Hislop College: Not your ordinary college (even for India)

I’d heard the rumors from past exchange students from India – who told me they didn’t see the point of going to school after a few weeks.

I’d heard the rumors from current exchange students in India – who had already been going to school for a few weeks.

I’d heard the rumors from people in Nagpur: When I told them where I would be going to college in town, they would often give me a sympathetic half-smile or look down and shake their head.

My first day at Hislop College gave me just a glimpse of daily life at the school. My first week, however, gave me a larger sample size with which to test those rumors – many of which I’ve found to be true.

I’ve found my enjoyment of each class depends greatly on the answer to these four questions:

1- Is the power on?
2- Is the class in Hindi or English?
3- Which students came to class?
4- Is there class?

When I walked into my first real class last Monday, the fans offered me no relief to the classroom’s 85 degrees and humidity. Nor was there any air-conditioning. None of this would have been a problem, except I was already covered in sweat from my ride there.

I’d heard about the frequent power outages in India before I came, but I’d been pleasantly surprised by the constant stream of power we had in our house. What I didn’t realize was that our house uses a generator. Power outages occur frequently throughout Nagpur and India, but our family is lucky enough to never have to worry about them in the house.

So I just had to get used to a little heat, right?

Everyone had told me Hislop was an English-medium school, and I’d heard the same for the other schools Rotary used. But I couldn’t understand a word of what the political science teacher was saying. Nor the Hindi teacher. The history and sociology teachers also spoke in Hindi half the time. I can understand the security guards not knowing English, but I’m perplexed as to why I was never told half the classes would be in Hindi.

Even when our classes are in English, it’s easy to lose focus. The rumors I’d heard about the teachers mostly turned out to be true. Teachers will usually just read from textbooks, and sometimes they’ll tell us to take notes. At least in my classes, the blackboard seems to be there only for decoration. Unfortunately for me, the teachers only seem passionate about what they’re saying when they’re saying it in Hindi.

And that’s if there’s class at all.

About 25 percent of the time, teachers just don’t show up – sometimes with notice, sometimes without. The concept of a substitute teacher doesn’t seem to have caught on. Perhaps that’s the reason most students don’t show up for class either.

The same ten to twelve students usually show up from a roster of about 40 for each class – boys on the left and girls on the right. As a general rule, the people who go to class tend to be better people than those who bunk and spend the day in the courtyard joking with one another. I’ve spent as much of my time as possible in the classroom with the three or four students I can trust, away from the mass of kids in the courtyard calling out to me with choice Hindi words. I’ve had to be far more cynical in choosing friends than I’ve ever wanted to be.

What gives me hope is that I know not all schools in India are like this. A couple of the exchange students are quite happy with their schools and the people in them. The infrastructure is similar elsewhere, but the people that populate the halls aren’t all like those that roam the courtyard at my college. Hislop may not have as many good people as I’m used to, but I’ll keep going to class because of the ones I’ve met.


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7 Responses to “Hislop College: Not your ordinary college (even for India)”

  1. Bronwyn S. Says:

    I know how you feel. My classes are a lot like that, too. The power’s been pretty okay at classes (not so much at my house), but it’s always a big question as to whether the A/C is working, because none of the windows open and it’s like being in a big white oven. Very few of my teachers show up (it’s 3 1/2 weeks in and I still haven’t met 3 of them), and sometimes when they do, they just sit down and read a book instead of teaching! No-one uses the blackboard, and nothing is in English! I’ve learned more from the English-functional students than the teachers, and I haven’t turned in any homework since I got here.
    One thing I can say is, you’re not alone (everyone else I’ve talked to is having similar problems, except for the ones in Europe), and once you make friends in class, everything gets better! Stick with it, and good luck!

  2. Frances Harris Says:

    Chris –

    I don’t think I’ve chimed in yet, but want to tell you how much I’m enjoying your blog. Your writing is as excellent as ever – I almost feel like I’m there! This particular entry causes me to reflect on the lengthy conversations we have here about integrating visiting students. Very interesting contrast, indeed.

    • pyoder Says:

      I know you all put in a lot of time for Uni students. As taxpayers we are especially grateful for the effort of public school educators and administrators on behalf of all of our children.

      Most students who come from abroad benefit from not only a world-class education system but also a huge leap in the standard of living. Many of the international students at this land-grant university also receive stipends, perks, health insurance, etc.

      It is unfortunate that there is not always reciprocity for exchange students from developed nations. There ARE very good schools in India (according to some grad students who attended them on the way to IIT to here); unfortunately most of those focus on STEM and require years of preparation and competition. Hence Chris would not be a candidate even though he has been a student in gifted ed since age 5.

      In closing, I give you permission to send him lists of books to read (when he has power). Not LOL

  3. Shawn Says:

    School was a write off for me in Finland as well, because I didn’t speak a word of Finnish upon my arrival. I was actively integrated in English and French classes, because those classes were conducted in immersion style. It is rather alarming for me as a teacher to hear of such poor professionalism at your school, but it does offer you an excellent opportunity to learn Hindi.

    Language learning is the key to unlocking the cultural doors closed against you. Devote a few hours each evening to speak only Hindi and insist that everyone speaks to you in Hindi only during that time. In a week or so your comprehension will sky-rocket. In a month, try to use Hindi as your main language everywhere. Within 3 months of that you’ll be picking up most of what you hear in class. The tremendous impact of learning the language will amaze you. People will treat you entirely differently when you show that you have made the effort to communicate in their language. You’ll stop being ‘that American’ and will become “Chris.” By the end of the year, your fluency will open doors for you all over the world.

    I thoroughly enjoy your blogs. Keep up the good work!


    • cyoder Says:

      I really wish I could do that.

      India is different from other Rotary countries, however, in its convergence of languages. It’s impossible for me to immerse myself in Hindi, for several reasons:

      1- Everyone at home speaks Marathi, which for all its similarities with Hindi is a different language.
      2- Only a couple of the classes use Hindi, and even then the teachers switch between Hindi and English.
      3- English is everywhere. Even if I talk with my friends in Hindi, the street signs are in English, the advertisements are in English, half the movies on TV are in English and people use English in conversations, even if its a second language. Hindi is also a secondary language for some people.
      4- The students at my college that don’t speak English are exactly the people I want to stay away from.
      5- Elsewhere in India it gets even more complicated, since people in the south don’t speak Hindi, but rather local languages like Bengali or Tamil. English is the only language that works for me in these places.

      I can certainly learn Hindi, but it’s impossible to immerse in it.

  4. John Says:

    Chirs, another great post. We always say that we are lucky here with our education systems and fundings, but now you can actually mean it.

    I”m glad that you have chosen friends, albeit cynically ;).

    Good luck, and mayhaps you’ll pick up some hindi to enjoy classes more.

  5. saurinshah92 Says:

    It’s kind of a bummer that school isn’t that great for you. At least you can take solace in the fact that you don’t have to worry that much about your school results. How are the few good students at Hislop? Great blog, by the way, if I haven’t said so already.

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