Longing for India & the IndoGenius Programme

In this post, we talk to Natalie and learn first hand about the IndoGenius Programme.
Established in 2009, the program targets university students in the US, UK, and Australia, and provides experiences in India with leading organizations, startups, and Indian universities. In addition, participants are also given access to experience the rich culture of India with yoga and Hindi classes with leading professionals and also historical tours of famous landmarks.

Natalie, herself, is a secondary school teacher based in Cambridge, UK. She went to India on the IndoGenius program whilst studying at the University of Manchester and later on as a teacher in Mumbai. Outside of work, Natalie loves writing and travelling.

Why did you choose to go to India in the first place?

I had been to India when I was young and always knew I’d go back, but in a capacity where I could explore and learn a lot more vastly and independently. I think I was prompted by an Indian Literature module in my third year to look further into some opportunities, as well as articles I was constantly reading about the growing and changing global role of India as a country. I attended a British Council talk whilst an undergraduate at Manchester about the IndoGenius programme and applied a few days later. The concept of experiencing the country through an organisation I aligned with was appealing; it meant I’d have broader opportunities whilst I was out there, too. I didn’t realise at the time just how formative and impactful that trip would be, meeting life-long friends and collecting memories that don’t seem as real now (like dancing to a live Indian music group inside Purana Quila at night time or of a hundred or so of us playing Holi outside in a village in Maharasthra!).

How did you find the program to go to teach in India? Where in India were you based?

I stayed connected with the British Council and applied for their six-month teaching programme the following year, I was desperate to go back and after working as a Teaching Assistant in London post-graduating, teaching in a foreign country was what I wanted to do next. I knew we didn’t have a say in where we were based but that I wanted to be placed somewhere I could call a base, or ‘home’, whilst still being able to travel and see new places when I could. I was lucky enough to be placed in Mumbai at Gandhi Shikshan Bhavan school for first-generation learners.

What was the most inspiring thing about teaching in India?

My placement at GSB was one of the most positive, challenging, heart-warming, and fulfilling things I’ve ever experienced. I was welcomed into a community there and felt happy each day on my rick-shaw commute into work! Teaching came with adversity such as the unfailing heat, birds flying into my classroom, children who would rather dance than listen, language barriers. However, it gave me so much joy. I’ll remember the teachers and students there for a very long time and miss them still. I also had the opportunity whilst there to work with KPMG on their CSR outreach programme with teenage girls, that became one of the best parts of the whole placement because of the positive impact we had and the relationships we developed.

How has your time in India on the IndoGenius program and teaching impacted you professionally and also as a person?

I’m defined by my trips to India; it’s shaped my travel interests but also my professional views on education and development. I think I take more risks and have fewer fears when I travel because of experiences in India, but also what I read and how I teach has been promoted by what I’ve been exposed to there. My teaching ethos is based on wanting all young people to have equal and fair access to education regardless of race, gender or identity and I think that working in India sparked that. I still have one eye on what’s going on in India, hoping I can one day return.

What advice can you give to those who want to go to India to study or work?

If you’re looking to challenge yourself beyond the normal, or straightforward route of international travel or work then India is the place. India is changing for the better and has fulfilled nowhere near its full potential; I was inspired by the young people I met there (driven, modern, hard-working, interesting, bold) and felt privileged to be part of a city with such a definable identity like Mumbai. I think for me, India has firmly become a place I want and will continually return to because of how I’ve been welcomed but also because of how much more there is to see and find out. I’d like the perception of India to change and for people to have less of a fear about going there, especially alone. The road in India is less travelled and the risks are higher, but so are the rewards, it’s worth it.

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Sinead Simpkins

Sinead has graduated from a Bachelor of International Studies at Western Sydney University and a Graduate Diploma in International Relations at Macquarie University and a Master of Arts at the University of New England. Sinead has worked and volunteered at NGOs and Government departments. She first went to India on a New Colombo Plan scholarship in 2017, undertaking a two-week study tour. Since learning from her classes and her study tour of India, Sinead loves what India has to offer.

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