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When we signed up for the service trip, I had the naive dream that I would make a huge impact on all the students that I would interact with.

Group of VIDYA Students in Classroom with Carly Weber-Levine
Photo showing the ninth grade class that my teaching partner and I taught.

Perhaps this dream wasn’t fully unrealistic, though it took me time to realize that the difference we had on those students we worked with at Vidya or the residents at Earth Saviours Foundation came not from groundbreaking changes but rather from the small moments. It took me awhile to come to this realization. But I think this is the reality of doing a three week service trip. I may not have changed a child’s life or revolutionized their ability to speak English, but I did make that child smile while I taught her my childhood hand game, and I did teach an entire class the meaning of the words “unanimous” and “random.” It is moments such as these — real, tangible ones — where I now appreciate our impact.

There was a moment where I realized I could create a relationship without conversation. It was an incredibly special moment for me at Earth Saviours Foundation. We were decorating the inside of one of the women’s dormitories. I saw one resident pacing — ten steps forward, stop, turn around, ten steps back, repeat. We were using string to put up the decorations and it occurred to me that I could make a bracelet for her. So I grabbed three pieces of string, quickly braided them together, and then held the bracelet out in front of me. She looked at it, stopped pacing, and promptly walked over to me with her hand up in front of her chest. I showed her the bracelet, and then proceeded to tie it around her wrist.

My heart was pounding because I was so nervous yet excited to be having this special interaction with one of the residents, most of whom only spoke Hindi (so we couldn’t verbally communicate with them). I successfully tied the bracelet around her wrist and cut the extra ends off. She turned around without saying anything or looking at me, but then, slowly, a smile came to her face. And there it was — the little moment. It was just a few seconds, but I had made her just a little bit happier.

I turned to Brianna, one of the India trip’s coordinators, and exclaimed, “Wow, she’s smiling!” Brianna replied, “Isn’t that amazing?” She proceeded to tell me that one of the common things that people say after doing volunteer trips is that they don’t really feel like they made any difference. Brianna said that what they fail to notice is these little moments. They are really what you can hope for during these service trips. With that comment, Brianna had taught me something new to appreciate in doing these service trips, and a new understanding for the differences that we ultimately were making.

“There were countless other moments where I could see that we made a difference. Although these differences might seem small, it’s the sum of them that reveal our impact.”

There was another moment where I realized I had shown the students learning can be accomplished in a fun, competitive manner. My teaching partner and I had thought that maybe the students would enjoy playing an English editing game. So we constructed sentences that had a variety of issues: wrong verb conjugation, missing determiners, incorrect phrases, etc. When we arrived in class, we exclaimed, “Today we are going to play a game!” They were all excited. We continued, “An English editing game.” A look of disappointment spread across all of their faces. Nevertheless, we proceeded. We split the class up into two teams and had each team designate a representative who would try to edit the sentence. When time was called, the sentence that had the least amount of mistakes would win.

At first, the kids felt hesitant with the game, but by the last round they absolutely loved it. So many hands went up when it came to volunteering to be the next representative. At the end of class, a young girl approached and said, “It is so fun with you.” I couldn’t help but smile. There it was. We had successfully shown these students how to make learning fun, and we gave them a grammar lesson they would never forget.

“With this sport being so influential in my life, it was an honor to be the first person to show them what fencing looked like.”

Finally, there was the moment when I realized I was the first person to introduce these students to the sport of fencing. With this sport being so influential in my life, it was an honor to be the first person to show them what fencing looked like. I was sitting in the back of class talking to some of the students about my life, and fencing came up. I asked them if they had ever seen fencing before, and all of them indicated that they had not.

So, I whipped out my phone and pulled up a video of me at one of my meets from the previous season. I clicked “play,” and suddenly twelve ninth graders circled around me trying to get a view of the video on my phone. Their draws dropped, “Wow, is that you?” A smile beamed across my face, “That’s me!”. There it was once again, a little moment where I knew I had just introduced these students to something totally new.

There were countless other moments where I could see that we made a difference. Although these differences might seem small, it’s the sum of them that reveal our impact. India taught me so many things: how to integrate into a new culture, how to initiate new relationships, how to feel comfortable in unfamiliar environments, how to teach an impromptu class, and how to respond to stereotypes that people have of Americans. Most importantly, India taught me how to appreciate little moments.

I’ll be forever grateful for that lesson.

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