Anna Anrdiychuk born in Ukraine and went to the USA at the age of five. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she has taught English to children in a small rural town in Japan, before coming to the Tushita Foundation, where she has spent eight months. Here is her letter to future volunteers and her answers to our questionnaire.
Letter to future volunteers
I volunteered at the Foundation from September 2015 to April 2016 and I’m writing this in the hope that it will be of some use to you during your time here. There now exists an exhaustive handbook (compiled by my colleague Caroline) which will help you navigate Jaipur, the Foundation, and India in general. I hope my letter and the various recollections of former volunteers on this page provide some useful information, but one of my biggest pieces of advice is not to depend too much on what any of us have written or said or done.
India is an incredibly unpredictable, exciting place, and I think you really have to explore and fail and learn on your own to get the full experience. In a similar respect, we’ve all compiled lists of the students in each of the five classes and a bit about them. Having a cheat sheet with their names and faces is incredibly helpful, but don’t rely too much on the rest. I tried to keep mine intentionally brief because getting to know each one of them and their quirks was the best part of my time at the Foundation.
I taught Rose class, the most advanced of the five classes, for most of the year, so the majority of my experiences directly concern this class. I’m not sure if you will be asked to rotate classes or stick to one for the entirely of your time at the Foundation, but I unfortunately cannot recommend either option over the other. I certainly needed all the time I had to get to know my students, their strengths and weakness, but I also know that I missed out on teaching some amazing kids in the other classes. Whichever situation you find yourself in, don’t underestimate the importance of playing outside in the playground after school and on Saturdays; it’s the perfect opportunity to get to know the kids outside of your own class.
In Rose class, I taught the students English grammar. You’ll notice quite quickly that even within a single class, the proficiency levels of the kids vary greatly. This was one of my greatest struggles as a teacher; there were a handful of students that still struggled with basic tense structures, who likely felt a bit alienated when I tried to teach anything more advanced. It certainly didn’t help that most of the students do not ask for help when they’re confused but merely nod their heads in feigned understanding. At the same time, tailoring the lesson to the weaker students risked boring the more advanced students to death. It was a challenge to find the right balance, one that I tried to tackle through endless trial and error.
A lot of the grammar that I taught had already been taught to some or many of the students, either in school or by a previous volunteer. Most likely they still need a lot of practice with it. I chose to teach what I did on an observational basis, meaning that I would notice the same mistakes being repeated by several of the kids either in writing or speaking and then I would teach that particular grammar point that was constantly being misused. If I taught them something this year and they’ve since forgotten it (or I taught it poorly), then I’m sorry that you are likely going to have to teach it again (if you’re teaching grammar, that is).
It took me a while to learn that there’s no use getting discouraged or frustrated with yourself; the students just need continual practice and refresher lessons each year. As the younger ones grow up with their increased exposure to English, I’m sure things will run much more smoothly in the higher classes.
I’ve also tried asking the students what they want to learn in class, which had mixed results. As you’d expect, most don’t know what they don’t know or what they’re not very good at. I also didn’t use the English workbooks very much in my class. I think they have potential in the other four classes, especially Lily class; for my Rose class, most of the kids didn’t have any enthusiasm whatsoever for reading. But with new teachers and new methods, anything’s possible.
My biggest advice is to be prepared to adapt. That’s pretty obvious and I’m sure you didn’t need me to tell you that, but it can get pretty daunting just how many changes you have to make every week. I came in with a project idea that focused heavily on reading stories and doing creative activities based on those stories. I quickly came to learn that most of the students in my class were below the proficiency level that I expected and required for such a project. And then I realized that reading in class wasn’t well received by the older kids. Be prepared to change your plans on any given day.
Another word of warning is on India’s questionable teaching methods that involve memorizing and regurgitating information, often from an answer guide that all the students buy to accompany their workbooks. I did my best to discourage this behavior by taking their books away and making them explain everything directly to me. It is, of course, a bit too late for the older kids to change a great deal, but this is definitely something to be wary of with the youngest ones. This information is mainly pertinent for when the students are studying for their school exams every few months, during which teaching at the Foundation virtually stops and everyone studies on their own.
On the topic of life in Jaipur and India, my only advice is to dive in head first as best you can. Explore Jaipur, Rajasthan and as much of India as possible– it’s overwhelming at first, and honestly, for me, a person who struggles with anxiety, the overwhelmingness of it all (especially being constantly stared at) never fully left me. But I learned to deal with it to the best of my ability and was able to become more direct and firm with people, especially when refusing the hundreds of selfie requests that you will likely be bombarded with as well.
India has so much to offer and I recommend that you try to experience as much of it as you can. I failed miserably at Bollywood dancing, so to avoid being dragged kicking and screaming to the dance room, I devoted myself to something else– cricket– which quickly became a bit of an obsession. I may have fractured a few fingers, but it was way better than having to dance in public (just kidding- everyone should try dancing. You’ll be forced to, anyways. And Ruksar is an amazing dancer).
Finally, I’ll end on this note. I found it was sometimes easy to get discouraged or to approach an existential crisis where you think you’re not actually making much difference with your work. I felt that way at times but was constantly reminded that I was doing something worthwhile, even if it was just making one of my kids laugh and brightening his or her day. I wish you all good luck at the Foundation. You’re going to have an unbelievable experience.
This Questionnaire was taken at the end of the volunteering program at the Tushita Foundation.
Q. How do you feel about yourself and your work?
Anna: It’s hard to evaluate my work at the Foundation or any impact that I may have made; the best that I can do is consider the conversations that I’ve had with my students and the teachers and how those have developed over the course of these eight months.
Despite coming to the Foundation two weeks later than the other volunteers, and feeling a bit concerned that I was going to feel like an outsider for a while, I never doubted that I would form close friendships with the teachers. When it came to forming strong relationships with the kids, especially the teenage boys, I knew that would take a lot more effort, if I could even manage to do it at all. And I think that I did manage to do that with many of them, and that’s what I’m most proud of. I sometimes questioned how much of a difference I was actually making here, since so many of the kids seemed to forget much of what they were taught year after year. But I quickly came to see that teaching English wasn’t the only or even principal job of mine, so I tried very hard to be a friend and a role model as well as a teacher. And what resulted were long, personal talks with students that I never expected to open up to me. And then there were the conversations with kids asking me when I would be back at the Foundation. Those conversations made me exceedingly happy and proud of the time that I’ve spent at the Foundation this year.
Q. How do you feel about the Foundation as an institution?
Anna: I think the Foundation is an incredible institution, for the kids and the Amer community in general. I’ve heard a lot of stories from my students about their schools, and the Tushita Foundation is a much needed contrast for many of those who spend their mornings with teachers who don’t want to be there.
I think the Foundation has also opened up a lot of doors for its students, not just in improving their English but in expanding their world views and aspirations. A lot of my kids want to go to America, England and other countries, and when I ask them why, it’s to meet with former/current volunteers; that is something that probably would not have happened if the Foundation didn’t bring the kids and volunteers together.
Q. How do you feel about the students and the teachers there?
Anna: I don’t think I need to (or can) express how much I love and will always love the students and the teachers at the Foundation. I’ve lived and studied in other countries for various lengths of time, from three months to eight, and India has been the first place where I really feel I have something to return to. I fully intend to keep in touch with my kids and I’m intensely curious to see how they grow up. The teachers have also become some of my closest friends and I’ve learned a lot from their example.
Q. What has been the most challenging aspect of your experience?
Anna: Even though I know that the other volunteers faced various difficulties in their classes, teaching older teenagers presented a unique set of challenges that was at times emotionally draining. But after some time, I learned how to handle various situations better or simply let them go when I couldn’t. I certainly wouldn’t have traded classes despite the challenges that sometimes came with it.
Q. What has been the most rewarding aspect of your experience?
Anna: I’ve already touched on this in my answer to question 1, but the relationships that I’ve formed with my students have without a doubt been the most rewarding aspect of my experience: I’ve been invited to school functions and family weddings; I’ve played cricket at six in the morning on a Sunday with some of my students; I’ve been called a friend and a sister. These and countless other moments have made my experience exceedingly rewarding.
Q. What do you wish you would have done, but you couldn’t?
Anna: There aren’t many things that I would change about my eight months at the Foundation. However, I do wish I had learned more Hindi over the course of the year, which would have allowed me to feel a little less foreign in the city; it would also have made it easier to connect with some of the kids, especially the shyer ones, or at least understand their continuous flow of jokes.
Q. Do you think that this experience has in any way changed you?
Anna: Definitely. In a more tangible sense, this experience has altered my life plans; I had previously intended to pursue a diplomatic career focused on East Asia, but now I feel myself bound to India. The experience has also changed me in ways that are more difficult to express.
India was often an overwhelming, confusing place, and navigating it for eight months made me a much stronger person; having the teachers, my kids, and everyone at the Foundation and Tushita Travels to depend on made that journey possible for me. I was also able to open up a lot more than I imagined I could; I have the kids at the Foundation, and their outpouring of affection, to thank for that. And every day with my class, and all its challenges, lessons and triumphs, added to my confidence and tenacity.
Q. What do you hope to have left behind?
Anna: All I can hope is that I left my kids with some good memories (and slightly better English, of course). I tried, to the best of my ability, to be a good role model for them, especially the young girls. I tried to encourage the kids (and teachers) to aspire to bigger things and to let them know that even when I’m not in India I’m always here to help them in any way I can.
Q. If you knew this would have been your experience, would you have done it anyway?