Forget Everything You Thought You Knew... Seriously

Authored by:
Kira A.

Kira A.

It has been my experience that people who study abroad in India don’t choose to do so on a whim, or at least they usually aren’t as impulsive in their decision as people who choose to study in more Western-oriented countries. Instead, people come here because they feel whatever perception of the country that they have tugging at their heart and mind. For me and others, we all knew about the Taj Mahal, but perhaps we were also drawn by the religions, or the history, or the food or the colors. Then, as we made our choice on where to study abroad, we had to deal with questions from less-educated relatives like, "Why are you studying in a third-world country?", or comments from Non Resident Indian friends who say that they would never choose to go to India for formal education. In addition, young women like me have to deal with even more questions from anxious parents and friends who have read void-of-content statistics on violence against women in this country. To make a long story short, everyone travels to India with expectations of what this nation and culture will be like, for better or for worse.

My advice to you; leave all of those expectations at the airport.

This may seem like intuitive advice, but I mean it. Do not come to India with any desired standard of what life here is going to be like. Because if you do, you will most certainly be proved wrong, and you might wrongly disappoint yourself. 

I made the mistake of initially not following this advice; not only because before I came here, I had been studying India's politics and culture for nearly three years of university education, but because after spending the summer living in Jaipur in Northern India, I just assumed that every town in India would be exactly like that one. And I was wrong. From where I lived in Jaipur, to where I am studying now with CIEE, I have only traveled the width of Texas-- but these areas could not be more different. The language, the culture, the traffic, the religious customs, the fact that one area loves eating bread while the other loves eating rice! And in the beginning, it was discouraging, because I assumed that my prior knowledge of India would help me guide my less knowledgeable peers, when in reality I needed to be guided, like everyone else, in the mannerisms of a country I will never be native to.

This post does not mean to sound disconcerting or frightening. Rather, I would like to remind my readers of something that they most likely already know, but may not be able to admit until they take their first step in this beautiful country. If you have made the decision to study in India, or are thinking of doing so, then congratulations! You have already done more to try and understand a new side of the world than most Americans will their whole lifetime. However, your learning and reshaping of what India is should never stop; especially not when you get into your first taxi or take your first university class. If you take away anything from this, know that you should come to India with the expectation that you will learn, that you will be surprised, and, if you keep an open mind, that you will have fun no matter what.

Two Photos - 6 months and 1500 km apart


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