It’s been exactly 2 weeks since I first stepped foot in the vast and beautiful country of India. I was exhausted from 25+ hours of traveling and a crazy 10 ½ hour time change from Indianapolis to Bangalore. While I traveled on and off planes to India, I observed women rocking all colors of the rainbow, wearing their beautiful saris and kurtas, which are both traditional Indian women’s wear. Many women also wear muslim attire such as hijab and burkas. I was impressed to see such religious diversity, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about it. Within the past 2 weeks I took a tour of the southern state of Kerala, experienced south Indian cultural customs, settled into my apartment in Bangalore, and went through a tremendous amount of cultural shock.
Kerala is a state known for it’s natural ayurvedic healing techniques, an ancient theatre performance Kathakali, and its vast variety of freshly grown tea and spices. The first two days in Kerala were full of fresh air and beautiful scenery of forest filled mountain ranges. We stayed in a luxurious hotel in the town of Munnar. There are thousands of different species of plants, spices and trees that grow in these green hills. The locals are well versed in different ways to utilize the forest for medicinal purposes. We had the chance to visit an ayurvedic spice garden, where we saw ingredients and spices grown for ayurvedic products. I bought some ayurvedic hair oil with blue indigo as the main ingredient, so hopefully it makes my hair stronger ans more healthy! The next day we explored around town, and I couldn’t help but notice that everyone stared at my group and I. In southern India, its not considered rude to openly stare at people for long periods of time, and I definitely am not used to this. It was actually one of the cultural norms that started to put me into culture shock. That night we watched a local martial arts and theatre performance called Kathakali, which many people claim is older than Hinduism. During the play, performers wore very colorful makeup and dressed up in extravagant costumes. It was very hard to follow the play because I had no historical or cultural context prior to viewing it. After the play, we watched the martial arts performance where men jumped through hoops set on fire and fought each other with metal swords and shields.
We ended our beautiful 2 day tour of Munnar with the most relaxing boat ride of my life on a huge house boat hand made out of dried bamboo plants. The boat consisted of 2 bedrooms, a living room area, a leisure swing, and an upstairs viewing deck. The views of palm trees and flowing river waters were to die for.
I was disappointed to leave the mountain region of Munnar and leave for a nearby city Cochi. Ths city was my first taste of the excessive amount of air pollution in India. The streets were clouded with dust and there were tons of cars crowding the streets. Despite the pollution, I loved touring the city and eating the local food. My favorite part of touring Cochi was a sunset cruise on the last night. The students were able to dance and party with local families on a 3 hour long boat ride across the ocean. There was Karaoke and Bollywood dancing, and we all had a lot of fun. By the end of the Kerala tour I was ready to get settled into my college town Bangalore in the state of Karnataka. I was ready to explore the city and move into my apartment.
In India, almost every single cultural norm is opposite of the United States. Off is down, on is up, driving is on the left side of the road, honking isn’t a sign of frustration, waiting lines don’t exist and road rules don’t exist either.
I’ve only been here two weeks and the culture shock in Bangalore is indescribable. The cars are honking 24 hours a day and the streets are always bustling. I am also not used to the smells of the streets yet, and transportation around a city with 10 million people is not easy to navigate. It’s crazy to go from such a tiny campus where every commute is less than 5 minutes, to a huge city where the daily commute to campus is 45 minutes to an hour. I’m also living on my own for the first time and learning to cook my own food, which is really exciting! I made spaghetti for the first time yesterday, and I was really proud of how it came out, plus I got a little taste of home!
I hope that I am able to process my own cultural bias and culture shock better in the upcoming week. These past two weeks have been both amazing and stressful, everyday has been an emotional rollercoaster. Trying to live in a completely different culture is very rewarding, but the culture shock experience can be frustrating and emotionally draining. Since classes start tomorrow I will be able to get into the full swing of things and start to develop a routine. I can’t wait to immerse myself more into the culture and livelihood of Bangalore!