My experience in rural India confirmed my affinity for serene, remote areas rather than bustling metropolises. A year later, I am again living over two hours from any city and feel completely at ease. My experience working for an NGO revealed that education is the foundation for community empowerment and ensuring physical, mental, and social well-being. A year later, I am teaching high school science in New Mexico/ Navajo Nation in hopes of making my contribution toward global health and educational equity. My CASI opportunity has not only both led me to this point, but also has prepared me so much more than I could have anticipated.
This past summer, I taught Pre-Emergent English Language Development in Phoenix, AZ. Among my 16 students, there were eight different languages including Arabic, Swahili, Burmese and Karen (a language spoken in North Thailand). It felt like the UN! For the most part, my students had only been in the U.S. for a few months. To effectively communicate with them involved a lot of pantomiming and drawings on the white board. This was greatly reminiscent of the many conversations I had at Chirag last summer. Furthermore, I had some kind of reference point for navigating in a country with a language barrier. I recognized that the necessary survival words, such as question words and directions, helped a bit more than knowing a random variety of fruit names. Recalling my own struggles with Hindi pronunciations, I was able to guide one student in practicing some of the unfamiliar and uncomfortable sounds of nasal-y English.
During my transition out to Pueblo Pintado, NM, where I now teach full-time, I felt like my time at Chirag prepared me greatly for being in a remote area. While the social and cultural fabric differs drastically, horses and cows that cross the highway hardly phase me. (Except that one time in the dark where we nearly crashed into a black horse going at 70 mph!). Who knew my roti-making skills would carry over so well to making frybread. Even the scenery is similar with a dry backdrop of small green bushes, although I traded rolling hills for mesas. On a more serious note, I continuously question how this community could prosper economically once again. Realistically, the economic opportunities for my students are minimal within a hundred miles here, and I always wonder how this place became settled. In Uttarakhand, the land was more prosperous even just a decade ago before the springs began to dry up and the agricultural production became only 10% of what it used to be. Here, I see a dried river bed and I wonder if something similar, like micro-climate change, occurred. I also wonder how the clashes with the US government and mixing of American and Navajo cultures have influenced the reality for and identity of my students. And throughout all this, my Chinese background has shaped how I am perceived here as well as in India. While I am American, I am also not white, and I wonder how this shaped the perceptions about me and my interactions with my students and their families. Just like my time in India, I have lots of questions racing through my mind and each response brings about a million new questions!
The similarities I have found have made me nostalgic for the foothills of the Himalayas even more. I’ve been sharing the following quote with some fellow CASI-ers. It captures how I feel about the loving people I befriended at Chirag. Thank goodness for the ability to keep in touch online!