Author Sandra Bornstein graciously agreed to stop by The Write Edge Bookshelf on her blog book tour for her memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Below is the Q&A with Sandy on life since her adventure of teaching in India, her appreciation for the Indian culture, and a possible future visit to the country.
1. At the beginning of the book you share with frankness the uncertainty you and Ira felt after he lost one of his biggest law clients, and in the last few pages you share that you found a teaching position in a mountain school. Was Ira able to go back to practicing law in the Denver area?
Yes. After Ira weighed all of his options, he decided to accept a position as a litigator at a Boulder law firm. He is delighted to once again be handling a variety of complex commercial litigation cases.
2. If someone asked you to describe in two sentences your experience of living in India, what would you say?
Living halfway around the world exposed my taste buds to tantalizing spicy entrees and sugary sweet desserts and my nose to fragrant tropical flowers and the putrid odors associated with uncontrolled pollution. I heard constant horns honking while I embraced the culture by visiting historical landmarks that enriched my understanding of Indian history and geography.
3. Throughout the book you mention several times the conversations you had with other expats living in India about the abysmal living conditions in that country. Did you ever have any in-depth conversations with people native to India about how they felt about the living conditions?
I didn’t think that it was appropriate to talk about the living conditions with Indians who had only lived in India. People who had traveled abroad could easily draw comparisons between the different lifestyles. But I still felt that it was not a topic worth discussing. I was surprised when some of my students who had traveled extensively made remarks about the differences between the places that they visited and life in India. I listened, but rarely interjected my opinions.
4. Do you think you might have had a different teaching experience if you’d taught in a school in one of the larger cities in India, such as New Delhi or Mumbai?
I did not research schools in New Delhi or Mumbai so it is not possible to answer without having additional information. Bangalore is the third largest city in India with a population over 8.5 million. It should be noted that the school I taught at had a stellar reputation.
5. Have you been able to stay in touch with anyone from the school in India since you submitted your resignation?
After leaving the school, I maintained contact with several of my Indian and expat colleagues. I initiated the dialogue since I felt badly that I was unable to say good-bye in person. Due to the distance factor, I have communicated primarily through email with an occasional Skype interaction or phone call. Some of these people follow my blog posts on my website and have read my memoir. I recently learned that a few of the American methods that I introduced are still being utilized in the fifth grade.
Additionally, I corresponded with some of the parents of my students. For a short period of time, I tutored one of my former students via Skype.
6. Would you consider your experience in India mostly positive, mostly negative, a mix, or something else? Would you be able to specifically name two positive things about life in India as it is there?
All situations have both positive and negative elements. India is not the exception to this fact. What I sometimes perceived to be negative was merely a knee jerk response to culture shock. Until I adjusted to my new life, almost everything appeared foreign. Sometimes I equated my ability to cope with a negative attitude.
India is one of the few places in the world where Jews did not suffer any major episodes of anti-Semitism. To this day, the Indian government protects its dwindling Jewish population from terrorist attacks.
Indians embrace their ancient culture and traditions. It is fascinating to learn about their beliefs and celebrations. By visiting historical sites, I gained a deeper appreciation of Indian history.
7. You open the book with the incident of getting seriously ill in New Delhi. Why didn’t you consider going to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) hospital or an Apollo hospital for treatment? These are considered to be two of the best medical institutions in the city; did anyone know that at the time?
I went to the hospital that my future daughter-in-law’s physician recommended. We drove a considerable distance to reach the hospital. There were hospitals that were closer. Compared to other New Delhi hospitals, I went to a hospital that was considered to be one of the best in the city. However, it fell short of my expectations inasmuch as I was accustomed to US standards.
8. In the last few pages of the book you describe a new teaching opportunity in a mountain community. Do you still teach at that school? Did you feel like anything about your experience in India related directly to the experience of teaching in this new school?
I am no longer working as a teacher.
The two situations illustrate the fact that each teaching opportunity poses a new set of issues. In India, the students were polite, came prepared for class, and were motivated to learn. They asked questions and were engaged in the learning process. Second language learners struggled with language acquisition issues. A fair number of students balked at doing homework. Overall, I was pleased with the community of learners and the progress that was made each day.
At the mountain school, a high percentage of the students were also second language learners. Like their Indian counterparts, some were reluctant to do homework. However, a higher percentage refused to do the work. This negative attitude spilled over to their daily classwork. Far too many did not bother to even bring a pencil or paper to class. Rude and inappropriate behavior was rampant. The climate in the classroom had been set before I arrived mid-year. I was frustrated everyday because my efforts to connect with the students were fruitless.
9. You talk in the early pages about how many friends said you were, in effect, crazy for wanting to try to live and work in India. Did anyone give you something akin to an “I told you so”-type of remark when you moved back to the States for good? If so, what was your response?
I received flack [sic] from some people while I was still in India. I heard a constant refrain that I should leave immediately. I ignored the naysayers. After I returned to the US, no one said, “I told you so.” People were just happy that I was home.
10. Do you feel any differently about India when you see items about the country in the news or in features on TV or online as compared to before your experience of living there?
Traveling always affects the way I react to a place. I become more aware of major landmarks, geography, history, religion, and politics. After living in India for many months, I had a more in-depth understanding and could relate better to anything I encountered about India. While engaged in social media, I am more keenly aware of any reference to India. I have to admit that I knew very little about India before traveling there.
11. Do you think you would ever want to go back to India just for a visit? Why or why not?
Sometime in the near future, I definitely look forward to visiting Josh and Rachael in India. When I’m back in India, I’ll try to visit some of my former colleagues and possibly a couple of my students. If time allows, I will also travel to some of the sites that I was unable to visit in 2010.
12. Could you provide a quick update on Josh and Rachael?
Josh and Rachael currently live in New Delhi and come to the U.S. once or twice a year.
Thanks so much, Sandy, for sharing your experiences through the book and for stopping by The Write Edge Bookshelf. I appreciate your time!