My names is Kristi Littleton and I hail from Culver City, California. I’m a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Penn with a major in biology and minors in Music and South Asia Studies. I am partnering with LEAP Skills Academy this summer and hope to pursue a career in education upon graduation.
Yesterday when I was at Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia, several of my students were playing a game of soccer at recess, but I noticed that they were not playing by the normal rules. Many students were touching the ball with their hands and people were getting upset that some students seemed to be playing by different rules than others. I decided to intervene and I stopped the game for a moment to go over rules and expectations. One of the students then came up to me and asked me, “Did anyone ask for your help? We play this way every day.” This comment took me aback for a second and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how profound this questions from a third grader was. Though I had spent the past two years working with students from Alexander Wilson and now Lea Elementary, and running recess was my particular “job” there, I was still in many ways an inconsistent presence in many of these students’ lives. It got me thinking, “who was I really to tell them how to play a game of soccer if I am only there a few days a week at best?” As I head now to work with students from a different culture than my own for the second time, these questions still trouble me, but I think I have come to some sort of answer. The motto at Alexander Wilson Elementary, where I had worked before the school was closed due to budget cuts, was “We Are All Scholars”. The idea behind this motto was that we each have something to learn from one another no matter where we come from or how old we are. During my time working with the Community School Student Partnerships program at Penn I have probably learned more from my scholars than they have learned from me. Now as I travel to Delhi, India, I am going not with the idea that I have a great deal to teach, but with the idea that I still have a great deal to learn. At LEAP Skills Academy I do not really know what to expect, but I do know that I hope to learn a great deal about the people there and about their stories.
At Penn I have taken some time out of my curriculum as a Biology major to get a jump start on my education about India and to study South Asia more in depth. I have taken two years of Hindi, and now I hope to actually learn the language by being immersed in it! I had the privilege of learning how to play the sitar under the world-renowned Dr. Allyn Miner here at Penn and I secretly hope I can pick up a sitar while I am abroad. India has been on my mind for quite some time since my father met my Punjabi stepmother over a decade ago. I was welcomed by her family thoroughly. I was taught a little bhangra (very little!), I was part of an Indian wedding, and I mostly was just given way more food than I could ever eat! Her family initially sparked my interest in India and though I did not know much about the country at the time, since then I have encountered some of the complexity that is encapsulated in a country so vast and so diverse.
As I begin this new adventure into an unknown place, with few plans for where I will be going and what I will be doing, I am reminded of the road trips my family used to take when I was a child. My family used to travel around various parts of the U.S. and things did not always go as we planned. We would often end up driving around in circles or taking some unknown path and we would stop the car, pull out the good old fashioned maps and attempt to decipher our surroundings. Whatever the case, my mother would always insist that we were not “lost”, but merely “taking the scenic route.” Truth be told, “taking the scenic route” ended up being more fun nine times out of ten anyway. As I head off on my own adventure this summer without the familiar faces of my mother and brother to assure me that one is never truly “lost”, I cannot help but feel a bit nervous. I’m traveling outside of the North American continent for the first time and I’m entering a country with what I understand to be a vastly different culture from my own. Though anxious for many reasons, I am excited about finally gaining the opportunity to follow my dreams to India and I hope to “take the scenic route” as often as possible so that I may see all that India has to offer.
That’s all for now,