Lately, I’ve been talking to many people who are about to arrive in India, or who plan on coming here. This post was specially made for you, and for everyone else who plans on or who would like to know what it’s like to move to another country. Hopefully it will help you overcome the cultural shock in a soft manner.
- Setting expectations
One important thing before moving to another country, specially India, is setting expectations. Research about the country, do your homework. Once I met a girl who HATED India, because she really thought she would only find palaces and maharajas around here, believe it or not…So imagine her surprise when she arrived here. Know what you’re getting yourself into, research about good and bad aspects of the country. No country is perfect, no place is 100% good, but no place is 100% bad either. Many people I talked to before coming here advised me that India would be the most difficult experience of my life, but it would also be the best one. They were right.
These days on facebook, I showed a picture of the less beautiful side of India. I know I usually post only about the temples, palaces, wonders, so here is a small piece of reality…
This is my daily way to work. This is what I see every morning for the past 5 months.
I took these pictures today. Doesn’t seem very appealing at first, does it? Well, this is probably the first impression you get about India. Dust, crazy traffic, people everywhere, shops that are not very well kept, garbage in the streets, cows.
I just can’t get over the fact that in the beginning of the year I absolutely did NOT want to come to India. I kept telling people how much I didn’t want to come, even for tourism. I knew I would adapt, it was just out of sheer prejudice, out of an idea I thought I had about this place, even without ever being here before. Pictures like these are pretty much the only idea I had about the whole country. How ignorant. My dear Indian friends, I am VERY sorry I ever thought such things about your country. Really.
There is a quote by a famous Brazilian sailor and explorer, that translated to English would be something like this:
A man should travel. By himself, not by stories, images, books or TV. He needs to travel on his own, with his eyes and feet, to understand what he owns. This way, someday he can plant his own trees and give them their proper value. He needs to experience cold to enjoy heat, and the opposite as well. He needs to feel the distance and to have no shelter, in order to feel comfortable under his own roof. He needs to travel to places he does not know, so he will lose this arrogance that makes us see the world as we imagine it, and not as it really is or might be. This arrogance that makes us professors of what we have not seen, when we should just be students and go see it.” – Amyr Klink
I couldn’t agree more. I had an old fixed idea about some countries…everyone does. Until the day I realized that many people have the wrong idea about my OWN country. Many people find Brazil unsafe, poor, dirty…and it’s actually a wonderful place. Of course it is not perfect, and might have the characteristics mentioned above every now and then, but it is an amazing place. So why should I have bad ideas about other countries? Why not go check it out myself? And so I did. Even though I knew I would be fine, I just couldn’t imagine how much I would end up loving India and feeling comfortable in this crazy, amazing place.
- The cultural shock
At first, there is a big cultural shock, it’s inevitable. Everything is too different, from values and people’s behavior, to cars, landscapes, laguage, food. People stare at you all the time, girls don’t feel comfortable wearing short skirts or sleeveless tops, rickshaws and shop owners are always overcharging you, there is too much noise in the streets. In fact, there is too much of everything in the streets. It takes a while to digest all this new information and actually realize what is in your surroundings. Cultural shock is just a phase, and it will pass. Be patient.
Slowly you start realizing the subtle beauty you find in every day life….from transportation, to a fabric with a cool print, a colorful elephant in the street, a beautiful piece of decoration…
You start realizing that there is something special about this place. Something that will touch your soul to it’s very core, something that will make you wanna laugh and cry, something that will make you feel alive, that you make you feel aware, that will make you hate but also love.
Then you learn that it is not dirt, garbage, ugliness or poverty that will define your happiness or how much you can love a country. You just stop caring about the bad sides and start valueing the beautiful aspects, your personal growth, the incredible people you will meet, the amazing places and experience this new country has to offer.
And then you fall in love. You start loving the craziness, the surprises, the cute cows, the Bollywood movies, the food, the spices, the colors and sounds. But sadly, not everyone is able to see it.
- “What do you see that I don’t?”
I already mentioned before the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. You can find the trailer here. It’s a movie about a group of old English people who decide to retire and move to Jaipur. It’s a great example of cultural adaptation and mindsets. Everyone should watch this before coming to India, it will give you funny examples of people with different personalities trying to adapt to a new place. At one point, one of the characters has a really hard time settling in India, and she asks her friend: “How can you bare this country? What do you see that I don’t?”, to which he replies “the lights, the colors, the smiles…it teaches me something. All life is here”.
He is right. This movie is a great example of cultural adaptation. Everyone who moves to another country is looking for some kind of growth and change. But curiously, some people, when they actually face the change and the cultural differences, just can’t stand it. Some people have a really hard time accepting another culture and another point of view. Why?
Adapting to a new culture can be hard, but many people overcome it. So what do they do that help them get through it? You see, all it takes is for you to change your mindset. Just accept the differences. Accept. Again, ACCEPT. Understand deep within your mind that you cannot change someone else’s culture, and as much as some things might not seem to make sense for you, it makes sense for millions of people in this place…so let it change you. LET IT CHANGE YOU. Change is good. Embrace differences with open arms. India is an ancient culture lived every day by over a billion people, this fact cannot be ignored or underestimated.
Try to understand what they think, how they act, accept that there is a whole world out there with billions of different answers and points of view, and you just cannot have the arrogance of believing that YOU are right all the time. Remember that here YOU are the outsider, the one who is different and strange to their eyes. Just open your heart and your mind to this new world that stands in front of you…and you’ll be able to find beauty in everything.
One of my favorite quotes says:
Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
Just this morning I was talking to a few people about this. All countries have something good to offer, it just takes YOU to want to see it or not, it takes YOU to change your mindset and embrace this whole new world.
As the main character of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” would say, “India, like life itself, I suppose…is about what you bring to it.”
So what will you bring to your life? If you fail to open your mind to this new incredible culture, or any other culture, you will suffer. But instead, if you open your eyes, you will fall in love with the world, with cultures…it will give you the best experience of your life. It will change you forever.