I chose to volunteer at a school a few miles outside of Kalimpong in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal and I feel it was a very good choice for me. I will be doing my own fundraising for the school I was volunteering at and returning to teach again. I found the staff at this school to be very good and better qualified than most teachers in similar sized schools and larger ones too. Eager to learn what they could and teach me about themselves,their language and their customs I felt very welcomed. The children ranging from nursery (approx 3 yrs) to class 5 were well behaved especially compared to their Western counter parts. The climate was very nice even during the monsoon, and I didn't see or hear of anyone getting malaria in that part of India.
The host family is was very accommodating and very much like the teachers. The principals wife cooked some of the most delicious food I have been so fortunate to have eaten. If I needed something in the market I couldn't find or somewhere they were very keen to help me. I made very good friends with the principal and his wife. I tried to be involved in the community by participating in pujas when I could and other such community gatherings ( I was invited to a wedding while there too). This I found help me deal with the culture shock and keep myself occupied.
I was done teaching by 2pm everyday and would walk back to the house for lunch at about noon. After I was finished teaching the day was mine. Dinner wasn't usually until 8 or 9. I would go to the market quite often to practice my Nepali. When I was teaching English I was amazed at how similar it is to English and is very easy to pick up. I wish I had hired a tutor while there. In July is a 2 week summer holiday and I didn't plan on going too far, so I asked the Executive Director at the time if there was any work that needed to be done in the area. It just so happened another school close by had applied to HELP for assistance but needed someone to go to conduct an initial survey, so I ended up doing so and visited many times as a result.
Highlights would be the people and community, the food, and the language. I found it very rewarding and as my first time traveling abroad and alone this place was a gentle transition to a country like that. I found the people to be a lot more liberal than in other parts of India especially with regards to women. Keep in mind there is an 'agitation' happening now in the District for a separate state of Gorkaland. Most people of the hill region are ethnically Nepali and are oppressed by the state government of the Bengali majority. Kalimpong is situated on a crest between two hills and each hill has a division of the Indian Army on it. There were many times in the market where soldiers would wander about with riot gear, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and tear gas launchers however I never felt threatened as it was very calm at the time.
How dependent you are on your work book was very difficult to deal with. The books are not usually very quality and come on a first come first serve basis for the private schools in this area. When teaching you have to keep in mind that when you leave they do have exams and that their mark ultimately depends on that number grade. The teachers need to be able to test what you have taught too.