Culture Shock: Arriving for the First Time in India

Posted by Helena Trapero • Friday, February 18. 2011 • Category: Crossing Cultures
When I first applied for an internship in India all I could think of was: chaos, dust, traffic jams, smells, and millions of poor people. That was my preconceived image of India. Much of what I had in mind was basically negative, but at the same time all the people I know that have been to India told me that India is an amazing country, that I will enjoy it a lot and that making an internship there will change my life. I did not understand that completely, but as I like my life to be uncertain, as I love not to know what is going to happen tomorrow and as I truly believe in CARPE DIEM: I thought I should just do it.

By John Haslam
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/foxypar4/3360294089/]

Then straightaway I thought to myself: “Please forget all your preconceived ideas of India. Don´t expect anything; try not to imagine how it will be. Just arrive and enjoy!” When I finally arrived I found that it wasn´t just culture shock, it was a cultural boundary that I had to cross.

In Europe I´m used to being capable to do whatever I want. Take a taxi, take the metro or the bus to get to wherever I want to go. Here it is different: I wasn’t even able to find out online how to manage to get to the places I wanted to go. I couldn´t take an auto-rickshaw because they didn´t want to take me. The first days I didn´t know where the nearest metro station was so I couldn´t reach it. No way of getting out of my house just to do some sightseeing. I felt completely inhibited! I was feeling like a child always needing someone to take me by the hand.

By Quinn Comendant
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/qcom/5370209299/]

I will never forget the first time I tried to catch an auto-rickshaw without help. I was trying to get to Delhi's fancy Select Citywalk shopping mall at 9PM from my residence. I stayed in the street for an hour, I asked maybe 5 or 6 auto-rickshaw drivers and they all told me that they were not interested in that ride. It ended up becoming an impossible mission. Then a random guy started pestering me with questions and following me around… That is when I decided that I should go home…

Then I found myself back in my room devastated by a new culture, by a new country. I didn´t have enough strength to enjoy the moment. Not at that time. I went to sleep. And the morning after everything was just different. All the night I was thinking: this country is spectacular, contradictory and very very hard, so I have to change my point of view if I want to survive here.

I need to leave my European “eyes” and have to start learning from everything and everybody in India. I have to accept that here everything is different, more chaotic and more dirty, but it doesn´t mean that it is not as good as Europe. It is just different and if I have to live here for a while so I better get used to all this and stop making comparisons between two entirely different worlds all the time.

By Carol Mitchell
[http://www.flickr.com/photos/webethere/2705695847/]

The international tourism slogan for India is: Incredible India. I would never be able to choose any better one. Incredible India means that everything can happen here. You can see a line of elephants walking on a main road in Delhi or men emptying their bowels in the middle of the street, just in front of everyone. You will also be able to see people asking for food on many traffic lights. You will be able to see an entire family riding on a tiny motorbike. You will also be able to see a diverse mix of rich Indians and international expats trying to forget that they are in India for a while.

You have to be prepared to adjust to whatever India will offer to you. If you are able to open your mind and become more receptive, you will enjoy India as other foreigners did in the past. You will find a rich culture full of amazing people that show you that life is not only about money, nice jobs, big houses, and the daily rat race – at least not here, in Incredible India. If you survive India, for sure then you will be able to live in any other country in the world, or so they say. The capacity to adapt that you will develop when moving to India will make you strong enough to make it almost anywhere else on our planet!

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