This past summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to live, study, and work with international students from all over the world in Bangalore, India. The program, WE BUILD 2011, was sponsored by the Indian non-profit Global Citizens for Sustainable Development (GCSD) and centered around this idea of what it means to be a global citizen. What made it a truly unique experience was that after studying Indian culture, development issues and global social justice movements, we were able to contribute to sustainable development in India by partaking in a 10 day building project in rural Bangalore. Living and working with students from China, Russia, Ireland, Kuwait, and Scotland, I had the opportunity to understand what life is like for 20-year olds across the globe and explore the common issues and concerns we share as a youth. What’s more, to hear a family be so grateful simply to not have to sleep in the rain anymore truly put our work in perspective on the gifts we take for granted every day.
Beyond our service learning project, we saw multiple aspects of Indian life and culture as we traveled around the southern portion of the country. Visiting various Hindu temples and colonial palaces, the Indian past came to life as we saw the relics of Muslim conquests, Hindu dynasties, and British colonial rulers. In the first few days, we set out to explore the city of Bangalore via GCSD’s very own Amazing Race, a version of the television game show where we split up into teams and raced across the city to find clues leading us to our final destination. Although my team didn’t win (I still say everyone else cheated!) it was a great opportunity to work together in developing not only teamwork but moreover open communication in a multi-cultural setting, a skill that, working in international relations, I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
From riding an elephant to participating in the building a house to teaching a group of international students the American ‘traditional dance’ of the Cha-Cha Slide, my time in India with GCSD offered the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and work and live in a completely new environment, which was certainly a challenge at times in dealing with a different culture but provided with me insight on how a great portion of our world lives. Beyond that, I formed valuable friendships with young, energized and motivated students just like myself who hope, just as I do, to bring back their real-world knowledge on sustainability and development to not only their home countries, but furthermore to future international volunteer projects abroad.