Verbal and Nonverbal Connections by Riya Bhalla and Nithya Venkat
During our time in Ahmedabad Gujurat, we visited Mahatma Gandhi International School (MGIS), working with the students to generate understanding about Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi’s philosophies and where they intersect. MGIS is not like other high schools anywhere in the world, not just in India. Their learning is more hands on (textbooks are practically taboo) and the relationship between the student and teacher is one of genuine understanding. Both of us (Riya and Nithya) connected deeply with the students there, and will be discussing our separate experiences in the subsequent paragraphs.
On the first day of meeting the students, we were introduced to the project we could create – a mosaic demonstrating similarities between Ghandi and Martin Luther King, learning about both cultures. Then we were split up into groups, to work on the project. While working on my project for the following days, I learned a lot about the culture and lifestyle of the students. All of the students had different backgrounds, including two students who were from Australia and one from Canada. The students were just like us; they used social media, watched youtube, and watched Netflix shows. This made it easy to connect to them and get to know them better. It was great to see people that I do not know at all and that come from different backgrounds and connect so well with them. They made me feel like I was one of them and that I was a part of the school.
I truly think dance is something that can transcend all languages. Back home I am a classically bharathnatyam dancer, and do Bollywood dancing with my friends; dance is a big part of my life. Every Navratri, the Gujarati Samaaj in Minnesota hosts Garba Night and all my friends and I go. So being in Gujarat, I was excited to do traditional garba. During our ‘free time’ on the last day with the MGIS students, we all did Garba. It was exhausting but fun. They taught us steps and I taught them some steps I knew from back home and we danced for at least an hour. We were sweaty and dehydrated and exhausted but happy. It felt good to feel a genuine authentic connection beyond just ‘what movies do you watch’. While those connections are still valid, sometimes dance and art relates what words cannot.
Riya and Nithya are two of 8 students in Indiaspora’s inaugural HeritageINDIA Program. A unique, immersive, 3-week summer program, this initiative gives high school students of Indian descent the opportunity to connect to their ancestral homeland. Students experience and engage with India’s rich and diverse cultural history by completing hands-on projects, participating in stimulating discussions, and building friendships with a cohort that will share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the exciting theme of India’s Riches: History, Culture, Diversity, & Democracy, students visit three areas of India that are geographically and culturally diverse, yet all very much represent India: New Delhi, Gujarat, and Kerala.