Adventures Close to Home

Cecily Kelly

As we walked towards the blue gate of the Shri Ram Vidya Mandir School, I could feel my heart palpitating in my chest. Moments earlier I had been informed that we would be performing our choreographed dance for the hundreds of kids who attended the SRVM school. Trying to calm myself down, I began to focus on my breath rather than the daunting experience of performing an Indian style dance, that we had not practiced for days, in front of hundreds of children, grades one to twelve. When we walked through the gate we were met with a militaristic sight. Meticulous lines of children facing the front of the school where a special group of kids, and a few teachers were planted with a drum, speaker, and microphone. As we walked down the center aisle, I could feel curious eyes following our path and analyzing our every move. For the first thirtyish minutes of their morning, the students sang prayers, listened to motivational speeches from their peers, and heard a variety of other important information pertaining to the day presented. After we had gone up and performed our dance, the children ended the morning assembly with the India National Anthem, and then they filed out line by line in a very orderly fashion. We waited and watched, all in awe of how efficient and respectful the kids were, before heading up to the second floor to meet with a select group of 11th grade students and teachers.

When the other students from SRVM arrived we divided into groups, and began to talk with each other. The SRVM students quickly began to ask us questions about our own studies, and our “aims.” When telling these kids that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after high school, and didn’t know my “aim” or future career yet they were mortified. They had all been put into different “streams” and were already sure what career they wanted later in life, so it was a big shock for them that I had so much choice, and that I could be unsure of what I wanted to do. As we continued talking, we found more differences between our lives, but we also found a lot of similarities. They all were stressed for their upcoming exams, just like I get stressed for finals and AP tests. They all enjoy hanging out with friends and going on social media to relax, and so did we. Although we live in two completely different worlds, eight thousand miles apart we were still able to connect with one another and find aspects of our lives that we share in common.

Bella Cambell

Today we visited the school that Sri Ram Ashram started, Sri Ram Vidya Mandir. One difference I noticed from the beginning was the formality of the school; all of the students were in uniforms and had to recite a prayer in the morning. After the assembly, we got to talk to students from 11th grade, and share our interests and a bit about what our daily lives were like. A difference that came up during this conversation was the importance of extracurricular activities in the US. In the US extracurricular activities are very important for college applications which and in India it’s the opposite. Test scores and studying have a higher impact on college admissions than extracurricular activities. A lot of the students said they go home after school and study. One student said that he would watch six hours of lectures outside of school. I was shocked because I had never heard of anyone doing that before today. I was also surprised that he had the focus to watch lectures for that long. 

One thing that really struck me was that students choose their major in 10th grade. In the school, there is a poster hanging up in the halls which illustrates the many career path options. Students choose between art, commerce, and math/science. These streams lead to a test you take when you graduate high school and to the various degrees you can achieve in college with your major. I really liked this idea of having your future career mapped out for you because I have always known what I wanted to do. However, I learned that it can be challenging to switch majors because you are choosing your life plan from such a young age. 

Later in the day, we went on a safari in the Rajaji National Park with the hopes of seeing elephants since we had seen some at the ashram the past couple of nights. Unfortunately, we didn’t see an elephant but we did see many peacocks, deer, Sambar deer, and green parrots. I loved seeing all the animals, but my favorite part of the trip was talking to Shmuel and naming the Sambar deer “Mega Deer,” with Sam and Zoey. The safari was filled with so much laughter, which will be a key memory of this trip for me. At the end of the safari, we got to see a leopard. Even though it was a little hard to make out, it was really exciting. I am sad to leave the ashram and all of the happiness that surrounds me, but I am excited to see what the next part of the trip holds.