A year in India

„For one year I lived in Coimbatore, a city in South India with more than 1.5 million inhabitants. I had never heard of it before. When you take part in a student exchange via Rotary, the encourage you to apply not only for countries that many students are interested in. Looking back, I think that’s good. Otherwise I wouldn’t have made so many new experiences.

I was 15 years old and thus rather young for a student exchange taking one year. During that year I lived in three guest families. That was meant to make me experience everyday life from different perspectives. I lived with locals as well as with families who moved there from other parts of India. I lived with families with different mother tongues and of different beliefs of Hinduism. I spoke English and a few sentences Tamil. In the third family I shared a flat with the grandmother, with whom I didn’t have a language in common. Every day we communicated via facial expressions and gestures.

At my arrival I was plunged in at the deep end. Even before my guest family showed me their home, we drove to a children’s home, which the family supported. We brought sweets there and many children came running to us. It moved me to see their happiness. There were children with illnesses and disabilities there as well, who could not come to us themselves. It’s hard to describe. It was almost too much for me to take.

After that, I got slowly used to everyday life. Coimbatore is a rather industrial city with many weaving mills and brick factories. I went to school and everywhere else usually by bus. This is how you literally get close to society. During rush hour it can become very narrow.

Being a strange foreigner, of course I was looked at very often. In the beginning I made mistakes like wearing short pairs of trousers and T-shirts. Men are supposed to wear long pairs of trousers and shirts. When I finally found out, I was treated differently.

After taking my A-levels in Cologne, I travelled to India again, spending eight months doing public relations work for a NGO. Among other things, the organization supports people to build up an existence in agriculture. I shot a documentary movie with which the organization showed their progress applied for more support by the Indian government.

I grew up in the disctrict of Ossendorf. My family is down-to-earth and very ecoconscious. My parents are Protestants. I do go to church, but my relation to it is not so close. Ever since I have been to India, I have some small talismans like this one (see picture). It shows the god Ganesha. He means luck and satisfaction to me and I like to be surrounded by both.”

Jan Walger is 20 years old and a student of georesource management. His goal is to work in the field of development cooperation.