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Brittany DavisSelf-portrait of Brittany Davis '11 at the Chamunda Devi Temple in Dharamsala, India.

Senior Brittany Davis learns to make a difference in India

More than 50 years ago, the Dalai Lama and his followers fled Tibet and established a "government-in-exile" in Dharamsala, India, with the permission of the country's prime minister. They remain in Dharamsala to this day.

UNC Asheville senior Brittany Davis, of Charlotte, N.C., was intrigued by this history, and asked herself, "What makes this society work? How do the Indian and Tibetan communities blend? What is the role of spirituality in their lives?"

Last, she asked, "What can I do to help?"

Bolstered by her interdisciplinary study of anthropology, women's studies and photography, Davis decided to go straight to the source—participating in a six-week volunteer trip hosted by Cross Cultural Solutions, a program likened to a "mini-Peace Corps" that allows individuals to volunteer abroad for anywhere from two to 12 weeks.

Brittany DavisDavis' students played Pictionary as part of their English lessons.

For Davis, volunteering in India was an easy choice.

"I've wanted to go to India for many years now and was looking for a way to go that could really connect to what I was learning in school while helping others," said Davis. "This was a perfect fit for me because it blends all facets of my major."

In June, Davis traveled for more than three days to reach the village of Khaniyara in Dharamsala, where she began teaching conversational English to 13 young women as part of a women's empowerment group.

Davis soon discovered the difficulties of articulating her native language.

Even though our petals may look different, our roots stem from the same earth."

"Explaining your own language is tough," said Davis. "I would spend my spare time going to Internet cafés to learn my grammar rules all over again."

Despite this, Davis could tell that she was making a difference. "I sometimes doubted myself and thought I wasn't doing enough to help my students, but through teaching I discovered how much respect and appreciation they had for me," she said.

In Dharamsala, women must demonstrate proficiency in English to attend college and attain a job in the government sector. "To the women I taught, learning English equaled empowerment," said Davis.

Though modern technology was spotty and her teaching schedule busy, Davis took time to document her experiences and observations in her blog, "Cracked Earth Beneath My Day."

"We are learning from one another," wrote Davis. "We are not only here to learn English because that is what society needs, we are here to live in community and to share the similar and different aspects of our everyday lived experiences."

Davis continued, "Even though our petals may look different, our roots stem from the same earth."

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