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 two of a two part blog series where he reflects upon his experience.

When our weeks of service came to a close, we held a meeting at the school with the parents and grandparents of all the villages in the area. We squeezed into a little room, and the three of us volunteers had the opportunity to speak to them. With the help of a translator, we talked to them about ways they could continue improving their education system after we left, and we thanked them gratuitously for their hospitality. In response, they took turns expressing their gratitude and explaining what our efforts meant to them. It was the first time in their history ever receiving volunteers for education, in addition to teacher training. There were many tears as they showered us with gifts, served us tea, and sang us songs. This response made me feel like my experience was totally successful and completely worthwhile.

Reflecting on the experience with the other volunteers, we talked about how proud we were of the teachers and of our students. In our teacher workshop, we taught English skills (and how these skills could be applied in classroom instruction), general teaching skills, writing skills, and computer skills. They were so engaged, and we could see their improvement, especially in the essays we assigned them!

I was especially proud of my seventh graders, four girls, whom I had twice a day for English. The first couple of weeks with them were incredibly awkward and difficult. They really didn’t seem to understand as much English as I expected. Plus, they were very shy and didn’t want to answer any of my questions. Sometimes, we would spend long periods of time in silence while I waited for them to utter an answer in English even remotely close to the actual answer. So, I decided that it was important that I try to make a point of encouraging and developing their confidence. By the last week, they would speak confidently in English, even if their answer was incorrect, and this made me very happy. We were even able to study paragraph structure and use this for a full-on debate on the last day of school. Which animals are better, cows or yaks?

Despite the brevity of what our main teaching experience turned out to be, we truly felt like we had made a difference. Even if the young students learned next to nothing from us, we felt that our teacher workshops served as useful training, and that we had inspired a community of parents, teachers, and students to believe that they have the power to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”

WorldTeach operates under the goal that, over many years in any given location, consistent volunteers can drastically improve education in the places that need it most. The organization also emphasizes that students will have an experience that will significantly motivate and contribute to their future careers in service. The vision of WorldTeach could not have possibly aligned more with my experience; I felt like a small but integral piece of the solution to education challenges worldwide, and my experience majorly shaped my worldview and ambitions.

I learned that I care about climate change much more than I had previously thought, specifically about how it adversely affects vulnerable populations in developing regions. In addition, this experience reinvigorated my passions for bringing quality education, technology, and internet access to developing areas. This summer, I lived through so many indescribable moments and recurrences that contributed to my growth in how I view issues regarding development. And now, I feel like I truly understand the Ladakhi culture on a level that is difficult for most to attain. Especially as my first longer international stay, this experience greatly influenced my career ambitions and my views on international issues.

My final week in Ladakh was spent on a reflective camping outing. It was refreshing to talk through many of the experiences we had and the emotions we felt, since a journey like this is, for anyone, difficult to process. I knew I would miss the pure and imposing mountains that had become my home, but I learned that this home wasn’t defined by the beauty of its landscape. Rather, it was uniquely defined by the love and happiness expressed by every single member of the community, always. I will miss this land of prayer flags; those mystic rainbow squares of fabric have sent prayers to the heavens for all living beings for thousands of years. I anticipate returning here, to my home village, to my school, to my friends and family, and to the land lost in an eternal time where the birds and the clouds may come and go, but where love and truth transcend.