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What do you do when a group of 5th graders asks you to speak in Hindi and dance in front of them?

I am currently working at the Vidya school, home to one thousand children outside New Delhi. This school offers hope to many of these children who live in the impoverished areas of Delhi. The cement building is surrounded by strings of barbed wire outside the playground. The school overlooks the slums of India on one side and a sanctioned dump on another. It’s hard not to look outside while I am teaching and realize that many of my students go home to these tin-roof homes. During school, flies swarm around the children’s shoes when they are eating, yet this doesn’t bother them. These children wear a smile from ear to ear and have an itch to learn. They write paragraphs in English and run up and ask me to correct their grammar. They understand the importance of education and strive to learn more.

“A laugh is a universal symbol of happiness that breaks cultural barriers.”

When I walked into a 5th grade classroom a few days ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Once I entered, every kid stood up and greeted me with a, “Hello DeDe!” (DeDe is the proper Hindi term for an older woman) and then sat down. Their manners shocked me. The teacher informed us that it was their music and dance class. I asked the kids to perform for me and immediately six girls sprung up from their seats and sang a memorized song with a choreographed dance. They knew it all: the pitch, the moves and even the facial expressions. I admired their will to sing in front of a class and dance like “nobody is watching.”

As the girls wrapped up, the boys in the class stood up and loudly sang the school “prayer.” Suddenly, it was my turn, “DeDe, sing for us! Dance for us!” While I am no singer, I attempted to dance with the girls. However, instead of claps, I got laughs. I laughed away the discomfort, realizing that this moment is what makes teaching children and experiencing different cultures so beautiful. While I do not speak any Hindi and there is a slight language barrier, I can grasp the mutual feelings the students and I share.

In my short time in Delhi, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter where we come from; it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, or if you speak Hindi or English. A laugh is a universal symbol of happiness that breaks cultural barriers.

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