India is made up of many different cultures and lifestyles. Although it has incredible temples, breathtaking views, and stellar food, everyday life here does not resemble a Bollywood film. India is still very much a developing country, and therefore studying abroad here can be challenging at times. From poverty in the streets to frequent power outages, life is much different. Yet it is in these instances that you can get to know yourself on a deeper level and grow immensely.
Expecting the following might help ease culture shock when you arrive:
Bathrooms and showers. Bathrooms are not typically supplied with toilet paper, so carry tissues. Because of the way hot water is supplied, bucket showers are the norm for many households. It’s a little hard to get used to, but soon you’ll be a pro.
Beggars. Beggars often approach on the road. It is advised not to give money to them because they usually are part of networks and do not receive the money you give them. It can be very difficult, but it is best to stand your ground and say no.
Getting around. India is home to 1.3 billion people—and a lot of vehicles. Traffic laws are loosely followed, which can make crossing streets challenging. The main source of transportation for students is auto rickshaws, like mini taxis. Write down or memorize the address of your destination in the local language to make sure you get where you’re going. Uber and Ola (an Indian ride sharing app) are also easy to use and can be the cheapest options.
Language. Many people know a little English, but Hindi and local languages are much more commonly used. Learning some basic Hindi phrases goes a long way.
Power and water outages. India’s power grid is not as developed as that in the U.S., and sometimes there is not enough electricity to power the entire city. Depending on where you are, expect a couple power outages a week, each lasting one to two hours. Sometimes there are water shortages. When this happens, many families stock up on water and wait. It usually does not last for more than one day.
Trash and pollution. Be prepared to see a lot of trash on the streets and feel pollution in the air. Often times people tie scarves around their head to avoid directly breathing the air.
It’s normal to feel culture shock and homesickness while you’re abroad. It happens to everyone to some degree. And when it does, know how to help yourself feel better, whether it’s watching your favorite TV show or taking a walk with your favorite music. When there was a power outage at my house, I decided to walk around my neighborhood and discovered a park I had no idea existed. I now go there often with my favorite book and a cup of tea—and it made me realize some things do happen for a reason!
—Jessica H. (George Washington University), IFSA Contemporary India, IFSA Work-to-Study program health and safety advisor