My current impressions of India are based off of my personal
experiences as well as some of my own pre-enrollment research. However, I find
it difficult at times that, having grown up in two vastly different cultures, I
am expected to be an expert on both. The harsh reality is that I don't know
enough about either and most of my "smarts" can be chalked up to the "street"
category rather than "book." The following represents what I currently know
about India and how it shapes my expectations for our upcoming trip.
I think it's safe to say that out of my classmates, I have the most experience with Indian culture. However, India is a LARGE country with MANY subcultures, and my knowledge is limited. That being said, I know that India has many "official" languages, the two most common being English and Hindi. I can speak, understand, read, and write Hindi proficiently, but I have a feeling that with the locations we are visiting, I won't really need this skill. Even more dormant will be my knowledge of the Punjabi language and culture (except maybe with an auto-rickshaw driver in Dehli). Almost all of my time in India has been spent north of Delhi; the furthest south I have been is Bombay, and even there they mostly speak English. I know that the extent of my background could be very helpful in Delhi, but in Agra and Bangalore, I will be just as much of a tourist as any of my other classmates (unless of course there is a pop quiz on the national anthem...then I win again)!
As far as religion, I know that Hinduism is common nationwide, Sikhism is popular in the northwest, Islam is sprinkled throughout the country, and Christianity is more popular in the south. When it comes to cuisine, I have to say I stick to my roots and truly enjoy north Indian dishes. However, I do know of some south Indian dishes that might be fun to try in Bangalore. Economically, I know little to nothing about India besides the currency and the fact that it is RAPIDLY changing. I haven't been in 7 years, and I know I will be extremely surprised to see how far even the Delhi airport has come since then. When it comes to entertainment, I love Bollywood movies and music, and I perform Bollywood and Bhangra (Punjabi) dancing, but never anything classical.
In other basic knowledge, I know not to look anyone in the eye that is a) older than me, b) a male, or c) a stranger. I know that my shoes, clothes, and skin will get dirty beyond belief, and I know it's probably a good idea to carry a toilet paper substitute and hand sanitizer at all times. I know that I'll want chai everywhere we go, and it will be readily available at every corner. I'm well aware that for at least one day, I will be on-my-death-bed ill, and then I'll immediately bounce back. I know I'll have to keep being reminded to guard my purse with my life at all times, and I know I'll be picked out by the locals as an "American" the second I step foot off the plane.
That all being said, there's one more thing that I know
about India, and it's probably the most important: I don't know enough. I'm
incredibly excited to go on this trip because it means something to me personally;
I get to learn about my cultural roots first-hand. I am traveling with and
open mind and using my prior experience merely as a guide. Most Americans classify me as Indian, and most Indians classify me as American, but I'm going to try to use this conundrum to the best of my ability on this trip.
47 days to go!