Wanderlust? Our participant Johanna spent half a year in India and volunteered at a local school. Read more about what Johanna experienced during her time in Navi Mumbai!
My name is Johanna, I am originally from Austria and spent half a year in India where I worked as a volunteer at a school. More specifically, I spent most of my time in Navi Mumbai, a city next to Mumbai, and volunteered at the Mahima International School. I also had the opportunity to travel around during my stay, but I would like to start with my experiences in the city of Navi Mumbai and my work at the school.
Johanna, tell us about your life in Navi Mumbai!
Life in a big city like Navi Mumbai was an enormous change for me at first, as I am originally from a rather small village in Austria. The whole hustle and bustle was on the one hand very exhausting, but at the same time exciting. Especially since I was a rarity compared to many people who live in India – in terms of my light hair and skin color. It often happened to me that people wanted to take a selfie with me!
I experienced some many things during my time in India that were so different to things in my home country. Most of the time, it felt like living in a completely different world. I would highly recommend you to get informed about India well in advance as you can avoid many unpleasant situations with an adequate preparation!
How was volunteering at the school?
My work in the school was at first very different to what I had expected. The way in which the school and teaching system work in India is very different from what I knew from home. Although it was challenging at the beginning, I still had a lot of fun teaching and the best thing was the kids who came to school every day with so much energy and openness. The teachers were very nice to me and took good care of me.
After school, I usually accompanied the boys from Palms Care to their home, who also attend the Mahima School, to spend some time with them.
What did you do in your leisure time?
In addition to volunteering, I also attended a gym and participated in a power yoga class. The owner of the gym was also the best friend of our World Unite! coordinator Sudipta and she was not only our trainer – she was almost like a mother to us and treated us very kindly. Through her we could really experience India!
By „we“ I mean myself plus all my roommates or other volunteers I met during my stay in Navi Mumbai. I usually had the weekends off and could explore Mumbai. Together with other volunteers we explored Mumbai’s most beautiful and interesting places and got a pretty good idea of how colorful and lively the city can be. You should definitely be prepared for immense crowds!
Nevertheless, you do not need to be afraid because people are usually very nice and also very happy to help. Although sometimes they are a bit too nice and you should be careful not to be fooled, but after having spent some time in the city, you get a pretty good feeling for it. The shopping experience in all the markets and bazaars that Mumbai has to offer is highly recommended! And all Bollywood fans should definitely go to the movies at least once.
Around Mumbai there are many beautiful places such as Lonavala, Pune, Ellora, Ajanta, Aurangabad, etc., which you can explore on weekend trips and also in Navi Mumbai itself there are beautiful places that are definitely worth a visit, e.g. the district Nerul with its beautiful temples, Belapur with its interesting cultural exhibitions, Vashi with its lively market street and the Kharghar Hills.
Did you travel in India?
I also had one more month to travel around the country as there were summer vacations at school. One of my roommates had booked a tour that took her across North India and I decided to join her.
Before the actual tour started, we had about five days to go on a small trip ourselves. We decided to start our journey in Amritsar. Amritsar is located near the Pakistani border, in the region called Punjab and is well known for one of the most beautiful Gurdwaras in the world – the so-called Golden Temple. But in addition to this beautiful religious site, you can visit the „Wagah Border“ and experience there the border closing ceremony, which takes place every day just before sunset. But the best thing about Amritsar are its restaurants, the so-called Dhabas, where you can drink the best lassis and eat the most delicious Parathas and Kulchas!
Our next stop was Dehli, because our guided tour started from there. We arrived two days early, so we decided to look at the sights that were not included in the tour, and even signed up for a Bollywood dance workshop! Dehli is simply a dream for every tourist as you can discover so much in the capital of India!
Two days later we started our tour through northern India. Our trip took us across Rajasthan to Agra and Varanasi and ended in Dehli.
All in all, my stay in India was the best thing I’ve ever experienced. I have learned so much about the culture, the people, but also a lot about myself. I can definitely recommend a stay in a foreign country to anyone!
Johanna (from Austria)