Oct. 6, 2010
By Kelly Taylor, Media Relations Student Assistant
Although Irish women’s soccer player Ellen Jantsch resides in South Bend throughout the duration of the school year, her summer experiences prove more international than those found in a Midwest town.
The junior midfielder/forward spent the first three weeks of her summer in India, volunteering abroad. She helped build a school for underprivileged children and led community talks in order to convey important messages about education.
Jantsch originally started looking for service programs through Notre Dame, beginning her search in September of 2009. She ultimately got in contact with Idex, a program that promotes volunteer opportunities in India. By December, Jantsch’s summer endeavors were set.
The Kansas City, Mo. native recalls the diversity of her fellow volunteers. “I was with a group of 25 people, and I didn’t know anybody,” she says. Although she originally thought the group was limited to students, her roommate turned out to be 40 years old.
Moreover, Jantsch had the unique opportunity to meet girls from countries such as Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. “Not only did I have the cultural experience of India, but it was cool to be with people from all over the world,” she says.
However, her experience also featured some personal hardships. “My first impression of India was a nightmare,” she claims. After her flight from Chicago was delayed four hours, Jantsch landed in New Delhi at 1 a.m. without any form of transportation to her hotel. Along with a difficult language barrier, she had just survived a 17-hour flight and brutal time change.
“It was like I was a celebrity, people would stop in their tracks and point and stare,” she says. Although she was initially scared and intimidated, she called her parents and bought a prepaid taxi to the hotel.
According to Jantsch, the downtown area was extremely poor, with stray dogs and homeless people throughout. “My first night was my only complaint with the program,” she admits. “Once I was with my group of people, I never felt scared again.”
The group traveled out of the city in order to complete their volunteer work. “We stayed in the foothills of the Himalayas,” she says. After flying into New Delhi, they took a 12 hour train ride north followed by a six hour car ride up the mountain in order to reach their destination.
This transition turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Jantsch. “In the city, there were so many people,” she says. “It was so crowded, hot and hazy, with a lot of pollution and trash. But our location in the mountains was gorgeous.”
Jantsch’s team stayed at a campsite, complete with cots, a lack of running water and a woman that cooked for them. She recalls savoring the authentic Indian cuisine, especially since she doesn’t eat meat. “Some people struggled with it, definitely,” she admits. However, the food catered to Jantsch’s needs, and she relished in the atmosphere of no snacking.
In regards to the program itself, the mission revolved around empowering women in India. In the mornings, Jantsch worked at an all-girls school run by the government. “It looked like a run down garage,” she says. “We painted the insides and put up charts and pictures.” In the afternoon, she embarked on community visits, traveling in small groups with a translator, stressing the importance of education for young girls.
Jantsch admits her appreciation for the weekend getaways, where she traveled to other parts of India. “It was fun to experience other parts of the country,” she says. “We even traveled to McLeod Ganj, the village of the Dalai Lama. We got to go through the whole temple and everything. The lifestyle and the people there were so nice and accepting.”
Tackling an issue such as women’s rights is no easy feat, according to Jantsch. “The status of women in India is improving, but it is very different than it is here,” she says. “When we went out on visits, we saw that a lot of younger girls were not getting an education.”
Jantsch began to see that the people in India possess a stagnant perspective regarding a woman’s role outside of the home. “Experiencing that and being treated that way was definitely hard and it was a hard adjustment,” she states.
Also, Jantsch expands on the fascination behind race in India. “Being white over there was challenging, people would stop on the street and just stare,” she says. She eventually got used to the constant stream of people following her and begging for money, but Jantsch admits that it was sometimes a struggle. “After three weeks it gets a little daunting.”
Upon completing her volunteer work in such a remote area, Jantsch gained a newfound perspective on global needs. “I definitely want to do more volunteer work. Going to India, I gained as much as I gave,” she says. “You always read about how people in the world are struggling, but when you see it, you reevaluate and reassess.” Although she may not return to India, Jantsch hopes to explore volunteer work in the United States in the near future.
Above all, she reaffirms the enjoyment she found in escaping everyday society. “It was nice to be unconnected and just wander through life for 30 days,” she says. “It was definitely a breath of fresh air.”
A Marketing major and Gender Studies minor, Jantsch enters the 2010 soccer season with high hopes. “Our goal every year is to make it to the final four,” she says. “Then again, we’re all getting fed up of just getting there, and we want to see a national championship.”
The 11-1-0 Fighting Irish, ranked fifth by the coaches and seventh by the national media, look to make those dreams a reality. They face Seton Hall in a BIG EAST contest at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8 at Alumni Stadium.