About Grace Beckman

Grace is a junior with a major in English and a minor in Community Action and Social Change. After graduation, she would like to work in the field of community engagement with education reform. Grace will be spending six weeks in Jaipur volunteering with Pratham, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of education in India. Her work will primarily be with the Second Chance program, which provides women who dropped out of school with the opportunity to complete their secondary education and acquire the skills necessary for employment. Grace’s final project will explore the factors that led women participating in the Second Chance program to originally drop out of school and, in turn, what motivated them to enroll in this program.

One Long Elevator Pitch

In Alternative Spring Break, we often discuss the importance of an “elevator pitch”. That is, if you were in the elevator with someone and they asked about the program, you need a quick spiel that you can pitch them. I have also been told that after big experiences you can prepare a 1 minute, 3 minute or 5 minute brief, in order to be prepared for any given situation. I have never been very good at this because to me, the impacts of my experience run together and I end up babbling. I learn about myself through my interactions with the people that I have built relationship with and it is often these relationships that help me find my passions for the future.

Before I left for India I understood that I would come back with some newfound appreciation for my education. However, I did not expect to come back feeling as confused as I do. It is honestly difficult for me to sum up the way that this experience has affected me personally and academically and I am having trouble putting it into words. I am passionate about the education system and through my internship with Pratham I have been given a hands on opportunity to see how another education system is run. There is no system that runs perfectly, and India’s education system is no exception.

Aside from my experience at Pratham, I have learned that students must choose what educational path they want to take when they are in the 11th grade. I have seen how difficult this can be for students later on in their educational career because their interests change as they mature. As this relates to me personally, I had never appreciated the freewill that I have in my education. Here I am, a rising senior and I still have room to decide what I “want to be when I am older”. I chose my major and minor because I enjoyed the course load. I also knew that they are broad and that I would be able to tailor them to the sector of jobs that I am interested in. I know that my internships, student organizations and my experiences tell almost more about me than what I my studies can. However, I also know that this is a privilege.

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Momsoon Season

As my time at my internship came to a close and my flight home approached, I thought back to when I first arrived in India. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and I roamed around the airport, asking anyone and everyone for advice. Six weeks later, I knew a few more words in Hindi and felt much more comfortable but overall still clueless. I could not have asked for anything more and I have grown immensely. I was blessed with amazing people around every corner, teaching me that it was okay to ask for help. My adventures have taught me that the unknown doesn’t necessarily have to be scary but it instead means that there’s room for personal growth.

I was incredibly sad to leave the women that I met at the centers and I will miss each of their lighthearted and powerful spirits. It was difficult to say goodbye to the teachers, who I have grown so close to. As difficult as it was to say goodbye to my host family, I am just as confident that I will see them again because my time in India is not over.

The blow of my final goodbyes subsided in my final week of work as I looked forward to my mother coming to travel with me. My excitement grew to travel throughout the dazzling country with my beautiful mother. A little tea, a little Taj; can a mother-daughter trip get any better than that? I was able to show her all of the wonders of my experiences, instead of merely trying to explain them (which would, of course, not do any of them justice).

It all began in the Delhi airport, where my mother cried real tears—a rare occurrence.

The true adventures started when, later that night, we went in search of a market near our hotel. Asking for directions from a kind stranger on the street, I was informed that the market was “down the street a ways, take a right”. Sounded great, I thought. Let’s walk, I thought. However, my mother began to get a little nervous when we were walking on the side of the road because the traffic in New Delhi has a little bit more oomph than in our little hometown of Greenville, MI. She suggested that we walk on the sidewalk, to which I looked around at the two-lane road, decorated with fruit stands, bus stops and cows and assured her that a sidewalk was not an option. Before picking my mother up from the airport it really felt like I was still as lost in India as I was when I had first arrived, but something as little as this excursion assured me that I had, indeed, grown throughout my six weeks; I felt comfortable asking strangers for directions and I knew how to cross the extremely busy streets, where the traffic never skips a beat.

I came to many realizations while adventuring with my mother, which opened my eyes to different sides of the country. Before her arrival I had been living with a host family, eating food prepared by “auntie” and traveling by way of public transportation. After six weeks of this, I really did feel comfortable and my host family’s house began to feel like a home. This kind of travel taught me so much about visiting a country and learning about the culture. Traveling around the “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) and seeing how tourists interacted with the tourism sites motivated my passions in safely entering communities because this kind of travel takes a toll on the country, but the individuals don’t have to make as much of an effort. In this environment, it’s easy for the individual to draw conclusions about the culture and to never be corrected, as they do not have any ties or relationships. There is beauty in reason and by drawing our own conclusions we are losing the original intent of the traditions in cultures, which can be both sad and dangerous.

I do feel extremely blessed to have spent my final week in such a beautiful country with my mother and it was a learning experience for both of us. My mother was honestly very hesitant about me traveling alone for such a long time and throughout our time in Jaipur she met my family and my co-workers, all of whom had made huge efforts to keep me safe. She had the opportunity to learn about the culture that I fell in love with and she, too, learned to appreciate it. The entire week was an experience that I will never forget, filled with laughs, rain and sweat.

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One of the hardest parts about my trip thus far has been attempting to communicate India’s excellence to people back home. As with any adventure, when I am asked the question “How is it” I am at a loss for words, not knowing how to put one month of learning into a concise sentence. One thing that always remains consistent, without fail, is mentioning the people who I have met and the relationships I have made. It is because of everyone who I have met that I am unable to write India off into one neat and tidy little thought. This beautiful country cannot be explained unless you experience it for yourself because so much of what makes up India lies within its people.

Each person that I have met has been genuinely welcoming. When I first arrived here my coworkers and my host family carried out small acts of kindness. Admittedly, I thought that these were done to make me feel more comfortable, as I had just arrived, but I began to notice that even after a couple of weeks things continued to happen. I also saw them carried out in the larger community. Each day I come across small acts of generosity, performed absentmindedly by strangers for strangers, by one coworker for the other and by one loved one onto another; there was no shortage of kindness. Whether it were someone offering up their seat on the bus, liberally passing their lunch, or greeting each person that walks in the room, these small acts of love are a part of daily life.

Each of these acts has stood out to me and has held great significance in my experience. With respect of the individual so frequently diminished in my own community, it is beautiful to be somewhere that places such a large emphasis on respect. I am aware that being a white woman living as a guest in India grants me a certain amount of privilege in this community. Therefore respect is also granted to me more easily. However, I have also taken note of these acts done to colleagues, friends and family members. These acts are, as I have said, performed in everyday life.

All of this can be better explained through a more in depth explanation of “Namaste”, which was clarified to me by one of my close friends. One of my first days here I was surprised that I had never known this meant hello, to which she clarified that it is indeed a greeting but also much more. Namaste is a Hindu greeting that literally means “I bow to you”. Delivering “Namaste” along with folding the hands in the namaskar, are symbols of the belief that the life, the divinity, the self or the God in me are the same in all.

When I first learned the meaning of Namaste I, of course, remember thinking it was beautiful but I don’t think that I could fully grasp what it meant. It is only while living here that I have been able to see its true beauty, which is carried out through people’s actions. Each time someone is greeted with the namaskar they are given faith, they are given love and they are given respect. The faith, love and respect are then carried out into daily lives through the littlest of tasks that make huge lasting impacts.

Learning How To Learn

When my sisters and I went to college my father left each of us with the same truth: “College is about learning how to learn”. It was not, of course, until after we failed our first exams and called home in frenzies (as college students do) that the line unveiled its impact. Our parents knew that each of us would call home in our first fall semesters saying that we were not cut out to be at the University of Michigan and therefore they were prepared to remind us that “everyone fails” or “we are putting too much pressure on ourselves” but most importantly they would say that, “College is about learning how to learn”.

Pratham’s Second Chance Program instills this same value in its students. When I speak to the women I ask each of them if they feel like that they have been changed from the program, to which each one answers yes. With definite growth in each of the seven subjects, it is the increased confidence that has had the strongest effect on the women. One student, Safiya, answered that, “Before this I did not have any idea about my life or what I wanted to do. Now I have the confidence to do something, anything.” I am able to quote her directly, mind you, because I was able to speak with her one-on-one. Safiya is a 21-year-old woman who has nearly perfected her English throughout her one-year at Pratham, after being away from school for nine years. To say she is amazing would only be selling her short. She not only spoke to the value of her own education, but also what she has learned about educating the larger majority. Safiya emphasizes the importance of a mother’s role in a child’s life, stressing that to educate a mother is to educate India as a whole.


Safiya after her attempt to perfect her American accent

Safiya and Tauseef

Safiya and Tauseef

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Blissful Unease

My journey preparing for this summer has been exciting, stressful, terrifying and eye opening. Above all other feelings, I am extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to work with Pratham’s Second Chance Program in Jaipur. The Second Chance Program gives women who have dropped out of school an opportunity to complete their secondary education. My role will be to speak with a select number of women in the program, asking what may have caused them to leave school, as well as what motivated them to return.

It is the women’s motivation, what drives each of them to come back to school, that really interests me. You see it has not been until recently, now my senior year of college, that I have taken time to reflect on the huge amount privilege that comes along with my own education. I am beyond thankful that I have never had to worry about whether I would graduate from high school or go to college. Up until now I have merely been going through the motions of my education, not really motivated by the education itself. I realize now that I have taken this wonderful education that I have been, quite literally handed, for granted.

Being given the opportunity to learn from the women in the program and from the administrators of Pratham is what has kept me excited and enlightened throughout these past nine months of preparation. I have constantly asked myself why I am going to India; really questioning my own intentions. Sure, I have always wanted to travel to India, and I do have a true passion for the education system, but I also struggle with what it may means for a community when an outsider offers their help for a short period of time, only to abruptly leave. Though I am still not sure of the best way to counteract this, I know that I am dedicated to learning from the individuals I will be working with this summer. More than anything, I have focused on learning from individuals who I have met from Pratham and learning about the Second Chance Program through them. I have met wonderful members of the Pratham community, who are extremely dedicated to the program and the women who make it up. I am truly privileged to be working alongside each of them this summer.

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