When I head to the Fort area of Mumbai on my second day in the city, it is not to the museums, bars and bazaars, which are popular with tourists. Instead I go to a school where I am to give my first Clap Talk to a class of 13-year-old students.
As I try to explain my business to the security guard at the gate, a welcome party arrives led by Shirin Johari, one of the founders of Clap Global. Once inside, I meet the class teacher Ms. Seema. “Do the children like to sing?” I ask, as she helps me set up my presentation.
I had been sent a PowerPoint template for my talk a couple of days before setting off for India. It included slides of my country, hometown, family and a range of other topics relating to my life, home, and the traditions and issues that are important in my country. In between work and packing, I pulled together photos and illustrations for a talk I hope will be entertaining and educational. It will be a long hour with the class if I have to do all the talking!
The pupils seem like a lively bunch at the end of break, but they quickly settle down as I enter the classroom. They remain quiet as I begin talking through my slides on the big display screen but when I start asking questions, their enthusiasm can’t be contained. “What do you know about Britain?” I ask as I introduce my home country. “Brexit!” is the first in a rapid-fire round of responses.
I keep throwing in questions as I talk about friends, family, my job and my interest in visiting India. Clap Talks are all about giving pupils an insight into other countries and cultures. As it’s early November, I talk about Britain’s important traditions around Remembrance Day when we remember soldiers who died in the First and Second World Wars.
I explain why I am wearing a poppy and how it became a symbol of remembrance. I show pictures of Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Cenotaph in London and explain how people across the country observe two minutes silence to remember those who have died at war.
To contrast this bleak topic, I also share some British music. With it’s upbeat message of love and peace, The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love is the perfect song to follow on from discussing the tragedy of war. I’m not up to a solo performance though, and the class jump to their feet when I propose a sing-along. When the music starts I’m the only one singing as I point to the words of the first verse on the screen. When we get to the chorus a few start joining in. I cheer them on and by the second chorus everyone is singing so loud that the caretaker puts his head round the door to see what’s going on.
It’s a rousing finale but the session isn’t over. It’s time for questions. If the students are keen on answering questions, they are mad about asking them.
It is hard to keep up with the blizzard of questions on my life, my interests, travels, experiences and opinions on everything from politics to football. One boy asks if I speak Hindi and teaches me how to introduce myself to the amusement of the class. I manage to get a few of my own questions in and learn about their travels, places to visit in Mumbai and grim predictions that air pollution in the city will keep getting worse. I am too engaged in the discussion to notice the time and before I know it, I have to wrap up the discussion and the class spends the last part of the lesson writing about what they learnt.
Each pupil writes me a short letter of thanks. It’s a touching experience which will stay with me for a long time. “It was an incredible experience to ask you questions and gain knowledge about your country,” is one typical comment. “I would not have known a lot of things if you had not come here,” is another. Many of them mention Remembrance Day, a tradition they were quite unaware of before. One girl writes: “Whenever I see a poppy again, I will always think of you.”
I write a message back thanking them for what I know will be a highlight of the trip. After rapturous applause and numerous selfies, I leave these friendly and enthusiastic children.
I am not a teacher or expert in anything, I just talked about myself and my country. But when people from different cultures meet, they can always learn from each other. Clap Global has created a platform to make these conversations happen. I would never have thought of visiting a school while travelling or known how to go about it. Clap Global made it easy to arrange a visit which was worthwhile for both school and traveller. Each Clap Talk is a unique cultural experience and helps build a stronger global community for the future. I would encourage everyone to do one if they get the chance.