When our friends at Off Madison Ave told us about a former intern of theirs who taught English in India, we thought that was pretty cool. When they told us that she used Arizona Highways as a teaching tool, we did a double take.
It was the summer of 2001, and Alexis Brunstedt was ready to see the world. She had already been bitten by the travel bug thanks, in part, to her own family who had hosted foreign exchange students before and her father, who would often bring home exotic treasures from his business trips overseas.
After talking to her parents, she was given the green light to pursue her dream during her summer semester.
Below, we talked to Alexis about her trip, how she used Arizona Highways to teach English and how the experienced changed her life.
What inspired you to go to India for a year to teach English?
My father made a deal with me that if I found something that included room and board, he and my mom would help with travel expenses. I spoke with my favorite English professor at Yavapai at the time, Nick Nownes, and he allowed me to earn school credit for the work and study I would accomplish overseas. The next step was to find the place to go. I did a lot of searching online for schools overseas offering room and board in exchange for teaching English. When I found a school in South India that also housed an orphanage and was owned by a church looking for a female to come teach English in exchange for room and board, everything fell into place. As preparation for my travel continued, I would meet people who had gone to India and they were elated to help me prepare both mentally and physically for my trip. Looking back I realize now that people who travel to India are a breed of their own — you have to be kind of wacky in a wanderlust charming way. After India, I went on to study ethnobotany in Ecuador, Fine Art in London and I worked as an Au Pair in Germany.
Why did you decide to use Arizona Highways as a teaching tool?
Growing up, Arizona Highways was a staple in our home in Prescott. I loved the beautiful photography and how proud it made me feel about being from Arizona. I thought it would be helpful to share with the children where I was from using the text and images in the magazine. This would also give me an opportunity to build on stories the images told and build on vocabulary.
How did the children respond to the photographs?
Arizona Highways allowed me to create a deep connection with the students, as I was excited to share a part of myself with them. When I arrived and realized there was very little on the classroom walls, the pictures began to be celebrated as decoration. It was wonderful for each student to build a connection with a particular image and begin building vocabulary centered around their chosen image. They also became aware of a beautiful place called Arizona! For many of the students, India is all they will ever know — they will probably never even see the Taj Mahal — so, showing them vibrant images of a real place was very exciting.
What did they love most about the photographs?
In India, color is very important so capturing brilliant colors together was much appreciated by the students. I think they also liked having something that felt like their own, getting to pick the picture, to hang on the wall and to use in class.
What surprised you most about the experience?
I was fascinated to find a place that was so untouched by Western influence and I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the East Indian culture. I also had the chance to learn India’s National Dance while I was there, The Bharatnatyam, and perform it for the school.
How did the experience change you?
This experience changed me profoundly. There was a phrase that was often said in the home I stayed at and in the school, “Be free.” It means to not worry, help yourself, be yourself, relax. I think as I get older, fear gets in the way more and more. It was a beautiful message at the time, as I was sick much of my trip and far away from home. Today, I remember to try to “be free” as in India and continue pursuing my aspirations.