Serendipitous Traveling

It's all about the adventure

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At the beginning of every SVP, the volunteers take part in a traditional Indian wedding ceremony with the IAPA staff and the Indian counterparts. A bride and groom, along with their family members, are chosen to act out the happenings of the traditional marriage process here in India. 

As the mother of the groom this year, I was given the task of helping my “son” choose the right girl for him to marry. Hayley, our beautiful volunteer, was chosen to play the part of the bride and was dressed in a wedding sari complete with accessories and hair extensions. 

Traditionally, marriages in India are arranged by the family and the bride and groom don’t spend a lot of time together before tying the knot - a sharp contrast the process of dating and marriage in the United States. Modern India seems to be in a state of change, however, as the Indian students we work with are interested in dating and finding love without arrangement.

After the marriage demonstration, we were able to share our thoughts and feelings about love, dating, and relationships both here in India and in the United States with the group. While traditional Indian values on marriage are often discarded by Americans with more liberal ideals, hearing the Indian volunteers talk about what they want in love and marriage reminds us that love comes in many forms. There is no correct formula for finding love or forming a marital bond. 

When the arrangement doesn’t work however, it is almost impossible to divorce and remarry due to stigma, especially for women. Additionally, it is interesting to see how societal structure plays a role in determining a woman’s fate for marriage. We are told that if a women doesn’t marry by the time she is 25 or 26, there is almost no chance she will be married at all and is often stigmatized as an outcast by society. While many marriages occur around that time for women in the United States, it is by no means a social “requirement” to be married. It is interesting to learn about these differences from young locals that are growing up with ideas about love, relationships, and marriages that mirror our own but contrast those in the society where they live. 

Filed under india chennai tamil tamil nadu teaching in india iapa wedding sari

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Knowledge is Power

This week marks the official beginning of teaching in Chennai! The volunteers prepared their sections, made their posters, and were ready (hopefully) to take on a classroom of 50+ students. Posters in hand, I watched each group walk into their first classroom, both excited and nervous for the two hour teaching session. 

In a position where I don’t get the chance to teach every day, I am grateful that I get to watch our 18 dynamic volunteers show their enthusiasm and passion in the classroom. Even though each teaching group is still trying to find the perfect way to convey the information, coordinate timing, and slow down so that the students can understand their accents, I am impressed with the quality of the teachings at this point. I remember when I first stood in front of a class and wasn’t entirely sure whether I had eaten bad street food or had stage fright. Teaching is not an easy task, and I commend every one of my volunteers for learning to think on their feet when all eyes are on them. 

One of the teaching groups really emphasizes the idea that knowledge is power and encourages the students to share the information they receive from their teaching to people they know. By telling friends, family, neighbors, etc., we are hoping to spread correct scientific information into the community and start to debunk stigmatizing myths about HIV. We are hoping to lay a preventative foundation that encourages individuals to talk about infectious diseases and seek treatment if necessary. I believe that by giving these students knowledge about HIV/AIDS, they will go into the world and have the power to make a difference. 

Filed under chennai india tamil tamil nadu iapa teaching teachinginindia

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Off to India!

I am finally settled in Chennai, my home for the next two months. Once again I find myself in this beautifully busy city, this time a coordinator to the teaching program I participated in last summer. The journey getting here has been wonderful so far and I can hardly wait to see what the summer has in store for me. 

Camille (my coordinator-in-crime) and I spent the first part of the week in meetings and then started to pick up the volunteers from the airport. As much as I love the volunteers, I never want to set foot in an airport again. After the 3rd all-nighter spent waiting patiently outside of the terminal, I was just ready for the volunteers to be here and start teaching. 

I immediately dove into my old habits of being in India: walking on the left side of the sidewalk instead of the right, saying some of my words in Tamil, and vigorously head bobbling while talking. This place is starting to feel like home for me. 

The first week there was a joint orientation for the volunteers, coordinators, IAPA staff, and the Indian counterparts (students in India who translate our teaching to Tamil). After welcoming all of the volunteers to India, we dove right in to perfecting the teaching sessions. Teaching groups were formed and the volunteers planned how they would conduct their lessons. Orientation week is a time where the volunteers and counterparts “gel and drool” as Louis, an IAPA staff member in Chennai, so graciously calls the bonding process. One afternoon, the teaching groups are sent on a scavenger hunt throughout the city and are required to take pictures by different buildings we send them to. They have to use public transportation (no autos) and the first group to Marina beach is declared the winner. After sprinting around after my counterpart last summer, I was happy to leisurely walk to the beach and eat ice cream with the India staff this year. 

Orientation week was topped off with a buffet lunch at a restaurant that played way too many Akon songs (is that even possible?). Camille and I are excited to watch the groups grow through teaching in the coming weeks. 

Filed under india chennai tamil tamil nadu iapa teaching teaching in india marina beach

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So much beer!

We also went to the Hofbräuhaus today. It was overflowing with people, but it was a necessary stop while in Munich. 

Our waiter came over and when I ordered a beer, he looked at me and said in English, “You know that’s the big one, right?” All I did was laugh and say “Isn’t that why I am here?” I mean honestly sir, I didn’t come to the Hofbräuhaus for a glass of water. 

I also ate käsespätzle, which may or may not be an important fact, but it was the best food I’ve had since I have been in Germany. 

We also saw a guy propose to his girlfriend right in the middle of all of the tables! It was such a happy moment and they had the entire place cheering.

Filed under hofbrauhaus munich germany deutschland beer

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The Dachau concentration camp is located about 15 minutes out of Munich by train. We arrived at the station after spending a good chunk of our morning trying to find the right train to take and eating pizza.

We took the Walk of Remembrance from the train station to the main gates of the camp, the same path taken by so many prisoners. We headed through the main gates to the open area where prisoners stood for role call every morning. We passed through the barracks, saw where the prisoners stood, worked, ate, and died. We saw where the guards inflicted severe and often unnecessary punishment, where they watched over the workers, and where they relaxed. 

The word that kept replaying in my mind during our time there was unsettling

It was unsettling how one could almost feel the prisoners standing in front of them. It was unsettling to think of the horrors that took place inside the walls. It was unsettling to see where the prisoners slept and where they were gassed. Mostly, it was unsettling how everyone was just walking around and taking pictures, even when they had little connection to the people once held here. 

Maybe we visit these things to feel some sort of emotion or to try and understand the torture that took place. Maybe we regret the things that happened. Maybe people wish they could have stopped it all. Regardless of the reason, the pain and suffering that occurred in concentration camps all over Europe was a reality for so many people. It might not have been right, but there is no way to change the past now. There is only moving forward and knowing, or at least hoping, that humanity will learn from its mistakes. 

"Work makes you free."

Filed under munich germany dachau concentration camp arbeit macht frei

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The Autobahn

Yesterday, I drove on the Autobahn.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Autobahn!

This whole week we have been looking for a cheap way to get to Munich from Berlin and decided we had three options: plane, train, or car. Renting a car was by far the best option for us, and that is exactly what we did. 

I put on my most confident facade at the car rental company because, let’s be honest, an American renting a car in Berlin is a pretty ballsy thing to do (plus, I was shaking with nerves in my Lederhosen). Eventually, we drove off in a Volkswagen Golf with a sweet GPS system we so happily named Gloria. For all of you car enthusiasts out there, I can hear you saying, “You drove a Volkswagen GOLF on the Autobahn? Why not something a little more awesome like a BMW, a Mercedes, or a Lamborghini?!” Yes, I am well aware my friends. While I would have loved to fly down the Autobahn in an R8, it just wasn’t in the cards. Maybe next time though. 

The drive through the countryside was absolutely beautiful. So beautiful in fact that I actually had to slow down a few times :)

We made it to our hotel in Munich safely (after lots of traffic once we hit the city) and immediately ate at an Italian restaurant across the street called Giuseppes. Man, was their tortellini delicious.

Today, we slept in way too late (thank you nights with minimal sleep in Berlin) and finally got out of bed to do some sightseeing. We went to the Olympic Park where the Olympics were held in 1972. While Camille and Taryn went to Bodyworks, I wandered around the grounds and took in all of the beauty. The complex has everything you could want in a park. We laid by the lake and read for a while, taking in the sun and watching all of the cute German couples on their dates. 

It was late afternoon by the time we were done, but we decided to take the train to the University in Munich. We walked out of the U-Bahn and into a huge street festival taking place. Hundreds of booths lined the streets and we went straight for the one with Sangria…

Filed under berlin munich germany deutschland autobahn thankgodforgps volkswagen olympic park munich festival sangria munich olympic park bodyworks

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An intense anticipation for something happy or pleasurable in the future. 

I learned this German word from a new friend while in Berlin and I adore what it means. Vorfreude is a reminder that there is always something pleasurable in the future. It reminds me that even if the present isn’t all I want it to be, there is always something in my life that I can and should be looking forward to. It allows me to live in the present, but recognize that feeling in my chest when I know something great is going to happen. 

Filed under berlin germany desutch german vorfreude