Calvin White describes it as probably the most unique school trip in the province.
A former teacher, White has led two student trips to India since 2008 and left on his third on Dec. 17. He, several parents and about a dozen students in grades 10 to 12 will be returning on Jan. 7.
“It’s intended to expose the kids to travel in budget style rather than to insulate them. We don’t use a tour company, we don’t go on pre-arranged buses, we take local transport – and kids really come back with a direct experience of what it would be like for them to travel on their own.”
White says he likes India because, “for lack of a better word, the fullness, realness of it… You walk into the heartbeat of life when you go to India. There’s no defending against it. You’re just in it.”
He says it’s a difficult place for students to go, but they adjust.
“They get over the culture shock and the fears – and then they get it. And all of them want to go back. I’ve never had a kid who didn’t want to go back. They feel alive there.”
While White takes care of the emotional and personal needs of the students, he has a friend in India who takes care of transportation, accommodation and more.
Emotions sometimes run high, White says, with the group away over Christmas in a country very different from their own.
This time the students are going to a leper colony, taking a camel trek in the desert and possibly doing some volunteering at Mother Theresa’s enterprises.
Steven Petterson was part of White’s trip to India in December 2009. Although he’d only left B.C. once before on a trip to Hawaii with his family, he described it as amazing.
“It was an eye-opening experience for sure and I’m really glad I did it.”
For him, there were many highlights, but one that seemed to stand out for every member of the group was a camel trip, he says.
“One of the days we got to go way out into the desert and ride camels to this little tiny village and we had lunch with them. That was really cool, sitting on the ground eating this incredibly spicy food – we couldn’t handle it. There were a bunch of little kids and we got to play with them. We couldn’t really talk with them but we could communicate. It was really cool.”
Another highlight for Petterson was in the city of Varanasi when the group went out in a boat and watched from the river as people cremated their dead. Cremation in Varanasi, which has special significance in the Hindu religion, takes place at special burning ghats located along the riverbank.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience. We sat in silence and watched.”
Although a few times he felt stressed and missed home, and he became sick near the end of the trip, overall, he says, it was a good experience.
“It seems kind of silly to say it – it was only three weeks – but I felt it helped me mature a bit, for sure.”
It inspired him to go on other trips; a year ago he spent six months in South America.
“Even after being in South America, seeing a bunch of countries there, if ever I was to go back, I would still go to India. I don’t know what that place did to me, but I’d sure go back.”