Semester at Sea 6

Around the World in 105 Days
7 March 2017
5.17 N, 74.56 E
Day 61

You don’t have to have a common language to communicate and connect with someone else. I put this idea into practice on my first day in India, which I spent about an hour and a half outside of our port city of Kochi at Emmanuel Orphanage. Upon arrival at the small orphanage, we were greeted by wide smiles of children sitting on floor mats – the girls on one side and boys on the other. We sat at the front of the room and the children giggled and pointed at us before they greeted our group of Semester at Sea students with a song, singing and clapping loudly. Smiles covered the faces of the children and of the SAS students, and they remained for the rest of the day.

We began to play with the children, joining in games of soccer, pushing children on the merry-go-round, or taking part in more hand games with the little girls. SAS guys put little boys on their shoulders and paraded around with them, the boys raising GoPros over their heads and filming with excited smiles. I sat with a few girls and they taught me a new hand game, and they got a kick out of my lack of hand-eye coordination. As the afternoon passed, still the smiles remained on everyone’s faces.

Our evening ended with the children’s performance of choreographed dances. Dressed in sequined costumes, the kids moved to the Bollywood tunes, quickly jumping on and off of the makeshift stage as they were cheered on by their peers and the SAS students. Proud grins covered their faces after they finished their movement-filled dances, and after they had finished their performances, the children requested that we show them the dances we know. Needless to say, we hadn’t come to Emmanuel Orphanage with choreographed dances; however, there are a few dances that every American seems to know, including the Macarena. So, we all hopped up onto their stage, plugged a phone into the speakers, and began to dance in unison. The children laughed, as our dance definitely didn’t compare to their wonderfully practiced pieces, but they quickly joined in. Before long, we were all dancing in their playground yard with a mix of Indian and American music playing loudly. The children didn’t let anyone stand by, either, as they grabbed the hands of the SAS students, pulling them into circles of dancing. By this point, they had lost all sense of reservation that was evident upon our arrival. Instead, they were eager to interact, to dance, to smile, to play, and to laugh with us.

Despite our strong language barrier, I feel like I was able to connect with the children at the orphanage in such a strong way. We may have been from completely different countries, cultures, and language, but we were still able to find commonalities. Whether it be in games, song, or laughter, I could connect with the children, and language no longer became a barrier that made communication impossible. Instead, by the end of the evening, the kids I had connected with crowded around the group of SASers, asking if we were leaving. We got a number of hugs and photos and exaggerated waves as made our way back to our bus. As I left the orphanage, all I could think about was how incredible my experience was. I had gone to Emmanuel Orphanage believing that I was giving something to the children and having a positive impact on them. Instead, I left feeling like I was the one who was most impacted. Despite their situation, the kids I met still had such incredibly positive spirits. They loved to play, they had beautiful smiles, and they laughed at everything. It was so encouraging and eye-opening to see such joy, despite terrible circumstances, and to have that joy shared so willingly with strangers.

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