Ryker McIntyre is a student at the University of Notre Dame who participated in the WorldTeach India Summer Program in Ladakh, India. This is part one of a two part blog series where he reflects upon his experience.

Most Americans, when thinking about the country of India, picture smoggy cities and overpopulation. This is regrettably true for most of India. However, I spent my summer in the Ladakh region of northern India, and Ladakh is nothing like the rest of India. On my flight into Leh, as the sun rose softly over the staggering and white Himalayas, I knew that my two-month journey ahead would be unlike anything I had ever experienced.

I was on the flight with the two other WorldTeach volunteers, Ellie and Bindi. We quickly became close as we bonded over the struggles of altitude adjustment and the wonders of prayer flags snapping in the wind above every home, shop, street, and monastery. We spent our first week in orientation training, beginning in Leh (Ladakh’s biggest city) and finishing in Sumur, a small village in Nubra Valley five hours away over one of the highest passes in the world. During orientation, we learned to speak some Ladakhi, adapt to the Ladakhi culture, hand wash clothes, and, most importantly, use a pit toilet. At the end of orientation, I was told that I had been placed at a government school in the nearby village of Tigger. I became nervous but excited for the opportunity I had anticipated for months.

After two slow, disappointing, and rather unsuccessful weeks at this school (due to missing teachers, lack of scheduled class, lots of holidays, etc.), we received news that we had to shift from Nubra Valley. We all felt discouraged that we had come so far to have accomplished nothing. Our staff made some phone calls, though, and arranged for us to continue teaching in a different, far more remote, district called Zanskar. Now, the three of us volunteers would be at the same school.

It wasn’t until I arrived at my new school that I began to feel more hopeful about my experience. The teachers we met initially seemed to be on top of everything and passionate about making the most of our three weeks left. We began the day after we arrived, and the teachers put us right to work, having us teach classes every period. We had our schedules after only a couple days, and mine included English for preschool, fourth grade, and seventh grade, and computer literacy for a couple of combined classes: second to fourth grades and fifth to seventh grades. In addition, the school allowed us to tweak the schedule so that we could hold teacher workshops. We worked full hours, ten to four, Monday through Saturday. They even canceled holidays for us to maximize our time!

Most days, after school, the other volunteers and I worked on lesson plans for both regular classes and teacher workshops. It was exhausting work, but it was rewarding, and we centered ourselves in the free time we had by engaging with the village members (our new friends!) and exploring the area. This included activities such as talking with the oldest person in our village, milking a cow, attending a wedding, seeing the water mill, taking pictures in traditional Ladakhi clothing, having tea at neighbors’ houses, visiting monasteries, and, of course, climbing Himalayan mountains.