Leaving Prejudice Behind – My Experience in India: Jan Philipp Zaun, Germany – LTV Volunteer

Leaving Prejudice Behind – My Experience in India: Jan Philipp Zaun, Germany – LTV Volunteer

Staying abroad makes time pass in a weird way. On the one hand, it feels like I arrived a month ago, just coming out of orientation. On the other hand, I can barely remember my first traveling experience in India – it must have been at least a year ago.


When I arrived in September to the beautiful Kundapura, Karnataka, I already knew of this effect that makes you lose consciousness and orientation in time because, in my family back in Germany, we were hosting students ourselves – now I am enabled to live through the story myself.

My stay in India being the first experience outside of the enclave that is a western lifestyle, it far overshot all my expectations. I (like most other people) came with a lot of prejudice and the feeling of already having the world put into a certain order but this mindset was, frankly said, completely blown apart.


This started with the experience in my host family, a place which I can proudly call my current home. Over the course of the 4 1/2 months, since I arrived, I grew very close to my host mother and father as well as my two host brothers. They not only give me access to probably the best chapati, pulav and fresh-cut papayas in the whole of India, but also are always up for talking and laughing, mental support on a stressful day, spare time fun on weekends and explaining to me the way how things work in India, so I don’t constantly make a fool of myself in public.

I share my room with another volunteer, but the lack of privacy is made up by having someone to talk to and mirroring each other’s personal growth. All communication thus far has been very positive and any possibility of fighting is far away.


Furthermore, my work in the Tent School Project near Baikadi has been as labour-intensive as it has been rewarding. Together with an Indian teacher, we provide free lessons for children of migrant communities in everything from English, Maths, Biology, and Geography to Creativity, Games and Social Skills. Because kids from age 3-14 attend my school at the same time, it is always a juggle to keep the smaller ones entertained and the learning curve of the bigger ones on a high level at the same time. In the beginning, this was very stressful, but now my skills to quickly find proper exercises for each kid have been honed. Because of their poor housing and sanitary conditions, the Tent communities may look like a slum at first sight, but the community members come from their home villages where they own a house, to find work in mostly road construction – something that is very abundant because of the modernization of National Highway 66.


Most children I take care of have to stay at home and keep the household running while both of their parents go to work, sometimes also having to keep watch over their younger siblings. So, even if I am not meeting the daily learning goal I set for a child, their smile when they had quality fun time spent productively makes up for all worries I have in this world. One of my prejudices was that the children would be somewhat different than the ones I am used to working with in Germany, but this proved to be completely and utterly wrong.


As the Tent School lesson ends relatively early, I have time for office work, which consists of a whole variety of duties ranging from basics like preparing the lessons to organizing and conducting excursions for my students and health camps for the whole Tent Community, as well as keeping in touch with the local government about the community’s situation and finding sponsors for all these various Tent School activities. But on 3 days a week, I have Kannada class in the afternoon – learning and speaking the local language Kannada is actually my secret pleasure. Nothing is funnier than seeing people dropping their jaws and saying “Kannada baruthaaaa?” (“You know Kannada?”) when you confront them with even the smallest phrases or words when you do basic things like ordering a soda, or buying a bus ticket. I haven’t become fluent yet, but I hope to be at least able to read, write, and have low-level conversations at the end of my stay.


In my free time, I love going for a swim at the nearby Kodi beach or enjoying a Rasayana (chunky banana milkshake) with ice cream in a juice bar with other volunteers, as I am privileged to have 5 other volunteers living on the same street. Also, I already traveled a lot through Karnataka state and peeked into Kerala and Goa, but there is so much, much more to see!


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