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This past weekend, our students participated in a TGS first: choosing their own weXplore adventures across India. I, along with the other teachers, presented them with eight different options to choose from, each offering unique content and curricular ties. The students had narrowed these options down to five by the time the weekend arrived, and we sent them in different sized groups to all parts of India.
Two of the groups headed to the Himalayas. The first set off to trek the Himalayan foothills and learn about mountain safety and glaciology. The second group went to witness firsthand the realities of a conflict-torn region of India. The third group headed to Calcutta to follow up with New Light, an organization helping to educate girls in the Red Light district. The fourth group headed down south to Goa, where they learned about coastal ecosystems and the effects of tourism — all while getting some much needed R&R. The last group headed north to Pushkar to experience the century-old Pushkar Camel Fair.
In class today, I asked the grade 9’s to reflect on their experiences. As travelers, we are obligated to provide more than “it was awesome!” when someone asks us about our experiences. It is, in my opinion, our duty to show the world what we have encountered, felt, and experienced; to share a small glimpse of what it was like to be in that place in the moment. Here is what the grade 9’s came up with to reflect on their weekends:
Danielle: Kashmir is the most stunning, natural and fundamentally pure place I have ever been. Everything seems to radiate beauty — from the mosques to the mountains and most importantly the people. I never thought that someone could smile so widely at a single greeting in their native language, but this trip has shown me how wrong I was. The beauty of the whole region is so stunning that it has incited a full-blown war for its possession. But Kashmir is not an item, and it cannot be owned. In the words of one of our guides: “We are like a beautiful bird, but in a cage. Everyone wants to have us and that is our curse.” Sometimes it is not good to be beautiful.
Alexis: Snow covered mountains loom over everything. The cold chills you to your bones, but you are warm from walking through pine forests and open plains. You are too busy jumping over streams and navigating the rocky ground. It is exhausting but worth it. Shakirarts glide over the mirror-still water. The only sounds in the crisp air are the sounds of the paddles and birds.
Gillian: My trip to Kashmir fulfilled a need to explore and understand new cultures on my own; this need has been growing since I was young and never satisfied until now. Being able to experience a conflict-torn area firsthand was something new to me, and I was surprised by the friendliness of the people of the region. I was also surprised at the paranoia displayed by the people that we had the pleasure of speaking with. Each time they would say something about the government or army, they would glance over their shoulders to make sure that no one was listening in. We did an audio recording discussing the conflict between India and Pakistan, and although our guide was perfectly willing to offer us his views on the conflict, he requested that we not say his name when we recorded because he did not want his name to be associated with the opinions shared.
Jonah: I traveled and spent 3 days in a stereotypical tropical paradise equipped with white, sandy beaches; tall coconut and palm trees; and a cool, deep green sea lined with boats. What was once a beautiful, natural jungle and ocean paradise has evolved into little more than a tourist trap.
Galek: I went to Goa for the trip, and I think it was a really nice break from everything here; But, I think the trip made me think about how much tourism has affected India — environmentally and economically. Tourism is the main source of income for the local people in Goa, but it is destroying the environment. When we went snorkeling, we saw dead fish and garbage on the ocean floor.
Grant: By participating in the trip to Goa –a hippie beach paradise– I’ve made so many phenomenal memories that I am excited to share. From a pickup game with Tibetan monks in speedos to sleeping in hammocks; from haggling with locals for cool Indian or hippie garb to snorkeling on our own private island; from watching the sunset while immersed in the gorgeous water to the delicious sea food; this trip was my favorite weXplore this year.
Glai: It’s a shopper’s paradise. In Goa, you can bargain and buy many things for cheap prices. The beach is amazing; but Thailand’s beach is better because it’s in Thailand. Since there are many tourists, some parts of the ocean are trashed. One day, it will be as dirty as the Pattaya beach in Thailand, but right now it’s still “clean”. I loved Goa.
Kiana: I went to Goa for my four-day excursion, which included living on the beach for four days while soaking in the sun, snorkeling on an island and canyoning in the rainforest. I wouldn’t want to share these incredible experiences with anyone but the group of amazing individuals I stayed with. Everyone that went to Goa gelled and connected in ways I can’t explain. The trip was one of the best that I have been on.