First thing you should get to work on is your Passport.  (If you already have a passport get moving on your Visa-see below)
If you do NOT have a passport you can apply for one at a US Post Office.  Not all post offices have a Passport facility so find one that does. When applying for a passport you will need a birth certificate and a 2x2 photo.  Passport photos  can be taken for you for something like $9.99 at a local CVS, Wal-Mart or photo store.
Costco offers them for $4.99 (for 2 photos)
You will need 1 photo for your passport and 2 photos for your Visa.
You can take your own photos but they must meet the requirements.

 I took our passport photos and printed them on photo paper. They must be in color, straight on, head shot,white background and normal clothes (no hats, or uniforms).  Size 2x2  

Some facilities process passports by appointments only on weekends so plan accordingly. 

If you are applying for a child (under 18)  all of the above is applied but BOTH parents must be present with the child at the time you hand in the application.  This is where it would be wise to pay attention if it’s by appointment only.

ID you will need:

  • Original Birth Certificate.  Recently, the government has decided NOT to accept small (business card size) birth certificates as legitimate certificates- even though they have the seal stamp and were once accepted as such.  You must use the large full page one.
  • Social Security Number.  You won't need the card itself, but the number is needed on the application.

If you are planning on leaving for your session in less than 2 months I would suggest you expedite your passport in order to get your visa complete too.
Once you’ve received your Passport you must apply for a VISA.

Still have questions?  Email me!


Is American money accepted or do we need to exchange it?

You will want to exchange your currency into Rupees when you go. (Indian currency is called Rupee)  Most Indians won't take your American cash because they have to carry a Passport to exchange it for Rupees.

The best way to do this is at a Money Exchange.

I did this at the Chennai airport while waiting for my luggage but ATM's are available at the Hotel and the Rising Star drivers will stop at some while your out and about.  

Depending where you depart, your airport might be able to exchange it at the beginning of your trip.  If you decide to do it in Chennai the Currency Exchange is next to the baggage claim.
**You will need your passport to do this.

As of Feb 2014 the conversion rate from American dollars to Rupees is close to 60.5.
Visit Dollars2rupees to see a conversion calculator.

I found it very handy to carry a calculator with my rupees.  The Indians love to spit prices at you with a big smile and I liked to have the calculator ready.

It becomes a fun game of communicating through calculators.  They get out their calculators and show me their price and I’d get out mine and show them my price.  

They want to give you "Best American Price."   With your calculator, you can decided if "American Price" isn't the best! 

How much do you recommend bringing?

Spending money isn’t a must.  You can enjoy the villages without purchasing anything.  Clothes, shoes, and trinkets aren’t that expensive if you bargain right.  A few hundred dollars will be plenty if you are thinking of souvenirs.
You can find ATM’s.  You will probably get hit with a fee from your bank.  
**It might also be a good idea to notify your bank of your India plans so they don’t freeze your account once you start purchasing in India.

Are there shopping opportunities?
Yes, you will have opportunities to shop.  On Weekends you will be tourists.  

On days when you leave Rising Star Campus, to work in Villages, sometimes the drivers  stop at gas stations, grocery stores or at the Junction. (center of villages) 
I loaded up on Ice Cream for the ride (it won't last the ride home).   Other favorites were Henna paint, Mango juice, and soda.
Volunteers love to buy Henna paint then have the "House Mothers" at Rising Star apply it.

If you arrive in Chennai before your session (and you aren’t sleep deprived), or if you are leaving a day after your Session- there are several places to shop.  Chennai is a big city.   Taxi’s are outside the hotel all the time.
Click here for Taxi info.

Still have Questions?  Email Me!


Taxi’s come in many shapes and sizes in India.  Another name is Rickshaw.  The one above is a common one.  This is what the Taxi's at the airport look like (Below):
This is the bicycle rickshaw you will experience in New Delhi if you take that optional tour:

 The above picture gives a great visual of how it feels if you have a driver that is showing off.  At some point, if you are shopping, you will come across large groups of Indian men beckoning you to take THEIR taxi.  It's a crazy experience.  They jump and wave their arms, yelling all sorts of flattering words at you hoping you will choose them to be your driver.
Let me send a word of caution...choose "WISELY"  
Of course, I picked the young handsome man to drive me and my friend back to our hotel.  BIG MISTAKE!  I feared for my life.  He was a show off.  Of all the taxi rides, his was NOT cool.  So, if you get to choose your driver pick the quiet one or the OLD man!  

I found anytime I got in a vehicle it was an “experience.”  I'll clarify that with a FUN experience. (Except for the above mentioned)  The drivers are kind and usually chat along the way.   I felt safe.  But always use caution.
Be sure to ask the price BEFORE you get in the Taxi, and take a business card from the Hotel so you know where to return! :0
The Hotel staff are great resources too.  They are very helpful.  Ask them how much they would pay for a taxi to your destination.  Then you can talk your taxi driver down to your price.

Still Have Questions?  Email me!

 I will post shopping mall addresses soon.

What to Wear

We only dressed up in these for pictures.  
Some wore them on Sunday for Church services.


  Well, the good news is if your female- you don't need to pack very much clothing.  Not because it's hot in India and you won't be wearing much, it's actually quite the opposite.  
Yes, it is very hot in India but the women are very modest!
While you are in India you will dress in traditional Indian clothing, which means no tight fitting clothes. (top or bottom)
Rising Star has loads of beautiful, comfortable Indian clothing in many shapes and sizes that you get to help yourself to each day.  At the end of the day it is washed and ready for the next person.  It's fun to wear these clothes.
You will want to bring clothes to wear for the days you will be doing construction. (projects)  
You will sweat a lot so choose things accordingly.  
Again, nothing tight on top or bottom.  Loose shirts and athletic shorts are great. (No short shorts)  I wore clothes I would wear to the gym and learned they were too tight.  Let me stress the word "Baggy"

Most days you are fine wearing flip flops but you will want sneakers for the construction days and the days you will be in colonies.
Long Skirts are great.
These are Rising Star Clothes

Bringing your own leggings is handy.  They are worn with long shirt-like tops. (see above photo)
 Having your own leggings ensures you will have some that fit your body type. (it's ok to have leggings as long as you're wearing LONG tops)

On weekends you will be "tourists."  
You can wear your American clothes when you leave campus if you desire or you can continue to wear the Indian clothes. This is a time you can purchase your own Indian clothing too.
I had this Tailor made in a village

If you choose to worship on Sunday plan accordingly.  A Rising Star van does travel into Chennai for LDS Sunday services.
It's always fun to dress up for photos in the beautiful Sari's.  That is- if you can figure out how to get it on.

Unfortunately, the men don't get the same treatment as the women.  They will need to bring all their clothing.  Shorts are fine.  Here are some idea's:

Remember, wash is done daily so packing lightly is alright.

Still Have Questions?  Email Me!



This is what a typical dinner looks like.
It's always rice.  I loved every variation of it too!
Mangos (when in season), cucumbers, and a sauce for the rice are staples.
We eat as a group on the roof.

A banana leaf for a plate...
easy clean up, right?

Oh, and you eat with your hands!

Dinner time is fun because we take time to share the Highs and Lows of the day.  During this time you learn about what other groups did during the day too.



I LOVED this.  It's Sambar.  I especially like it with Coconut Chutney.  Rising Star serves it with lunch and dinner sometimes too. This is a traditional Indian Breakfast.

In your packet they ask you to bring in a large bag of cereal (or a breakfast food) to share with your session.  I brought the Costco size of this:
I just dumped them out in my luggage to fill the spaces.

Once the donated food is gone... it's gone.
I brought cinnamon, syrup and vanilla then used Rising Star's bread, eggs and milk, to make 
French Toast!  That was a big hit.
Most mornings it seemed everyone ate cold cereal.  The milk at Rising Star comes in a box.  I think it was Nestle.

I'm funny about milk so I didn't use it.  (I have brought my own Rice Milk.)

Breakfast is also available in the cafeteria with the kids.  I never ate breakfast with them though.  It's rice...and something :)

Some other breakfast ideas are:
eggs and toast (both provided)
fruit (provided) bring Nutella?
French Toast (bread and eggs provided)
pancakes (bring the mix and cook it in a pan)
or LOTS of cold cereal (milk provided) 

Still have questions?  Email Me!

Lunch/Extra meals/snacks


If you are working at the school during the day you will eat lunch with the kids.
This was my favorite!  

Here is an idea of what lunch time is like:

On days that you will be in the colonies you will need to pack a lunch.

I used these for my lunch:
Snapware + Built - Black Lunch Kit
I bought this at Costco too, but they've since disappeared.  These are great for India because the containers fit in the tote and it eliminates trash from baggies.  Sometimes I stored leftover dinner in them and ate it for lunch the days I went to the colonies. (You need to pack a lunch those days-provided with your own food)

Idea's for lunch:
Remember, bread and fruit is provided.


Only boiling needed for this:
I brought this with spaghetti:

for sweet cravings:

great for salt cravings:

or this has less sugar:

Malaria, Vitamins, Lice, & More

I will tell you all the volunteers in my session DID take Malaria pills.  I took an alternative method and a handful of other things.  

The Malaria pills may not settle well with you.  If you have time make sure you have found one, with your doctors help, that won't make you ill all day.  I heard taking them at night helps too.
Malaria is pretty serious.  Learn about it here.
The only time I noticed a mosquito was when I climbed into a taxi at the airport.  I wasn't in India for even an hour and one took a taste test of me!  I don't recall them being a problem at Rising Star.


I took an Advanced Probioticgrapefruit seed extract, and a Multi Vitamin every morning.  It's a good idea to start taking any vitamins a few weeks before you go.

I didn't get sick while I was there but it is VERY common to get diarrhea.  During the 2nd week a lot of people seemed to have the same issue and needed to stay near the bathrooms for 24 hours then it was gone.  Bring some Imodium, Pepto Bismol, or something like that.  I didn't have that on hand and wish I had.   
I had an issue where it felt like I had a pile of rocks in my stomach after I ate a certain dinner or Trail mix but didn't have anything to relieve it.
Bring sunscreen with a bug/mosquito repellent.  Some days you will be in the sun ALL day.  It is hot.  Sunscreen is a must!  Having a small towel can be handy on days you are doing projects.  Wiping your eyes with gloves is a pain.

I carried homeopathic motion sickness pills with me ALL the time.  I get sick easily (even when I am driving)  I don't like how Dramamine makes me feel so I tried this:
Hyland's Natural Relief Motion Sickness Tablets
I admit I was hesitant because I NEEDED it to work.  They were fabulous!  I didn't get sick at all during any of my flights.  I thought maybe I was cured of the motion sickness thing- so I didn't take one for a 30 min flight...I almost tossed my cookies!  
They work!  
I kept them in my backpack that I carried everywhere because the roads are crazy bumpy and sometimes our trips took a long time with traffic and its HOT.


I didn't get lice.  I've been there 3 times. I did used this Lice Shampoo.  It's supposed to repel lice...
I'm not sure if this is why I didn't get lice.  I do know the Rising Star kids do get lice often.  I think the Americans freak out about it more than they should.  It comes with the territory.  I actually have my kids use this weekly during the school year.  They have outbreaks in their American classes all the time!! We've never had it.

The girls LOVE to play with your hair.  Most volunteers take the chance and let them.  Lice doesn't show up until 10 days out.  You might be home by the time you realized you have it.  Maybe that's why I didn't hear about anyone getting it.
I did bring RID just in case then left it in the Hostel for one not as lucky as me.  Several boxes of RID have been left behind at Rising Star, so a supply is there.

Still have Questions?  Email me!



Are there specific vaccinations required to travel to India?
I pulled this answer right off the travisa outsourcing Q&A page:
Answer: The Indian Embassy does not require any specific vaccinations for travelers to obtain a visa to India. However, you may want to check with your local doctor for suggested vaccinations for your travel destination(s).
 If you feel you do want to immunize these would be a good choice:
Hep A,
Hep B,
Of all of these MALARIA is a MUST.

I took Homeopathy Immunizations and I have heard of other Volunteers doing this too.  

For Malaria, my Homeopathic gave me
a dose 2 weeks before I went to India  
A dose when I arrived 
and then a final dose when I returned.  
I didn't have to deal with the daily pill or sickness that may come with it.
It has worked for my 3 trips. 

I also took a round of Travel Immunizations. Travel Immunizations are effective for shorter amounts of time.  So, I was covered for the above immunizations for just a few months. (I was fully immunized as a child but chose this method instead of boosters)

If you are interested in alternative vaccinations find a Homeopathic Doctor in your area.

In fact, Homeopathy began in India!  Google "India and Homeopathy" to learn more.

This is what Homeopathy pills look like.  They are tasteless tiny balls you put under your tongue to dissolve.  

Still Have Questions?  Email Me!