Arriving in India was easy. Immediately greeted by a long-time staff member of IVHQ, I could breathe easy and enjoy the chaotic drive to my temporary homestay. Over my first weekend I explored the city with some new friends while other volunteers slowly arrived from the airport. Our house "parents" were so kind to immediately offer a ride to the market for water and toilet paper upon arrival. The orientation was very helpful- covered basics about the culture, the volunteer program, languages, etc. The volunteers were then sent to our permanent homestays for the duration of our programs. The other volunteers seemed wonderful so it was sad that we didn't get to know each other more before being split up. Auntie and Uncle at my homestay were some of the nicest people I have ever met. They were always there to answer questions, make sure we are enjoying ourselves, and keeping well. All accommodations have wifi, not necessarily good wifi- but 3am is usually a good time to sign on. Auntie walked us to our school on the first day of teaching and made us all memorize her house number which saved us on numerous occasions :) The IVHQ staff members checked in every Tuesday and Thursday to make sure we were happy and comfortable.
The food was always delicious, but quite heavy with bread, rice and potatoes. Don't worry about gaining weight because you walk, sweat, and drink too much [bottled] water to retain any fat. We would buy fruit a lot for breakfast because we needed to switch it up. Having an upset tummy is pretty much inevitable, but don't hesitate to ask for a doctor visit- it is so cheap and you don't want to ruin the rest of our trip!
The school was extremely disorganized, but I attribute that to Indian culture ;). We had no idea what we were supposed to be teaching, what the students were previously taught, etc. I think the local teachers had a hard time seeing situations from the volunteers perspective because they were unable to offer much guidance. The classrooms were mixed with different age groups and levels so it took a few days to get settled into a routine. Once in a routine, each day proved itself to be a rewarding experience. A note to future volunteers: be prepared to discipline as much as you teach and know that the local teachers will use corporal punishment on the kids. The younger ones can be quite rambunctious, so sometimes pairing with another volunteer helps to keep control of the classroom. On the positive side, the kids were so eager to practice their English and volunteer during activities. They adore games, but resources are quite limited. I recommend planning out some games ahead of time that would work for larger groups of kids without extra resources. They will tell you what they want to play, but their favorite games are not usually educational (which is obviously ok every now and then). I also brought colored paper and pencils from home which brought plenty of afternoon entertainment! Travelling to the city after class and on the weekends is pretty easy, it just takes a lot of energy especially during the hot months.
We were able to travel to the Taj Mahal through IVHQ, but found out that we probably could've gone for much cheaper on our own. Everything works out- by going with IVHQ we didn't have to work out a single travel detail all day..peace of mind is sometimes worth the price. We used the weekend to travel to Jaipur where we made new friends, painted elephants, fed monkeys, and shopped till we dropped (literally- we were so exhausted!). Mohit, an IVHQ staff member, is super cool and coordinated the taxi that picked me up to take me to the airport on my last day. I couldn't have planned a more smooth trip.
I always felt safe in India- of course that doesn't mean I didn't travel with precaution. The buddy system is a must everywhere you go, especially for women. The metro offers cars and separate security lines just for women. Always stand alert (not staring at your phone) and walk with a purpose to lessen your risk of an uncomfortable situation- this obviously applies everywhere you go, but it is something to keep in the front of your mind when you are in a unfamiliar place. As part of the orientation, IVHQ reminds women to dress modestly- this is also to reduce unwanted attention. Anyone who looks European will still get plenty of attention regardless, but for safety don't feed into it by dressing skimpily which is so tempting in the heat. From my pre-departure research I anticipated being groped on the trains, but luckily never had to deal with that situation.
From the beginning Louise, the IVHQ-India coordinator, was always responsive, friendly, and amazingly professional. She checks up on you during your stay and follows up with you when you return home. Everyone already knows that India is chaotic, dirty, and known for scams, but what you don't realize until you get there is that the pros outweigh the cons. The beautiful sites, the strangers that offer help and don't ask for your money, the laidback "India time" concept, the compassion of the different religions represented...all of these things remind you of what is important in life and teaches you to live more simply and enjoy each day.
I originally signed up with IVHQ because it offered short or long term programs which fit my life and what I was looking for. IVHQ was the easiest, best decision for volunteering overseas and I recommend it to everyone. I plan to volunteer again and definitely use IVHQ.
So....I hope my book of a review is helpful, especially to those new to travelling! I also included some pics that I think summarize my experience with IVHQ. Louise at IVHQ has my email in case anyone wants to reach out.