s very similar to Czech, which I speak fluently. I can easily make myself understood in Poland with a mixture of mostly Czech and the small amount of Polish I know.

Admittedly, I’ve been extraordinarily lucky. I’ve been brought up in a bilingual family, speaking both Czech and English at home (though Czech rather less frequently aka never these days…) I have always had an affinity for learning languages, always enjoyed it, and always been supported by my family I my desire to learn and travel.

Let’s not talk about that trip to Morocco when I went to a rural area speaking no Berber at all, and only a couple of phrases in Arabic. Marhaba? (Hello?) It didn’t get me very far. Thankfully, it is still a partially French-speaking country, so that was good enough in some places! Speaking of, I quite miss speaking French; ditched it after I finished the IB and it only surfaces when I’m talking to international students at uni. Usually when I’m a bit drunk. Don’t judge.

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19.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

I’m settling in pretty well! On Friday, I had intended to go to school again, but instead went to the market with the warden of the shelter and one of the older girls. This actually consisted of waiting 3 hours in a fairly grimy office for an ultrasound doctor to appear; the girl has to have an operation because she had gallstones. The office was packed full of people only a short while after we got there, and I won’t lie, the smell wasn’t brilliant. There are a lot of private doctors’ offices in India, and only a few public hospitals. In these places, you have to queue for hours from six or seven in the morning to be seen, and they’re hardly sanitary compared to British hospitals. More on that later.

When we were FINALLY done at the office, we went out into the market area. I visited my first temple! It wasn’t much, but it was interesting to see a small one in amongst all the tiny shops in a side street, as opposed to the huge things people imagine when you say “temple”. Did the usual removing of shoes and taking a look around; interestingly, there is an inner section of each temple which you can’t enter if you’re on your period! Apparently, it means you’re “unclean”. Rude.

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Voluntourism and the ‘gap yah’ stereotype; young people and the Western saviour complex

I’ve already mentioned how aware I am that sometimes, to those who don’t know much about what I’m doing and why I’m travelling, I could be viewed as just one of the hordes of young people on a gap year to ‘find themselves’ through travel. Maybe I am.

Such a stereotype! It’s one I am definitely familiar with, as many students at my university seem to have already taken a “gap yah”, so called in a mockery of the “rah” accent and background of the typical Exeter student; well off, middle class and privately educated. I assure you that despite falling into the fairly loose “middle-class” category, I am neither rich nor public-schooled. My parents have always made it clear that they will support me, but we don’t have money to throw around, and I am always conscious of my spending. I attended several run-of-the-mill comprehensive schools, and a state college.

So I perhaps don’t quite fit the “Exetah” stereotype, but as far as being a white, middle-class, “Oxbridge-almost” (that’s another story), lacking a regional accent, I suppose I fit some of the criteria. Not to turn this into some kind of tale about what a special snowflake I am, and how I’m not like other people. I am simply writing this to talk about my own feelings on this stereotype and what we can do to dispel it. Continue reading “Voluntourism and the ‘gap yah’ stereotype; young people and the Western saviour complex”

15.4.15; DEHRADUN, India

Culture shock is not even the word. Neither is tired. I have no suitable word.

It’s been just over a day since I arrived in Dehradun, Uttarakand, India. It’s only just sinking in, really. Seems like I should still be at home, getting ready to go!



I think my first wobbly moment was probably saying goodbye to my parents at the airport. After fitting what seems simultaneously a ridiculously small and ridiculously large amount of things into my new 45L backpack (yes, it really is that small), I had exactly that backpack, a handbag full of electronics and various bits of useless rubbish, and a bag of snacks with which I would be travelling out into the big bad world for the next four months. This only hit me when I was checking my bags in and turned around to see that my parents had not left yet, and I frantically signalled to my mum to wait a minute.

I wondered, do I really want to do this? It’s quite one thing to travel alone, but it’s really another, to go completely to the other side of the world with very few belongings, where you don’t speak the native language, with a vague plan to volunteer for two months in India before moving on to South East Asia, and not much else mapped out. I realised that it’s been so long since I travelled to a country where I don’t speak the language; I’m so lucky in that respect. Comparatively, my couple of weeks in Germany seemed practically idyllic. Continue reading “15.4.15; DEHRADUN, India”