Culture Shock is defined as the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar way of life or set of attitudes. This summer I was lucky enough to travel to Bangalore, India to study abroad for two weeks. Bangalore is located in the middle south of India and is known for being a rapidly modernizing tech capital. Although there are huge buildings and a lot of traffic, there’s still a sense of earlier Indian culture like food and flower markets on street corners.
Before I left for the trip in late May, I was told by multiple people to be careful while in an unfamiliar place. “Don’t make eye contact with men, especially don’t smile at them,” “Keep your valuable items in a pouch underneath your clothes,” “Make sure you’re completely covered up,” “Do not under any circumstances drink the water.” I guess maybe these things are typical to say to someone when going abroad but this was my first time and the constant “advice” I was getting wasn’t helping to calm my nerves at all. To add to the stress, I didn’t know any of the other students going on the trip. So here I am, going to an unfamiliar place, thousands of miles away from my comfort zone with a bunch of strangers. We all became amazing friends by the end of the trip and will forever share this bond but of course I didn’t know that at the time.
The plane landed in Bangalore around 8 p.m. and immediately I noticed something different: the airport was empty despite the fact that it wasn’t very late. There were a few people scattered about and the guy at the visa on arrival desk, which is exactly where we were headed. As we walked up to the desk he didn’t greet us or smile, just stared. He asked me to put my fingers on the glass pad to take my fingerprints then got annoyed with me when I didn’t do it correctly.
The first two days in Bangalore we went out and explored the city,even though we were very jet lagged being nine and a half hours ahead of the U.S. There was so much activity and color everywhere, but there were also stray dogs everywhere I looked. That was something that kind of shocked me, the fact that there were so many unattended dogs just roaming around and eating garbage – literally hundreds of them. Even after two weeks, I didn’t get used to seeing them everywhere. It’s a huge problem in the city and there hasn’t been an effective way to fix it yet.
Another thing I didn’t get used to – the constant stares. As a large group of Americans I guess we stood out to the natives. Wherever we went there would be people who asked to take pictures with us. At first we found it kind of flattering and funny but after it kept happening it was just odd and a little irritating. I was just trying to immerse myself in the culture but that was hard to do when I felt out of place.
There was also an incident when we were all sitting on our bus and a city bus pulled up next to us. The buses are usually packed and there aren’t doors so people just hop on. There was a guy holding onto a railing hanging out of the bus shouting things at us, but of course none of us knew what he was saying but our driver, an India native, heard him and started screaming something back at the man. Not being native, we didn’t know what he was saying either but he sounded very angry.
Another thing that was hard to get used to was the food, which was completely different from the types of food I eat here at home. Almost everything they serve in India is spicy, and not just a little, but a lot. Half of the time I wasn’t really sure what was in the food I was eating but some of it was very delicious. After a few days, however, my body couldn’t handle the spiciness of the food anymore so I ate white rice and toast to get everything settled again. One day we ended up going to a westernized restaurant and I ordered pasta with marinara sauce because I figured that would be safe but I was totally wrong – one of the spiciest meals I had the whole two weeks I was there.
Another thing was that we weren’t supposed to drink the tap water over there because it may contain harmful substances that the bodies of people who live there are used to but Americans aren’t. Meaning we could only drink bottled water, brush our teeth with bottled water, make sure we didn’t swallow any water while taking a shower, ask for no ice in our drinks and not eat any fruits or vegetables that had an outer layer that could’ve been washed in water. This was strange to me, not being able to just pick up something and eat it. I had to think about it and make sure it wouldn’t harm me. Having to use a bottle of water to brush my teeth every day was really hard to get used to because I’ve been conditioned to just turn on the faucet.
I was told so many times when I came to college that I should study abroad because it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself and I completely agree. Although going abroad is scary and being in a different culture can be overwhelming, it gives you a new perspective on the world we live in and makes you appreciate the things you have. I’m so lucky I got to experience a new place and I would 100 percent recommend studying abroad to anyone who is considering it. Culture shock doesn’t have to be a bad thing.