Elena Bernstein, Final Blog

It’s crazy to think that I’ve been home from India for almost a month.  Adjusting back to things in the United States has been great, but I think about my trip every single day.  What are my students learning?  How is my teacher?  Does Sheral have a new group to take care of?  I always find myself wondering and reminiscing over pictures, videos, and memories.  It’s still so sad that it’s over.    

My friends and family were interested in all of my stories and photos, but it’s hard to actually explain everything I did and saw within those six weeks.  Plus, you really only have a few seconds to answer the question, “How was India?” because most people don’t want to hear much after “It was amazing!”.  And of course, I understand that.  But it’s hard to even find a few key sentences to sum up my unforgettable summer.   

I am so anxious to get started with my new elementary school for the year.  I already know that I will be comparing each and every thing that my students and teacher do, back to my experience in the schools in India.  Even though I already know all the similarities and differences between U.S. and India schools, I am excited to be reminded of certain things that make me think of India during my day.

I have tried to remain in contact with my teacher by sending her photos of me to show the students and just a little bit of what I’ve been up to since I got home.  I miss everyone so much!

There are so many ways in which I feel different after being back home.  I have a deeper appreciation for other cultures, I do not want to take the luxuries I have for granted, I have a stronger admiration for the people of India that I never thought I would, and I feel solidified in my decision of getting my master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language. 

The one thing that I am most excited about is getting back in the classroom and seeing how I’ve truly changed as an educator.  I am eager to implement all of the different strategies and lessons I learned while at DPS East.  I hope that my experience being in another country will help contribute to my ability to form deep, long-lasting relationships with each of my unique students.

 Although I’ve said this in previous blogs, a piece of my heart will forever remain in India.  As time goes on, people will care less and less about my experiences.  But every time I think about my summer, I smile.  I will never get enough of my pictures and reliving it all over again.  In a way, six weeks felt long, but it actually wasn’t enough time.  I wish I could have one more day at DPS East, laughing with my students and Vinita.  I wish I could have one more group dinner at Bangalore Brew Works and talking with Bijoy.  I wish I could have one more sleep at Casa and hearing all the sounds and smells of Bangalore. 

I will miss this place forever. ‘Til we meet again, India!


Elena Bernstein, Week 6

I seriously cannot comprehend the idea that in 8 hours, I’ll be on my flight home from India. This past week has been a crazy and emotional roller coaster of events. I have always been horrible at saying goodbye, however, I’m officially done with all of my goodbyes and am anxious to start my hello’s back in the United States.

This last week, I felt overwhelmed with the amount of love I received. My students made me a book filled with sweet letters wishing me a safe journey, to always be happy, and know that they will see me soon. I received gifts, hugs, and praise, and I reciprocated the only way I know how, which is crying. I mean, how often in your life can you say that you have said goodbye to someone you know you will probably never see again? The people that I have interacted with over the last 6 weeks have truly become family. Coming to India was already a challenge for me. Being away from home, unsure of how I would like the food, the heat, etc. Little did I know, that it would be an even bigger challenge when it came time to leave.

I have found my place here. In my classroom, in Casa, with my teachers, with this unique group of people, with my students, everywhere. I’ve gotten so used to brushing my teeth with a water bottle and covering my shoulders and knees. I’ve learned the difference between Bindi, Hindi, and Mehndi. The only thing I still need help with is converting rupees to U.S. dollars 😉

There are no words to describe how much I am going to miss this place. I am anxious to get home and show the rest of the world that India is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket lists. There is something so special that you can only understand by being here. The friendliness of the faces, the sound of the traffic, the beat of the music, the drive of the people.

I will never forget my experience here. The relationships I’ve created and the memories I’ve made will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel so fortunate to have come here but I also feel just as fortunate to be able to leave. I feel lucky to go home and share my pictures, moments, and stories with everyone. I want to spread the love back the same way that I received it here. I can only hope that one day I am fortunate enough again to come back and reunite with the special people that I am leaving behind.

One of my favorite quotes reads, “You will never be completely at home again because part of yourself will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I can’t think of a more perfect quote to describe how I feel as I prepare to leave India in the morning. I am positive that I will never be completely at home again. A piece of my heart will forever remain in this place that has brought me so much love, happiness, and fulfillment. I am honored to love and know the people of India. I only wish I could take some of my favorites with me and still fit the 50 lbs checked luggage requirement.

Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible for me. I’ve had the absolute time of my life.

Week 5, Elena Bernstein

I cannot believe that week 5 has already come and gone. Where did this summer go? This week at DPS – East, my students had testing in all of their subjects (Math, English, Environmental Science, and Hindi). They worked so hard and it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences between testing in India versus the United States. I am glad that all of the tests are over so that we can enjoy my last week stress free!

After our full week at school, we took a trip to Mysore. It’s about a 4 hour drive from Bangalore. In Mysore, we saw an art gallery, the famous Mysore Palace, and drove up the Chamundi Hill to see a temple, market, and a breathtaking view of the city. It was so nice to explore a new place again. My favorite part of the weekend was going to the Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, India, two hours from Mysore. I have always been fascinated with elephants and think they are one of the coolest, most amazing animals. Although it was pouring rain, we still managed to have one of the best days yet. We were able to bathe, pet, feed, and interact with all of the elephants in the reserve. One of the hardest things about going to places like this is seeing how the animals are treated. Although the elephants have chains on their bodies, it is just to slow them down and prevent them from running off while visitors are present. The camp is only open for three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. When it’s closed, the elephants are unchained and are able to roam free. Knowing that they weren’t confined to these heavy chains all the time made my experience a lot more enjoyable. I had such an incredible day, took the greatest pictures, and have fantastic new memories to cherish forever.

This weekend, I had Indian food for every meal. I finally found a few dishes that I enjoy – Chicken Kebab and Butter Chicken. And of course, Butter Naan. I’m excited to get back to America and actually know what to order at an Indian restaurant!

I have a lot of hopes for the upcoming week. I cannot believe that I have 6 full days left in India. This is going to be a week full of lasts. Last Monday, last day of school, last time at our favorite restaurants, last sleep in Casa, last group meeting, last time wearing my Kurtas, etc. The list is endless. It’s funny looking back because the days seem so long in the moment, yet the weeks have been flying by. Life move very fast here. There is nothing slow about India – except, maybe the traffic. My only hope for this week is to look up and take it all in. Again and again. Before I know it, I’ll be hopping on the plane home. I have very mixed emotions about returning back to the US. I am anxious to see my friends and family but a part of me will always be here. In the craziness, chaotic, colorful, and fast-paced beauty that is India. I am beyond thankful to have one more week to appreciate it all over again. Slow down the clock, week 6!

Week 4, Elena Bernstein

Hennas, New Delhi, and the Taj, oh my! This week was filled with spectacular adventures and world wonders. It was a perfect mini vacation from our hard work at school. I can’t wait to share all of my new memories.

Before we left for our weekend getaway, we all had the chance to get Henna tattoos. I had no idea what to expect. I sat down, put my hands out, and the artist started right away. No time to waste! I was mesmerized. She carefully and beautifully created such a unique design on both sides of each of our hands. This art came so quickly to her. I was so fascinated that no two hands looked the same … and there were 9 of us! We had to wait for it to dry for two hours which was really challenging since we could not touch anything. After it was finished, we picked off the dried black paint and the color had turned orange underneath. By the time we woke up the next morning, the paint had turned to a dark brown. Needless to say, I felt very ready for my special weekend now that I was covered in the prettiest Henna. It only lasts 8-10 days, so I may have to get it again before I come home!

If I had to sum up New Delhi in one word, it would have to be HOT. Wow. It was truly the hottest place I have ever been. We were crazy about staying hydrated and cool. Immediately after we left the airport, we went to Amity University. The staff were so welcoming and the lunch we ate there was my favorite Indian meal by far! We had a presentation for the pre-service teachers that attend the college and discussed everything we’ve experienced in our classrooms so far. It was really fun to meet with students (future teachers) that are in the same boat as us back at Mizzou.

The next day, we went to The American Center of the United States Embassy. I was so proud to see our flag waving and interact with people that are familiar to me. It was an amazing experience learning about how they ended up in India and what their specific jobs are. The center was so cool to see and I love that I have a safe space where I can feel comfortable while I’m thousands of miles away from my home.

My favorite part of the weekend, the trip, and probably my whole life, was our visit to the Taj Mahal. I was surrounded by such immense beauty, history, and wonder. It’s crazy to say that I have seen one of the seven wonders of the world…and that some people will never get to see this monument in their lifetime! Sadly, my pictures will not do this moment justice. I felt overwhelmed with happiness and was in a state of awe during the entirety of our time there. I only wish that my friends and family were with me to witness everything that is the Taj Mahal. It truly looked like I was staring at a photograph! I feel so fortunate to have had this special experience. My teacher and students were so excited to hear about my weekend and I shared all of my pictures with them as well.

This was a fantastic (and needed!) break to get us through the next two weeks. I can’t believe that we only have 13 days left. I am so excited to see my people back home, but I am not ready to leave India just yet. Here’s to week 5!

Week 3, Elena Bernstein

How are we already halfway through our trip of a lifetime? This week was full of fun, new experiences that I am dying to share.

To start off, I had the pleasure of interacting with Mizzou’s College of Education Dean Chval and Director of Global Engagement, Gabrielle Malfatti, during their quick visit to Bangalore. They observed me teach a second grade English lesson and we all visited another Delhi Public School together later in the week. My favorite moment from their stay was at dinner the night before they left. Dean Chval asked each of us to think of three adjectives that describe India so far. Mine were surprising, colorful, and welcoming. I truly feel like these words encompass everything I’ve experienced over the last three and a half weeks. I am surprised at how all of my misconceptions were proven wrong. I am amazed at the amount of color I see here just by walking down the street. And, I am overwhelmed at how welcoming the people have been. Whether it be the students or teachers at my school, the workers at Casa, or even the waiters at restaurants. I am eager to ask myself this question again once the six weeks are over.

Another huge part of this week was the Fourth of July. I had never been out of the United States for this holiday before and it was a little challenging (for someone who loves America as much as me!). My students were so interested and knowledgeable that it was a special day for me back home. I wore my American flag ponytail and even sang the Star Spangled Banner for my class after they begged all day long. There is a handful of students I teach that have gone to school in the United States. These specific ones were all excited because they had heard our National Anthem before. One of my students even recited the Pledge of Allegiance with me. I was so impressed! And, very happy to be reminded of my home 9,000 miles away.

My favorite part of this week (and the entire trip so far) was our saree photo shoot. Sheral (person of contact with Mizzou in Bangalore) came over to Casa and helped each of us wrap our 29 feet long unique, colorful, and gorgeous fabrics. She even brought jewelry to make the “look”. We took picture after picture and had our own fashion show for everyone at Casa. I seriously felt like I was at prom, telling everyone around me to get the best angle, lighting, and pose. I felt so beautiful, yet couldn’t believe women have to wear these heavy fabrics all the time — I was so hot! It took so long just to get dressed and we were exhausted after all the modeling. This was one of the first moments that I really felt immersed in the culture of India. My clothing is a huge part of what makes me stand out here, so dressing in the traditional wear made me feel like I finally fit in. I am definitely going to have to take Sheral home with me because there is no way I will ever be able to wrap it on my own!

Here’s to an incredible three weeks down, and three to go!

Week 2, Elena Bernstein

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already spent two amazing weeks here in Bangalore. To be honest, I was nervous this week was going to be a long one. I felt that our routine was so monotonous. Wake up, go to school, come home, eat dinner, and do it all over again the next day. I would always feel tired in the morning and maybe a little crabby, but by the time I got to school and made a connection with one of the students, I remembered why I came here in the first place. For the kids! I have loved getting to know and learn something new from them each and every day. I made a seating chart to help me memorize all 41 unique and challenging names that are so different than what I’m used to pronouncing. One of my favorite parts about this week was teaching my class “Hangman” and “Heads Up Seven Up”. I have never seen a group of children get so excited about such silly time filler activities.

Another great part from this week was getting to teach my first lesson. It was on English grammar, specifically, articles (a, an, and the). I couldn’t be more pleased with how it went and how well the students were able to participate and remain engaged throughout the entirety of the lesson. One thing that I have struggled with is classroom management. In the United States, my classrooms consist of 18-23 students. Controlling the attentions of 41 little minds is incredibly challenging. However, I have taught them several ways for me to grab their attention. For example, clapping to some sort of rhythm and having them repeat it, raising my hand and them “zipping” their mouths shut, and simply not speaking until everyone is silent. The students seem to love these little tricks and some have started telling me to, “Do the claps,” when they notice the classroom is getting too noisy. I hope that my teacher utilizes these techniques after I’m gone because they are so effective.

Although it’s only been two weeks, I feel like our group is becoming more and more equipped with daily life. We’ve finally gained confidence in walking across the busy traffic by sticking our hands out and just hoping that the cars will stop. So far, so good! We’ve been trying new restaurants and even saw Toy Story 4 yesterday. Everything was the same, minus singing the National Anthem at the beginning of the movie, having an intermission halfway through, and the English subtitles. However, I’m still learning the lay of the land and trying to accept the fact that I’ll never fully “blend in”.

I think the most challenging part for me this week was living in the moment. I’ve noticed that I’m constantly looking forward to the next activity, the weekend, or how many days until I get to see my friends and family. While I’m busy thinking about what’s to come, I’m missing out on everything in front of me. I am in India, shaping the future of our world (and exploring that world at the same time!), and that’s pretty flipping awesome. See you next week!

Week 1, Elena Bernstein

Wow…what a week!  From the second I stepped off the plane in Bangalore seven days ago, I felt welcomed into this country with wide open arms and it hasn’t stopped since.  I feel valued, wanted, and for lack of a better word—famous. The very first thing I noticed about India was that everyone seemed to look the same. Same skin color, same hair color, same eye color.  On the contrary, my white, pale-skinned, blue eyes, and brown hair has almost “disrupted” the everyday norm. People stare. A lot. I am still getting used to smiling at strangers and being quick to say “hello” to show them that yes, even though I look different, I am just like them.  Curious, interested, and eager to learn about their way of life. People are amazed to hear that I am American and every time I say it, I feel more and more lucky to have a chance to share my love for my home country.

Throughout the last week, I realized that all of my preconceived ideas that I gathered from friends and family before I left, have been completely wrong.  India is a beautiful place, filled with the brightest colors, biggest hearts, and determination like I’ve never seen. I’ve seen thousand-year-old temples, enormous markets, crowded restaurants, beautiful schools, and still don’t feel like I’ve made a dent in half the things there are to do and see in Bangalore.  Just from driving through the insane traffic, I can see that every person on the street has a purpose. In a hurry, either going to school or work, and just trying to make a living as best they can. One of my favorite sights has been seeing how many people can fit on the back of a motorcycle (so far, the winner is five).  Another one of my favorites have been the cows. Some are decorated with paint and jewelry and others just roam free. Cars don’t stop to let the cows pass, they just find a way to swerve around them—one of the craziest concepts I’ve ever witnessed.

Last but not least, I have had the pleasure of getting to know the students and staff at Delhi Public Schools – East.  I am so interested in how the teachers plan lessons, connect with students, and what drove them to want to pursue education.  Even after the first day, I have found so many ways in which the United States does things differently. Instead of having one teacher teach every elementary subject, the teachers rotate in and out of one classroom based on their own specialty area.  The last three days have been strictly observation and getting to know the students. Some of my favorite interactions with the children have been, “Are there T-Rex’s in the US?”, “You’re so lucky to be American”, and being referred to as “Elena Ma’am” every time they speak to me.  I absolutely love hearing about their hobbies and their lives outside of school and in return, telling them all about mine. I am so ready to get to teach on my own on Monday and open their minds to how we do it in The States.

If there’s one thing I can take away from this week, it’s an immense appreciation for the place in which I grew up.  Since I was in kindergarten, I was in class with children of every race. I can’t go anywhere at home without seeing someone that doesn’t look exactly like me. I am thankful to have been introduced—at such a young age—to how many different types of humans make up our world and how each one has their own unique story to tell.  I am grateful to be sharing my story with other amazing humans, 8,798 miles away from home. Bring on week 2!

Pre-Departure Blog 1, Elena Bernstein

I never thought I’d be saying, “I’m leaving to spend the summer in India in less than two weeks”.  I have always had a passion for traveling, but sincerely did not think India would get a pin on my map of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to go.  To say I am excited would be an understatement. I have been planning to go on this program for two years now and I cannot believe it’s almost time. Ever since I committed to the trip, I have been getting the same questions from friends and family, “Why are you going to India?”, “Do you like curry?”, and “Is it going to be like Slumdog Millionaire?”.  These questions, however arrogant and naive they may be, have only pushed me to want to go even more. I pride myself in being different and wanting to travel somewhere not many people do. I cannot wait to immerse myself in a new culture and learn from the people just as equally as they learn from me. As overwhelming and nerve-racking a trip like this is, I feel more than ready.  With my million packs of wipes, 100 SPF sunscreen, and clothes that show absolutely no skin, I am confident that this experience will be the best of my life.

In the midst of all the excitement and unfamiliarity of traveling somewhere new, I keep forgetting that I will be gaining an enormous amount of classroom experience.  I have wanted to be an elementary teacher since I was 10 years old. By combining my love for education and my passion for travel, I knew a teach-abroad program would be in my future someday.  I am overwhelmed with eagerness and very antsy to get started. I cannot wait to observe how an Indian classroom is run and how it relates and differs from the typical American one. I am looking forward to making a strong relationship with my host teacher so that we feel comfortable sharing ideas, lessons, and techniques that work best for the students.  I am also interested in seeing the daily routines of my placement school, Delhi Public Schools – East, and how it correlates to the American schedule. From morning meetings, to lunch, specials (music, P.E., art, etc.), and everything in between. As a future teacher who hasn’t begun her career, I am always on the hunt for ways to better myself and learn from others.  After having the chance to work with two American teachers over the last year, I am overjoyed to learn from a third who may have an entirely different perspective on education and what it means to be a teacher.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have this experience as a “trial run” before I begin my senior year student teaching.  I am excited to be fearless with trying new things and showing my host school how proud I am to have had an American education.  When asked why I wanted to become a teacher, my answer is always “to make a difference”. That means in the lives of students everywhere — no matter the location.  Teaching the future of our world has no limit and I’m ready to take on this challenge!