- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007


Hannah Saunders, 19, from Twickenham in southwest London, spent two months in India during her gap year between school and college.

She paid more than $2,000 to a commercial organization specializing in gap years and taught English and math to 6- and 7-year-olds in Pune, a city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra with a population of 4.5 million. It is known as the “Oxford of India” because of the reputation of its colleges.

Miss Saunders said she had no training or preparation from the organization before she went, and was not psychologically prepared for the abject poverty she encountered.

“I found the travel company online, and they seemed quite reputable, but I had a really tough time in India and suffered from culture shock,” she said.

“I paid my own airfare — another [$2,600] to [Bombay]. I was taken to a station where I was left on a train on my own for 4½ hours, straight after the overnight flight. I thought I would be taken to the school in a minibus with a few other people.

“I turned up at the learning center — a school for slum kids — and the teachers didn’t even know I was coming. It was very hard to find out what I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t value for money, as there was very little support from the organization before or during my time there.

“I was living with an Indian lady, so my money went towards my boarding, and some of it went to the school I was working in, but I didn’t find people very friendly. The teachers were hard to relate to.

“However, the kids were fantastic. I did feel useful at times, when I had a one-on-one teaching session with a child for an hour and a half, for example, and I felt really good about myself. Other days were really busy, but no one was giving me any direction. I would, however, like to do more volunteer work.”

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