Friday, 14 June 2013

Post Fulbright...What's Next for Sandy?

 Following my graduation from Florida State University, God blessed me with the opportunity to serve as a cultural ambassador in India on behalf of the United States. I will be frank and say that my Fulbright term in India was life-changing. Life-changing in that it did not compare at all to my typical 'study abroad' experiences. This experience further developed my ability to live, work, and provide service abroad. While living in India, I took intensive Bengali language classes to be more communicative with the locals, and working full-time as a Spoken English teacher.

Upon my return, I spent a good month to reflect and readjust to living in Florida. Then, I volunteered with local organizations, ate the food I missed so much, and I visited many of my family and friends. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs asked me to work the Pre-Departure Orientation (PDO) for Fulbright English Teaching Assistants (ETAs) to Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia. Myself and a few other Fulbright Alumni used our prior experiences to help these new Fulbright ETAs learn how to adjust to living abroad,  handle culture shock, and how to increase awareness about Americans/American culture through being themselves in and outside of the classroom. During, the PDO I was overjoyed because it is not until you are affiliated with Fulbright when you realize the strength of the Fulbright network. Not to mention, one is able to form lifelong friendships with amazing people throughout the globe.

Altogether, my Fulbright experience was detrimental to my overall growth and decision to officially pursue the Peace Corps. Becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer is important to me because it is invaluable, critical for graduate school and it will aid in my advancement in an international development career.

On behalf of the U.S. Peace Corps, I will serve as a Community Health Adviser in Benin, West Africa. Following my pre-departure training on June 25, 2013, I officially leave for Benin to begin my in-country training and service. My term with the Peace Corps is for 27 months. During that time-frame, I will try to do my best to keep up with a new blog highlighting my experiences (key word is try). I want to especially Thank YOU for your continued support (i.e. reading this blog) this past year. Wish me luck on this next adventure!! 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

My Last Day of School

My official last day of teaching was 1st March, 2013. That day was bitter sweet for me because I will seriously miss my students, teachers, and school staff. As an appreciation of thanks to everyone, I gave a a farewell speech to the whole school in Hindi. It was memorable and extremely funny. Believe it or not, I was actually nervous because I was afraid I would pull the same stunt as a guy in the movie, 3 Idiots—who gave a speech in Hindi and said everything horribly wrong. Nevertheless, I was good. The whole school—students, teaches, and especially Principal sir were shocked!! I am happy I did it because as the Spoken English teacher, I worked to inspire confidence in speaking English to my students. The fact that I boldly went before the school to present a speech in their native language demonstrated what I have been teaching them all along. Per my last day, I gave all my students farewell goody bags (each had a piece of candy, pen, and Sandy Ma’am’s golden tips for Spoken English)—they loved it!! For my staff, I cooked my family’s traditional soup--soup Joumou (Pumpkin soup), they kept asking for seconds.

Click below to see me give my farewell speech in Hindi---MUST SEE!!

These are the pictures from my last day of school (Note: I wore the cutest salwar suit)

My 6th graders (girls)--I <3 them all!!!
I will miss my 6th graders!!! 

**One of my 6th graders read me the sweetest letter: CHECK THIS OUT!

7th grade girls--they are very sweet!!
Some of India's finest 7th grade boys (lol)
I know you can't have faves but here's my fave 8th graders(boys)

I know you can't have faves but here's my fave 8th graders(girls)
My other 8th graders (boys)
Me and my other 8th graders (girls)
All the amazing gifts from my students--I felt so special!!!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A Friendship That Will Never End :)

Me, Sneha, and my Shipmate Whitney
Prior to my Fulbright experience, I came here to India once before via the Semester at Sea program. If you do not recall--Semester at Sea is a study abroad program that circumnavigates the globe on a ship. During my voyage I traveled to nine different countries, including India. As a way to off-set the costs of my trip, I worked on the ship as a Student Ambassador.One of the responsibilities I held as a Student Ambassador was to be an Inter-port Liaison. In this role, I  coordinated and assigned students on the ship to engage with Inter-port visitors while at sea and in port. Inter-port guests (students and lecturers) were on the ship to give presentations about their culture, attend and contribute to classes, and participate in activities with the shipboard community. Fortunately for me, I became very good friends with the Inter-port student from India named Sneha. Sneha afforded to be on the ship because of Rotary International. This was amazing because Rotary International also provided me funds to pursue the Semester at Sea program. Since we met on the ship in 2010, Sneha and I have always kept in contact.
When I arrived to Sneha's house, her mom made us this South Indian dish!!
Despite my hectic schedule between school and volunteering, I knew I could not leave India without taking some time to visit Sneha and her family in Chennai (Southern India). On top of being at her house and having her family treat me like their second daughter, I went to Pondicherry (where Life of Pi was filmed) with Sneha and her two best friends.

Pictures from Pondicherry & Auroville:

During colonialism, Pondicherry was the only area in India that the French claimed.
Till this day, the area has kept its French influences (i.e. all the signs are in French) 
A Ganesh [Indian God] Temple
Our view from our hotel!!
Pondicherry is absolutely beautiful!!
Myself and Sneha's best friends--Hina(m) and Krithika (r)
Before heading back to Chennai, we stopped by a town near Pondicherry called Auroville. It was founded in 1968 by Mirra Alfassa (aka The Mother). Mother created Auroville to be a town where men and women worldwide can universally live in peace and harmony. In the middle of the town The Mother had the Matrimandir, a golden metallic sphere in the center of town. According to Mother, this is a "symbol of the Divine's answer to man's inspiration of perfection."

**FUN FACTAuroville is governed by the Auroville Foundation through an act of the Indian Parliament. Politics and religion are not supposed to be practiced in Auroville. Also, it is the Foundation, not the people living there, that owns the houses.
The surface of the dome has 56kg of Gold (the Gold is sandwiched between as thin sheets)
This is a display of what a piece of the dome looks like up close.

Sneha and I 
Krithika (l) and Hina (r)--my new friends!!
Back in Chennai--before returning back to Kolkata:

Sneha's mom and aunt had a farewell feast for me--I ate so much!! It was all good :)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sandy Ma'am Idol

During the Annual Enrichment Seminar hosted by the Fulbright Program, two English Teaching Assistants (Ian + Ayumi) in Nepal presented on an innovative method to teaching spoken English using song. This approach used music to motivate students to relax and improve their communicative, listening, and writing competence. Contrary to what I have done before with just playing songs and having the students just listen, this method involved competition—something the kids love. To make it even more interesting, the two ETA’s in Nepal added an idol twist (i.e. Ian Sir Idol). To begin this activity, students had to split in groups of four or five and create their own band (example: The Jokers Pop Band). Unlike the ETA’s in Nepal, I performed this activity in two parts—audition and the actual competition. For the auditions, I provided the song, Here Comes the Sun by the Beetles. We went over the song lyrics, highlighted vocabulary, and deciphered the meaning of the song together. After completing the dictation and comprehension I had the students create their song by replacing the lyrics of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by the Beatles. Amazingly enough, the whole class was excited for this activity. To make the feel of idol more genuine, I assigned four students to be the judges. The student judges had their own judging score sheets and did not participate in the performances. To be fair, every band made it past the auditions but their score determined their rank in the competition at the moment. For the competition portion, each of the bands had to creatively write their own songs. If they included any vocabulary from previous lessons, they would get extra credit.

 Judges, Nitin (l) and Samiran (r), while judging a bands’ performance 
Following Sandy Ma’am Idol, the final scores were posted up in VI-D’s classroom.

Sandy Ma’am poses with the winners of Sandy Ma’am Idol—Mathematical Force. 

Sandy Ma’am stands with two of the judges and the 2nd place winners of Sandy Ma’am Idol—Best Ever Band.

After completing the 'Sandy Ma'am Idol' survey, I showed my appreciation of thanks through prizes. I gave each student a pencil and a piece of candy for participating. The picture above displays the prizes that were given to the winners.
 The gold boxes on the top were for 1st place winners, the prizes on the left were for the 2nd and 3rd place winners. The prizes on the right were for the judges and assistants. The students were shocked and extremely happy. 

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Weddings Smeddings

At this point I have been to quite a few weddings--too much if you'd ask me (about 6 in total). The pictures below of the latest weddings I attended. One is of my good friend, Priyanka. Her marriage was arranged but thankfully she had some time to get to know her husband before they officially got hitched. The other was not an arranged marriage, it was a love marriage (similar to the states). I did not know the bride or the groom. I was close with the bride's mother--Samita Ma'am (another teacher on my staff). The whole staff actually went to the wedding. It was pretty amazing.The interesting thing about this wedding is that the bride and groom do not follow the same traditions because they are from different cultures within the Indian culture. The 3rd wedding was like Priyanka's in that it was arranged. Only, the bride and groom only met a few weeks prior--HOW CRAZY!!!

**Priyanka's and Samita Ma'am's daughter's wedding were in late November while the 3rd wedding was in February. You will notice that I am wearing the the same sari for the first two occasions--I had no shame because I looked fabulous!

Priyanka & Arka's wedding:
My friend and bride, Priyanka
Yup, this is the location of the wedding. Each floor was used 
Me and the bride
Priyanka and her dad

Bride's mother blesses her future son-in-law, the groom aka Arka

The groom sits on his throne (he still hasn't seen Priyanka)
All the Kolkata ETAs attend this wonderful affair--Priyanka was our facilitator when we first came to India

The bride and groom finally unites--literally they tie a knot 
Family performs rituals before they can unite as one
As they sit next to each other they, are beginning the process of uniting as one.
**Look at my first post on attending and Indian wedding to fully understand the traditions of a Bengali wedding.

Samita-Ma'am's Daughter's wedding:
Samita Ma'am--looking so beautiful!

Bride's father(Samita Ma'am's husband), groom, bride, and myself
Me and my coordinating teacher aka 'Mother' teacher

Bride and groom perform the groom's family traditions

Bride's mother (left) and groom's mother (right)

Myself and some of the staff members at my school--KV Ballygunge (we're like a family)

The wedding venue

Another wedding...
Me and  the music teacher
Along with the men of her family, bride makes the move to see her groom

Bride makes her rounds around the groom (she has to go around him 7x)

Me and the bride's mother (another teacher I work with) 
Some of the staff attend to support
Wedding venue
Groom, bride, and the bride's mother