What my stay in India has been like – Marcel Birr, Germany

What my stay in India has been like – Marcel Birr, Germany

Although 4 months of my stay in India are still awaiting me, there is only a little time left for me to spend in the project, taking into account the long school holidays in April and May, as well as my personal travel plans. Isn’t it crazy how fast time passes by?


It is time to look back on my experiences as an English teacher and my life in an Indian family. To cut it all short, I can truly say that I have, so far, had a wonderful time in India, with minor challenges now and then.

I have been working as an English teacher at Nittur Aided Higher Primary School, Puttur, Udupi district, for the past 6 months. It is a Kannada medium public school, with VII standards and altogether, approximately 180 children. I have been placed in this project together with Feli, another German volunteer, and we have been teaching together, ever since.

After a few weeks of observation and settling in, we received a schedule, according to which we teach all standards at least twice within the course of one week. Since this project has hosted volunteers for several years, the children and staff members have gotten used to the presence of foreigners and this enabled us to feel at ease with them in a matter of days. However, we encountered some challenges in the beginning. The language barrier made and still is making it difficult to communicate effectively with the children, especially with the young students. Moreover, it took us a while to assess the English speaking capacities of different standards and come up with suitable lessons that are neither too complex nor too simple. This is particularly difficult because the English skills vary greatly even within one standard. For example, some students can already read quite fluently, while others still struggle with the alphabet.


Another issue was to keep the children under control, as they just kept running around and would not listen to us. Over time, as we got used to our role as teachers, we learned more about the students‘ skills and developed methods to keep the children at least more quiet than in the beginning. I used colourful stamps in order to reward the students and threatened to take them to the headmaster in case of misbehaviour.  In order to create some variety in teaching methods, we integrated games into our lessons, as well as different exercises on various grammatical issues and vocabulary fields. While striating prepositions in III Standard, we played games in which we would ask the students to put a bottle in a particular position to a chair. Whenever possible, games are, in my opinion, a good way to memorize better. Even though it requires a lot of patience and some painstaking efforts, we see the value of the work we are doing. The smiles on the children’s faces and our teaching progress, however small it may be, are totally worth it.


 Given the cultural differences and the fact that living with another family, always requires some personal adjustments, I have to admit that I actually had to do very little to integrate seamlessly into my Indian host family. I am living with a senior married couple, whose 2 children have already moved out. Both of them speak English quite decently, which facilitates communication a lot. They often tell me stories from previous volunteers and especially, my host father loves briefing me on the most important news of the day because he is a journalist. They also took me to a lot of functions, especially during wedding peak season in December and January.


This not only demonstrated how well I get along with my family, but also showed me one cultural difference between India and Germany. Functions like weddings or religious festivals play a major role, as opposed to Germany. In fact, I attended the first wedding ceremony in my life here in India. Given that my family is of Christian faith I have a completely different cultural experience than other volunteers who stay with a Hindu family. I learned about Christian traditions like ‘Roce’, a ceremony usually held a couple of days before a wedding day where the bride and groom get coconut milk poured over their heads. Furthermore, I have never been to church as often as in India. Nevertheless, I have enough privacy, which is sometimes needed after a long working day, as well as the freedom to roam around on weekends and go on vacation.


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