Visit of SARVAM Students to the United States
Two students from the Sri Aurobindo Rural & Village Action & Movement (SARVAM), the rural development initiative of Sri Aurobindo Society, went to US for 21 days and returned back home on June 26, 2014, with a few glimpses into the life in the West. Before this trip, these students—Narmadhaselvan Sivakumar and Sundar Soundararajan (belonging to very poor backgrounds, yet educationally performing well and very hard working)—had never even taken a bus journey to Chennai, which is roughly 180 km from the village, and the capital of the state they inhabit.
The English Access Microscholarship Program was started in February 2012. Initially it appeared to be just an English Learning Program for the 110 students of villages under SARVAM. However, as the time goes pass, it has started to offer learning other than just English. Among the many opportunities it has provided to the students, one is the US Cultural Immersion Institute 2014 Program. The goal of this project is to provide cultural exchange, language immersion, multiculturalism, and leadership development for Access Program teachers and students. They also also learned about life in the US through participation in activities such as interaction with families, visit museums, observe education environments, recreational activities, and sporting events.
The selected students had a Pre-departure Program organized at Chennai to coach and inform them of the procedures to be followed in their trip and get them introduced to the officials in charge of them. It was a stunning experience for the villagers to see two of their children commence on journey of a lifetime when a car came to pick up the students to drop them to a luxurious five-star hotel in Chennai. The duo stayed comfortably in Chennai during the orientation program, being constantly guided by attendees and guides and the accompanying teacher.
After flying for 24 hours, they reached Washington DC, United States of America.
The students were accommodated in a student’s house in the US. They were facing a new life with a new cultural background, stunned to see the towering skyscrapers; clean, wide roads; and absolute unfamiliar ways of eating, interacting, sleeping and living in the city. The first couple of days were breathtaking and a little scary too, but soon they adapted.
The itinerary of the Program consisted of a lot of activities, such as participating in the World Learning Youth Program and visits to a few educational institutes, the famous White House, museums, etc. These places gave them a chance to observe up close of all they had been earning and watching from the books supplied under the English Access Microscholarship Program. They lived in a multilingual place, where they interacted with students from India, Pakistan, and USA. They were able to study the mannerisms and characteristics of other cultures too.
They finally got an opportunity to exhibit the English-speaking skills they had picked up in the last year when they made a speech—‘I Have a Dream’—at the Lincoln Memorial. Surprisingly, after being in US for such a short period, they became confident enough to deliver their thoughts to their newfound friends without any hesitation or stage fear. Another exciting feature of their daily lives in US was the ‘pocket money’ they received every day, which they could spend on fancy items they desired, and yet they again managed to surprise the teachers and guides as they also wisely saved some for their future use. On the whole, the entire journey, experience and stay were way beyond their imaginations.
Their only wish after returning home is that more of their fellow students and family members receive such opportunities in the future too.