A summer in West Bengal
This summer, I went back to Chalsa, West Bengal, to visit the tiny rural school where I taught for six months in 2019 – a lot has changed. The school’s growing intake has forced the youngest three years off-site, into a hostel, where the headteacher’s family, staff and 18 students live. As a result, the older years have a far better learning environment with more spacious, quieter classrooms. However, the hostel is an impractical place to learn and an uncomfortable place to live.
Every morning I was woken up by the shouts of raucous four-year-olds, serenading us with their morning nursery rhymes. The children’s enthusiasm to learn, alongside the unsuitable educational environment, inspired me to organise a fundraiser to build three new classrooms and a playground for the younger kids, ensuring that they have more space to learn creatively through different educational modes.
When not doing arts and crafts with the students, I was teaching English: recapping the different tenses, how to form questions, and writing thrilling horror stories!
During my time in India, I also explored three prestigious universities in Delhi, some local political hotspots, the Supreme Court, and Parliament House. Exploring Jawaharlal Nehru University, I learnt of a Master’s course in Global Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin, that consists of two terms in Berlin, one at FLACSO in Buenos Aires, and one at JNU, which I am now applying for.
The first thing a friend said to me after I returned to the UK was, “Wow, you look refreshed”, and he was right. I hadn’t been able to put into words how I felt post-trip, but that was exactly it. Living in such a foreign environment, your whole outlook must shift. You have to adjust to your surroundings and the different rules of life. Everything is much slower in India. Despite the chaos of the cities, where cars fluidly weave between rickshaws, people, and cows, there is a certain calm and clarity. The bustle lacks the efficiency and urgency of the UK. People always have time to stop and have a conversation, to direct you and give you a smile.
I am so grateful to Ashwin Ranganathan for the scholarship that made this experience possible. This journey has left a lasting impression in my memory and every day I try to adopt the Indian attitude to life, taking time to make space for each action, however big or small.
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Hannah with her students at the school in Chalsa, West Bengal.