Cultural Immersion Program | India
96% Rating
(5 Reviews)

Cultural Immersion Program | India

India - with a difference!
We have only a few places left in our program in the Lepcha community in north east India starting on 18 Feb '18 - but you can start later if that date doesn't suit. We are a not-for-profit and, unlike other organisations, we accept no more than 100 each year - so hurry, hurry, hurry and don't miss out on a unique experience!

Cultural immersion is more than just being a tourist and seeing the sights, it's a unique opportunity to engage meaningfully with individuals and a community, to build relationships, make friends and live life as they do.

All our programs are divided into three parts - orientation, cultural immersion placement and independent travel.

  • Orientation - a chance to settle in, get to know your group and make sure you're fully prepared for all aspects of your placement.
  • Immersion - you live and work with others from your group, sharing your skills, in one of our partner communities with the Lepchas in the foothills of the Himalayas or in Kalimpong. Key to the experience is the high level of independence we offer. We're always available, but we stand back and let you make the most of the experience.
  • Independent Travel - the final month of the program is free for you to explore India and neighboring Nepal. We're still here to support you whenever you need!
Locations
Asia » India
Length
1-3 Months
3-6 Months
Language
English
Housing
Apartment
Host Family
Hostel
Starting Price
$0.00
Currency
USD

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

  • Impact
    98%
  • Support
    98%
  • Fun
    90%
  • Value
    90%
  • Safety
    96%

Program Reviews (5)

Default avatar
Celia
Female
18 years old
Scotland
University of Birmingham

The best opportunity out there

10/10

I'm not sure I can put into words the time I had in India with AV. It was just some of the best months of my life and looking back, I have the most wonderful memories that fill my heart with joy. I have met some of the most amazing people and now have a family that I will be going back to visit. I think of the children and my family there everyday and I think of the beautiful place that was my home and all the things I learned there. Being in India changed my life. It taught me so much, gave me so much and I am so lucky to have been able to experience it. The Lepcha project is unbelievably rewarding. We did more than teach; we learned tribal dances and songs wearing traditional dress, organised events for our children and lived in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I cannot recommend this project more. Part of my heart will stay there with my students and wonderful family and the only hard thing about this project was when the time came for me to leave.

How can this program be improved?

My experience couldn't have been.

Default avatar
Helen
Female
32 years old
London
University College London

AV India 2008

8/10

I was in India with AV for four months in 2008.

Though some time has lapsed since then, some things still stand out. In particular, I met two of my best friends there, who were in the same group as me (we shared a room).

The food is some of the best you will ever taste. We cooked all the time and I still make curries at home using lessons I learnt there ('the key to North Indian cooking is jheera-dhanya').

Teaching is hard, but it is fun playing with the kids in the playground and your work is appreciated by the teachers.

The landscape around Darjeeling is beautiful, and a slightly easier climate than on the plains. The tea plantations stretch for miles and are unlike anything I have ever seen before or since. The trek we did in Sikkim was unforgettable - lush and green at the bottom, getting sparser as we rose. When we climbed to Kangchenjunga base camp at the peak of our route, the sunlight broke through the clouds, to reveal peak after peak. It was one of the hardest, but best experiences of my life.

The AV support network is impressive - I'm sure as much so for parents as gap year students - and in particular Tendup Lama and Richard Venning had invaluable local knowledge. My friends and I attend the AV Carol Service on Farm Street every year, which always makes for a great evening and attracts quite a crowd.

In all, you may have moments in India when you think - your feet are tired, your room is damp, you want some cornflakes. But acclimatising to local life; the smells and sounds; the language and clothes - even the very strange loos - these are the experiences you will never forget.

How can this program be improved?

I would say the carol service is an excellent idea and should continue.

Default avatar
Charlotte
Female
42 years old
London, United Kingdom
University of Sheffield

Thanks AV - an experience that changed my life in more ways than one!

10/10

Though quite some time has lapsed since my experience in 2001, I wanted to share my experience as it has sigificantly impacted on my life.

When I went to India, I has just turned 18 and though nervous, I was also excited. the support that AV offered was fantastic. Before I went somone interviewd me and took time to get to know me than the bigger gap campanies other firends went with did. We had a great induction on our way to the vilages. We were visited by Richard half way thorugh our placement and also at the end. We also had local support in the interim if needed.

The experience was challenging, exciting and rewarding. The sites, the smells, the people were all so vivid. The children at school were so keen to see us and full of questions. We went to weddings, Indian festivals, locals houses for dinnerand experienced aspects of Indian culture no holiday has ever given me. Ooooh and don't let me forget the delicous food. Cheap, yummy and being vegetrain is easy.

My confidence was greatly improced by the experience. I gained insights into another culture and was able to see things from different perspectives. This has stuck with me to this day and has only benefitted me in terms of my career. When I first left university , I moved to London. Without my AV experience, I do not think I would have had teh confidence in myself to do this. The experience helped with job interviews as I had an endless list of examples to use in the interview.

Three years later my brother went to Kenya with AV as we had been impressed by [email protected] organisation, its ethos and how it really cares about people on the scheme, the schools and teh local community. My brother met his future wife in Kenya on the scheme. 3 nephews followed some years later - so thanks to AV, I am also an Auntie :)

P.S. I do not come from a rich family but had a part time job and also wrote to local companies for sponsorship in order to take part. It was worth every penny. Plus, once you get to India the cost of living is very low.

Go for it!

How can this program be improved?

None I can think of.

Default avatar
Lulu
Female
24 years old
New York
Newcastle University

Day to Day Routine

10/10

Starting the day with the habitual pancakes, getting dressed and then walking through the market space to get to the school. We'd walk with the students along the dirt track, weaving in and out of the mountain scenery. We'd have lunch with the other staff, something was always prepared for us by the sister. After school we'd have time to relax and write in our journals whilst sipping freshly brewed chai tea, before going to night school. In the evening we'd have dinner and retire to our rooms reading our books or play uno with our host family kids. One of the most unique and beautiful experiences I've ever had, I felt so involved in the community and would go back in a heart beat!

How can this program be improved?

More volunteers, more of a social aspect. My year (2012) was an exception with only 3 volunteers, usually there's at least 10.

Default avatar
Cordelia
Female
24 years old
United Kingdom
University of Manchester

My time with AV living in a Lepcha community

10/10

When I was looking online for projects abroad to do on my gap year, I was wary to stay away from projects which are commonly described as 'Volun-tourism'. This is why AV particularly stuck out from the rest for me, since it is one of the few projects which properly immerses the volunteers into the culture, rather than acting as outsiders imposing themselves onto the culture. This is the best way to really get to know a place and to feel like you're one of the community, it wasn't like being a visitor, I really begun to feel like I belonged there, and everybody was so welcoming.
I really wanted to go to India, and the year I applied (2013), AV had two projects in India,both in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal. I chose to do the project which involved living with a Lepcha family in the foothills of the Himalayas, although AV chose the village and family that I would be staying with for 3 months. I had no idea what to expect, but was warned about the culture shock and very basic living conditions, which I knew would make the months a challenge, but all of this excited me.

AV were absolutely fantastic before I left for India. I had an hour long phone conversation with Sarah, one of the people from AV based in the UK, in which I was encouraged to ask anything. It was also an opportunity for her to get to know me, so that when they needed to pair up volunteers they could match us according to our interests and personalities. I also went to Devises where the AV head office is, with my mum, to meet Sarah to ask any further questions, although I know some of the other volunteers just did this meeting over skype. I didn't have the best internet connection whilst in India, but I know AV were really great in occasionally updating my family at home on news from us out there.

It might sound a bit strange, but what I liked most about AV was the fact that there presence wasn't at all obvious when we were out in India. This is in fact a compliment to AV, because it meant that they let me and Rosanna (the other volunteer I was paired with), just get on with it. I remember the day we arrived in the village, a taxi jeep dropped us off at the top of a very large hill and whizzed off (it was such a hurry we actually forgot to get our loo paper which we had specifically bought and tied tightly on the roof). I remember feeling that having been nicely eased into India with a week long induction in Kalimpong, we were finally on our own. If we needed help or were worried about anything, we had a mobile phone, but other than that we were on our own. This is what AV do so well, they seem to have organised everything to nicely before we go away, that when you're there, they leave it up to you.

Although AV is based in England, on each of their projects abroad there will be someone there to make sure if anything goes wrong, we're not completely alone. In my case Tendup Lama was this contact, and I cannot praise him enough. We only saw him about 4 times over the three months, but he was always at the end of the phone if we ever needed comfort, and he was the most generous and kind man.

So we were welcomed so warmly into the village, as soon as we arrived. Fed unbelievably well. The first week involved visiting all the families in the village, and they all insisted on giving us tea accompanied with maybe eggs, or noodles or biscuits, or rice and dahl, but whatever it was, we were always expected to eat it all! Which was much more of a challenge than you can imagine for sensitive British bellies. We taught 5 days a week from 10am-12pm, which compared to some of the other volunteers in other villages, is nothing at all. We also taught in what is called the Night School every day from 6-8pm, which is purely for the Lepcha children in the village, helping them with their homework, teaching them songs and dances, as well as them teaching some of their traditional culture. The primary school which was government run, wasn't the most organised institution, and so teaching hours were always changing, but this added to the spontaneity of it all.
Once we arrived in the village, the children persuaded us to help out in their Sunday School, as there were lots of Christians in the village, we taught them songs every Sunday morning.
We lived with a family, and although the children were away in the town at school, we very quickly made many friends with the other children in the village, who we either taught in the primary school, or who came to Night School.
After school we would generally help cooking over the log fire, going into the jungle to collect food for the goats, go for walks with the children, or visit the other AVs in the nearby market village which was an hour's walk away.
At the weekends, we preferred to stay in the villages, as the older children didn't have school and it was the best opportunity to spend time with them. We would go for picnics, help them cut crop in the jungle, or play games inside.
The nearest town is Kalimpong, an hour and half drive away, we probably visited about 5 times over the three months. This is where you can get internet, and go out for meals. We would meet the other AVs in Kalimpong occasionally. We also came here for Holi festival, which was over the Easter Weekend, and was the Hindu festival of colour, to celebrate the beginning of Spring. All the AVs (12 of us), met up for this and was a lot of fun.
We were given the equivalent of a Half Term, and were able to go to Darjeeling one weekend, and on another occasion we went to Sikkim. We could have done more trips at the weekend, but felt it was better to stay in the village to make the most of our time with our family and the friends we were making.
In the village there is a combination of Christians and Buddhists, and we were involved in both of the celebrations which was so interesting.
During the month I got completely attached to some of the people there, and although it is difficult to stay in touch, i write letters and send text messages.
The living conditions were basic, but you get used to them really fast. Me and Rosanna shared a bedroom, and also had a sort of living space for ourselves. The loos were long drops, and to shower we filled up a bucked from the hose, which was cold water. We also washed our clothes in this bucket.

The project is relatively expensive, and this might seem strange when you are organizing this at home, but I can confirm that when in India it was really clear as to where my money had gone. Whilst I was in India I didn't spend a single coin of my own money, because on arrival we were given our money back in installments, to pay our rent to the family, to give to the village as a gift or donation, and also for spending money.

Overall, the three months was completely amazing, and I would recomend this project to anyone who is willing to make the most of it. The family we stayed with were incredibly generous and kind, and so I would hate for someone to arrive who wasn't going to make the most of their time there. It is tough, seeing as there is a massive language barrier, but this can be so easily overcome with patience, enthusiasm and determination. The project is so worthwhile because although 3 months is definitely not enough time to teach a child good english, it is plenty to give them confidence in their learning, and we were constantly reminded that this was the most important thing for us to do.

How can this program be improved?

This project was pretty close to perfect, as AV found a perfect balance between covering the volunteers in a comfort blanket, and abandoning them in them in the wilderness. I never felt threatened or unsafe during my time in India, and I definitely am grateful to AV for that.

However, I would say there was one aspect in particular which I found inconsistent with the rest of the project. Over the Easter period, we had some time off school and a trip to Darjeeling had been organised for us. This was really fun, and it was lovely being with the other AVs for a period away from the villages. However, I felt constantly guilty whilst away from the village, whilst I was eating out in restaurants, and staying in the equivalently luscious hotels - our family were still in their rural and very basic homes. It felt so strange to one minute be in the village and next be in luxury accomodation, and I did find it hard coming back to the village after. I felt more out of place in the hotel than I did in the village, and the family are responsible for making us feel so at home.

That is my only criticism. Other than that, AV is a seriously reliable and worthwhile thing to get involved with.

About The Provider

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Africa & Asia Venture (AV) offers unique immersive gap year and summer programs in Africa and Asia for those aged 17 to 25.

We build groups of individuals and, normally in pairs or fours but never on your own, you will live in the local

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