UCL Backpackers: Vivek Shah

UCL Backpackers: Vivek Shah

Lucy Wilton interviews Vivek Shah, a first year PPE student, and newly-elected President of IDEAS society, about his recent trip to China

Tell us about the last place you visited…

I recently went on an all-expenses paid for trip to China with IDEAS society through the recently established NGO, Ideas Globally, to teach English to students in an under-resourced school in Sichuan Province.

Was China what you expected?

I didn’t really have many expectations to be completely honest with you. I’ve visited other emerging countries in the past, though I was taken aback by the scale of development there. It was very consumerist- we were in a small town which doesn’t have a big population, but even still, the streets were all lined with high-quality shops. During the evening the town would always be buzzing with lots of people shopping or going out for dinner.

What was your favourite memory of the trip?

That’s a hard question. Teaching the students was an incredibly rewarding experience. They started off not even knowing simple words such as “explain” and would give undeveloped answers to any questions you posed to them. They would only respond when they were directly questioned. But after only 5 days of teaching, their confidence had radically improved, and they were much more eager to participate. All of us have stayed in touch with the kids we taught and we continue to give them advice on how to improve their English through the Chinese version of WhatsApp.


What’s the best place you’ve ever visited?

I have to say my best travel experience was a trip to India at Christmas in 2015, where we visited all of the villages in which my ancestors were born and raised. A particularly memorable part of the trip was when we visited a village called Lakhabawal, where my grandfather had a house. We were peering over the wall, when one of the neighbours, who turned out to be a mediator between Earth and one of the Hindu gods, came over and invited us into his house. He told us some incredible stories, most notably one about how, after following the instructions of a dream, he discovered a huge stone resembling Shiva’s Lingam (a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva) in Bangalore, which he now proudly displays on an altar in his house.

Where would you like to go next?

Having climbed Kilimanjaro three years ago, I would love to have some more trekking experiences – I’d really like to visit South America and climb Machu Picchu. But my ultimate dream is to travel to Northern India, to Uttarakhand or Himachal Pradesh, to do some trekking in the Himalayas and to see the Ganges.

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