Home India India 101: The First Month

India 101: The First Month

by Gianelle Alba

I am studying at the University of Hyderabad as a foreign student, taking courses such in Sociology. Some of my courses include The Sociology of Gender, Society and Sexuality, Hindi, and field work to study marginalized communities.

Tagore/Campus

The campus is huge! You might have to walk about 2-3 miles just to get to class! But it is gorgeous. The campus is full of nature – exotic animals and quiet places to sit down and read a book. There is this secluded place deep in the woods where all the peacocks dwell, and places with wonderful names like Buffalo Lake, Peacock Lake and Mushroom Rock. Although the campus is spread out, it is fairly easy to get around. Most students cycle around campus and you can even get your own bike. Other students take the shuttle, which is very unreliable and other students, me included, hitch rides.

Classes/Picking a Schedule

When they told me things worked a little differently in India in terms of picking classes, I wasn’t really sure what it meant. I didn’t realize how frustrating it was until I actually got here. Before coming, I had courses pre-approved by my advisor so the credits will go towards my major. However, when I got here, two of the classes were not being offered. But the university and my school were more than happy to accommodate me so that all my classes here transfer. In the first two weeks of the semester, there is a period where students are encouraged to “shop around for classes”, which means, attend all the classes you are interested in until you finalize a schedule based on which ones you liked.

Making Friends

Upon your arrival, you will have already spent a week with your AIFS group and it is easy to get comfortable and make fast friends on a small program like this. But don’t limit yourself to one group of friends. Meet people, both at school (Tagore) as well as local Indians. Tagore alone has such a diverse group of students, undergraduate, Master’s and phD students from all over the U.S. and the world.

Although you are here to attend class, get the best grades possible and have fun, don’t forget to network! Knowing people is useful on personal basis and also good business sense. I highly encourage you to make friends with Indian students. For the most part, they are all friendly and will help you navigate the campus. But they are also genuinely interested in who you are. They can give you the real scoop on the Do’s and Don’ts: where to go and what places to avoid, the best ways to travel, how to avoid getting over charged, but most importantly they will debunk every horror story or misconception you have ever read or been told about India. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, as long as you are polite and respectful, people will generally accept you.

One thing you will realize is that these Indian students are just like you! They are young, they are finding themselves, they spend time with friends having fun, they socialize on and off campus, they are regular 20 something year old adults who for the most part are interested in global issues, social justice issues, and also have their own personal dramas that all people our age do.

 How to Dress

“You already stand out, nothing you say or do can make you fit in here so just be yourself!” This was the most helpful advice an Indian classmate gave me a few weeks into being on campus. Although, it is looked down upon for both men and women to show a lot of skin (wearing shorts, low cut shirts, tank tops, short skirts, cropped tops, etc.) you will find that most students wear very western clothes (jeans and a t-shirt or flannel button up). This conversation came up because I was having trouble finding Indian clothes that suited my own personal style, therefore I stuck with wearing the western clothes I had brought with me.

Most American students went to the mall or local markets and spent a lot of money buying Indian clothes in order to ‘blend-in’ more with the culture. But Indian students themselves wear both Indian dress and western clothes, whatever they are in the mood for that day. I decided that I felt more comfortable in a cotton t-shirt and loose pants. However, most people, if not all, do not dress flashy. Rarely you will see a girl wearing make up beyond eyeliner, on campus or off. They don’t wear flashy jewelry or any accessory that stand out too much. People here dress for comfort rather than fashion. Just be yourself, while also being cautious of anything too expensive or flashy. Most countries have this perception of Americans being extremely wealthy, so wearing anything too flashy can make you a target for drivers or vendors to over- charge you.

The Mall

You may find comfort in the mall because it is modern and you will see familiar stores and brands from back home. I try to avoid the mall as much as possible for a number of reasons: American/western products are more than double the cost here, food chains like Dominos and KFC will have an Indian spin to it so it won’t taste like expect, clothes are expensive when you are thinking in terms of Rupees. The clothes you can buy at the mall can also be found in bazaars for less than half the price. You didn’t come to India to be a tourist. You can immerse yourself in the culture so branch out and see India. Don’t miss out on the fun of going to a local market and bargaining for a skirt or a handmade necklace. Don’t miss out on the culture of bazaars and seeing how average Indians shop.

Food

The food will be spicy, the food will be different from the Indian food you had in America, the food will make you sick.

There are facts and ones you need to accept. If you go to a restaurant, expect the food to be spicy, very spicy! Expect to be served a large portion and for the food to be authentic, not like the Indian food in the States. If you wish for it not to be spicy, don’t ask for mild or regular–spicy is regular for them–ask for non-spicy and they will understand. Most of the time they assume Americans can’t handle the spice and will tone it down for you upon request, or at least warn you that it is spicy.

This is authentic Indian food, as you would expect in India. You may love Indian food back home, but in order to cater to an American crowd, they toned down the spices and flavor of the food. Authentic Indian food will be very different. But you will not be disappointed! The food is delicious and the portions are big and plentiful.

Finally, you will get sick. It’s just a matter of time before you have stomach aches or a serious case of traveler’s diarrhea and that is perfectly normal. You aren’t used to the food, how it is cooked and the spices that goes into it. Just be careful not to eat any uncooked vegetables or salad–it could have been washed with unclean water and that will surely call for a trip to the doctor. Avoid ice in drinks or fresh fruit juices and smoothies. Also avoids sketchy places like a stand selling chicken sandwiches or any food that looks like it has been sitting out for a while. Restaurants, especially those recommended by local Indians are your best bet, and the prices will always satisfy.

Money

During the first two weeks here, I was amazed at how cheap everything was. I converted all the prices into American dollars and compared them to American prices as well. I thought my purchases were a good deal until I realized I was over-paying for everything! Stop thinking like an American in terms of money and think only in terms of Rupees. Once you start doing that, you will be able to bargain for clothes and rickshaw rides and pay exactly what it is worth. As soon as you get here, change at least half of your cash into rupees but never carry all your cash with you. Carry only the cash you will need, a copy of your passport and your U o H school ID as well as your international insurance card. Anything else should be left somewhere safe in your dorm room. When you go out and pay for something, don’t take all your money out of your wallet and count it; discretely pull out the necessary bills. And carry small bills so that it is easy to pay drivers.

Planning Trips

Planning trips are so easy and inexpensive. Hyderabad is a beautiful city but India is a place made up of so many unique destinations. Find a travel book or visit blogs and find a place you would like to visit. I have planned a trip to Nagar Sujar, Mumbair, Gorg, Sikem and Varanasi with a group of other studetns. Find people who want to go to the same places and plan a nice weekend trip together. Some cities are more expensive than others so keep that in mind when you are booking hotels and flights.

Exploring on Your Own

Before I got here, I was told not travel on my own by friends and family. Mostly, I was told this because I am female and they want to make sure that I am safe. Although it is always safer to travel with another person, don’t be afraid to travel on your own. Visit markets, the tailor and other errands on your own. You won’t be stared at as much if you are on your own and it’s easier to get around in my opinion. However, I would not recommend traveling on your own after sun down, whether it is in India or back in the states I refrain from traveling on my own at night, especially to clubs and bars. Please always have a friend or travel in a group at night. Make sure to have a secure buddy system and exchange numbers!

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