As an American-born citizen of Indian origin, I had assumed I had little to learn about South Asia. But the truth is it turned out to be so much more foreign than I had thought. However, after my time with TBB in India, Thailand, and Cambodia, I feel a newfound comfort and respect for the cultural intricacies that make South Asia different and challenging, yet incredibly special.
In Jaipur, India I faced the struggles of an overpopulated nation seeking to educate its people in one of the most difficult settings possible. Teaching children from the slums of Jagatpura in a tiny concrete room English and Math was never easy. My peers and I had to fight language barriers, constant chaos, and devilishly naughty children. But a mutual affection soon grew between us and the kids, a connection both sides needed to embrace in order to progress. It takes a lot of effort, but after an hour of constant supervision and support, seeing one of my students finally understand how to multiply two and three digit numbers was one of the most fulfilling moments in my life. More than anything, I took away an understanding of the real difficulties of global education, just legislation and political promises are not enough.
In Thailand, I was forced as far out of my comfort zone as I've ever been, and I'm so glad I was. Living in the rural Thai villages of Mae Tah and Huae Tong Kow was enlightening and challenging at the same time. We had to make do with limited language ability, complete isolation from internet and electricity, and the apprehension of being in a completely foreign culture. But in our time there, we made connections to our hosts that I will never forget - we spoke different languages and looked different, but living, eating, and sleeping under the same roof made us family. We also learned about sustainable organic agricultural practices that these people were pioneering - they showed us that being environmentally responsible while still producing enough to feed the family is absolutely possible.
Overall, I'm glad I went. It may be the other side of the world with practices and norms that we don't quite understand, but this program made me see our similarities, and come to love the differences for what they are.