Traveling is always a rewarding and eye-opening experience. My parents are originally from India, so I have had the opportunity to travel abroad to India several times in my life. I also completed a four-month study abroad program to Milan, Italy during the spring of my junior year. I can say that the experiences I had while studying abroad and the knowledge I have gained from my classes at Chapman allowed me to more fully appreciate and learn from this recent trip I took to India over winter break.
Chapman University has been home to me for the last four years. Chapman has been such a great environment to learn in, with such a welcoming student body and so many passionate professors. However, this comfortable and welcoming environment cannot be taken for granted, and certainly is not found everywhere. My travel experiences in different countries attests to this fact.
I thoroughly enjoy my trips to India because they allow me to get in touch with my roots and are always filled with quality family time. However, my visits require a certain level of adjustment. India is a country that is always changing. It is new to me each time I visit. During each visit, I have to remind myself of the very different cultural and communication norms of the country. While many people speak English and more and more people are learning it, of course it still is not the main language of communication. Going back to India can therefore be difficult and uncomfortable because while I can usually understand what people are saying I am not 100% fluent in Hindi. And well, I don’t exactly have an Indian accent, so my Americanized accent along with my broken Hindi always gets me looked at as a tourist. Over the years it has been hard to understand why and come to terms with the fact that despite the fact that my roots are Indian and I have been raised around Indian culture my whole life, I will always be looked at as a foreigner because I live in America.
This trip was particularly interesting because I noticed for the first time that people automatically assume my sister and I are foreigners before we even speak. During the holidays, my cousin was unfortunately bit by his dog and had to spend Christmas in the hospital because his bite was infected. While it wasn’t the most Merry Christmas, we were still able to spend the day with family and tried to enjoy it with him. An interesting thing happened while at the hospital. On the way up to my cousin’s room the guard at the elevator looked to my other cousin and in Hindi said, “Where are they from? They don’t look like they are from here.” My sister and I looked at him and in Hindi she responded back, “We can understand you, we are Indian.” He had a very surprised look on his face and said we did not look Indian, perhaps because of our colored hair. It was definitely interesting, to say the least, because many of my of my relatives and other people in India have colored their hair and they certainly do not get those assumptions.
Of course, I understand that after I speak Hindi it can be noted that I don’t live in India and my accent is American, but such initial automatic assumptions are still confusing and surprising to me. I now remember another time that I was looked at as a tourist/foreigner: when I visited Taj Mahal three years ago. My sister and I were constantly asked by the locals there to have our picture taken, or take a picture with them. It was honestly a little insulting to be seen as exotic or foreign in what we consider to be our homeland. However, I really just ignored it and didn’t think much of it until this recent trip in the hospital reminded me of my visit to the Taj Mahal. I guess, something about us has always made it clear that although we may have Indian descent, we are not fully Indian. Is it the way we dress? The way we walk? What about us screams foreigner?
I think that this trip really solidified my understanding of intercultural communication and actually allowed me to take what I learned in my intercultural communication class and apply it to a completely different cultural surrounding and environment. While living in Europe had its interesting moments it was not anything too far from my ordinary life in America. However, India is completely different.
I can now say that one needs to be very open minded when traveling to India because they aren’t going to be looked at the way they are in America or even countries in Europe. You cannot take offense to the fact that you will be looked at as a foreigner.
India is a beautiful country filled with great history, a colorful culture, and some great food. While it may not be the welcoming environment Chapman has given me over the past four years, and I may always maintain a foreigner status, the country will always be part of me. I have realized my home is Laguna Hills, California, a short 15 minute drive from the best beaches in California, Chapman University, where I have spent the last four years of my life, but also the loud streets of Delhi, India, where poverty can be seen no closer than outside the window of your car, the sounds of cars honking and traffic can worse than Downtown Los Angeles, and the history behind its landmarks are incredible. From Southern California to India. Black Coffee to Chai. Luxury cars to rickshaws. I wouldn’t have it any other way.