Friday, June 26, 2009

Adjusting in New Culture: Going Out of India

It doesn't matter what is your background in India, but when you go out for the first time, the difference of culture from India to any other developed country is so strong that you will need openness and time to adjust in new country. Here are some random thoughts based on my experiences:

- Food is the biggest problem and weakness of all Indians, so learn to cook before you go out of India, specially if you are not married and going out alone. It is easy to get grocery and spices in almost all countries but cooked food is not easy specially on daily basis. I have specially seen boys struggling more because they are used to of services from mother, sisters or other family member. Without this skill it will be very hard to survive unless you find a room partner who loves to cook.

- Be yourself. Most of the other part of the world is non-vegetarian, but you don't have to eat meat if you don't want to. It is always possible to get simple vegetarian food like bread and salad everywhere and most of the restaurants carry at least one or two vegetarian dishes. You will need to learn to eat non-spicy food on occasion though.

- Be open. Many times Indians tend to stick to other Indians and don't try to understand the other culture they are living in. There are good things in all cultures and there are nice people everywhere. It will be much easy for you to adjust if you mix with other nationalities and local people as well. Most of the campuses in the world are multi-national and multi-racial, and it is easy to make friends.

- Be polite. This is specially important. In our culture specially in north India, it is not very common to say thank you all the time, but in developed world it is consider very impolite if you don't thank for every small good gesture of known and unknown person. "Sorry" and "Please" are two words hard to come by for Indians. It takes a while to start using all the pleasantries, but you will need to learn them sooner then later.

- Try to learn something about the country you are visiting. All countries and cultures are very different. They look same if you are looking from an Indian eye, but they are not. Germans are different than French and Russians are different than Americans. It is very common in India to say that any thing which is not Indian is western, but that is not the case. My Russian friend always complains that Russia is in the north of India and not in west and his culture is very different then American culture, but in most cases Indians are insensitive about this difference and bundle him with other nationalities.

- In many culture it is considered completely normal to drink in social setting.

- Many cultures give freedom to individual how and what they want to dress. Be respectful to your colleagues for their right on the choice of their dressing. This one is specially hard for many Indians and I have seen they make comments in their language. Probably your colleague will not understand your language but they will definitely understand your gesture.

- Be ready for the questions related to India's history and other social settings. It is a curiosity for many people and they will ask you many questions about India, its places and history, its cast and social structure, poverty, about slums after success of "slumdog millionaire" and so on. In most cases it is curiosity about your country, so don't feel offended. Try to give honest answer.

- If you are south Indian, please try to learn something about north India and vice verse. I have seen people giving misinformation about their own country because they have never visited or thought about other part of the country. Please remember that for other nationals, you are all Indians irrespective of your differences between north and south India.

- And finally, there are Indians everywhere, so don't worry. You will always find someone to help you to navigate the system.

I will add more things as it will come to mind, but for now I think this could be a simple guide for anyone who is considering going out of India for any purpose, whether for study or for work.


Santhosh Veigas said...

I completely agree with this list.
I just came almost a year ago to US to pursue MS and find everything that you said absolutely true.

Maybe one more thing to add- Something I have found Americans complain about Indians- that we smell Mustard, spices etc. It is true given the very nature of Indian Cooking and Lack of ventilation in most US apartments.

So use some strong perfumes or figure your way out of this :)

Jennifer said...

Hi. Nice post.

When you mention that people (Indians, for instance) lump Russians into the 'westerner' category, I believe this is not a cultural distinction- as even your Russian friend pointed out, but a racial one based solely on skin color. Try to be sensitive to that as even

Far as North Indians not know much about South Indians and visa versa... I don't really see anything wrong in it personally. This is because even Americans, for instance, don't know certain things about different parts of their own country either. I live in a town in New York state, but when I tell people from other states I am from New York they say - 'They City (meaning New York City)- that's a dangerous place'. Of course even that phrase has alot of stereotypes. Any city- any place for that matter can be dangerous, or safe... :)

Just like not all Indians are poor or not all Indians are software engineers (as some Americans think...)