Essay on Culture Shock Story

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Culture shock is “the impact of traveling from a familiar culture and trying to adjust to an unfamiliar one.” Something I experienced for the first time in my life. Leaving a carefree and independent life in America where everything is done the proper way, to thousands of miles away in India where everything was the complete opposite. The endless tray animals, the beggars, the insane long vehicle rides, the foul smell, and the extreme pollution are difficult to process, particularly at the same time. Be that as it may, there are similarly the same number of things that astounded me. The inviting individuals, the vibrant colors of traditional clothing, and the mouthwatering food that overflowed with flavors were things that made me fall in love. All it took for this average American girl who knew about her Indian culture, to one who finally found who she is, was a trip with her parents to India.

India: Getting there

Ten years ago, spring of 2009 my parents had decided that we kids were finally old enough for a trip back home to the motherland, India. My older sister and I had already visited once before, but I don’t believe it counted. I mean I was barely a year old the first time around. When I first learned that we were taking a trip to India, I was excited but I also had a weird feeling inside of me. Through the stories I heard and the pictures I saw, was I ready to travel to a new place so different from my normal?

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Both of my parents are from a small village in Gujarat, India. Both grew up in households that weren’t necessarily poor but not necessarily comfortable either. Somewhere in between was their situation. Coming from hardworking families of farmers, my parents’ life consisted of going to school in the morning, and then coming home to help out in the sugarcane fields and looking after the animals. My mom just like any other girl at that time, dropped out of school to help out at home. My dad, on the other hand, ended up moving to America when he was just a little boy. Eventually when he was in his 20’s my grandparents decided that it was time to get married to a nice girl from back home. They already had a girl in mind, my mom. They got married in the 90’s and soon after my mom found herself settling in a new country.

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, I was the average American teenager. Growing up, I had an amazing childhood. There was always something going on. Whether it was birthdays, BBQs, picnics, parties, or just days spent outdoors, living a carefree life. Yeah, I attended school for six hours a day, five times a week, with an addition to Islamic school four times a week. But I loved every moment of it, as it was the best time of my life. I grew up in a comfortable environment. I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, three meals a day, a free education, and so much more. The usual. Obviously, this was what my parents wanted for us, but they felt something was missing. Compared to my parent’s childhood back in India, my siblings and I were living a luxurious American life. I emphasize “American” because the Indian culture was absent. We are Americans but also Indian, yet we had no idea what that part of us was. And that is why my parents decided to take us to India.

First things first, I’m not sure if this is part of the Indian culture, but what I do know for a fact is that every single Indian family does this when packing for a trip back home. There will be five people traveling but ten suitcases packed! Why? Well, the majority of them are filled with gifts. My parents always say if you’re well off you should always give to those who are less fortunate. To this day my parents’ village has what we say in Hindi, “gareeb logh” or poor people.

The flight to India was brutal, nearly 24 hours including a layover in China. The trip had barely started, and I was already over it. I was beyond exhausted. Stepping out of the Delhi airport, we were hit with humidity, foul smell, and pollution. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and wanted to turn back, hop on a flight, and be in the cool weather of SF. Next thing you know, we were bombarded with a crowd of people throwing their arms around us and yelling our names. Some I was able to recognize through the pictures I had seen before, but others were new faces. This is also a big thing for Indians, all of the family members go to the airport to receive the “foreigners”. We were in the car for barely even five minutes and we broke various traffic offenses: running red lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, taking illegal U-turns, and wildly weaving in and out lanes and between cars. This was anything but a coincidental event. This happened consistently. This was their normal. And this was my fate for the next 6 hours until we reached the village.

Once we arrived at the village, we started to notice the villagers slowly coming out of their houses, curious to see who was in the big car. We pulled up at the back entrance of my mom’s childhood home, and that was it, I was about to lose my mind and temper. It was boiling and there was a crowd of women gathering around my mom, crying and hugging her. My siblings and I were slowly getting pushed back but not without stares as we were standing there wearing American clothes. In the village, girls weren’t allowed to wear Western clothes, so were completely out of place. To this day I am so thankful for my two female cousins who pulled us into the house and took us away from the crowds. We were taken to a room in the back where we had fresh “limbo paani” (translates to lemon water, but means lemonade) After that, traditional Indian clothes known as shalwar kameez were shoved into our hands so that we could get out of the tight American clothes and feel refreshed from the long journey. The whole day women were coming to meet us, but specifically my mom since she had returned after a long 12 years.

At this point, my cousins Summaiya and Shabana told us that it would be best for us to go to my paternal grandfather's house to avoid the crowds, while my mom stayed behind. This was the best thing to happen. My paternal grandfather’s house is not too far away from my mom’s family home, but it’s in a more quiet area. It was also newly renovated to fit the comforts of us American grandkids. What I mean by that is instead of having the normal hole in the floor as a means of using the bathroom; we had American toilets, as well as white marble tiles to keep the house cool from hot temperatures. For the remainder of the trip, I made sure no matter what anyone said, I would only live in my grandfather's house and nowhere else.

Culture Shock

The first week in India was for us to settle in. By this time I had picked up more Hindi than I ever knew before, saw the sugarcane fields, and saw the daily lives of the villagers. But the biggest culture shock for me was not being able to go outside and wander or even walk to the local market without a male member or two accompanying me. Life here was very different than back home. And it would only open my eyes more. For the next two weeks, we were to travel to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, to name a few. As we set off for the six-hour drive, I was entranced by what I was seeing. The sheer volume of people, vehicles, and animals in the city was sufficient to send me into a total culture shock, to the degree that I had a feeling that I was dreaming. Nothing sets you up for the extraordinary smells, the chaos that results when a crowd of cows chooses to go for a walk along bustling streets, the insane traffic and the consistent sound of honking, the homeless dozing off on the walkway. You can't shut out the women begging who appear a hundred years of age, glancing at you with those appallingly dismal eyes while they timidly beseech you for money with their palms pleadingly open, and the kids running around wearing only underwear.

With a populace of roughly 1.1 billion in India, you are never a long way from humanity. If you like your own space, it's best if you overlook it. At least that’s what I learned because there was no such thing as personal space. I had to become accustomed to being pushed, shoved, and in closeness to individuals throughout the day, with individuals yelling at me to get in their rickshaws, purchase their products, or give them cash. The only thing that made me uncomfortable was the staring. The people in India will take one look at you now and immediately know that you’re a foreigner. Being an Indian I always thought I looked like one, but shopkeepers said otherwise. Apart from that, Indian individuals are quite friendly and hospitable. The women in particular are what brought me closer to my culture today. All spruced up in beautiful saris, hands painted with intricate mehndi designs, wearing brilliant little gems and bindis on their temples, and golden 'kangas' swinging from their wrists, necks, and noses. That’s when things started to make sense. I had seen both of my cousins Summaiya and Shabana wearing golden necklaces and rings, and their hands adorned with mehndi. I also remembered that whenever we had parties to attend back home, my mom would make sure to her gold jewelry. My cousins told me that gold was a symbol of wealth and status, which is why it’s so common to see Indian women wearing it.

When it comes to Indian food, I’m no stranger. I grew up with it all. Every dish you can think of, I’ve had it. That’s one thing my mom never deprived us of. But having it in India was different. To get authentic Indian food, my cousins said we had to eat from the food stalls. Now I was a bit held back from the idea because my doctors had suggested not to, but how could I travel thousands of miles and not even have a bite? I went against my doctor's advice and it was the best decision I made. Street food in India is just something else. Doesn’t matter what type of food you’re eating, whether it’s vegetarian from the Hindu culture, or the meat dishes from the Mughal culture like curries, or South Indian cuisine like dosa. It’s all very different from the Indian cuisine in America.

My trip to India was completely life-changing. Although I’m Indian I knew pretty much nothing prior. All I knew was a couple of things here and there, as I grew up with an American lifestyle. I lived a carefree comfortable life. But after my trip, I saw things differently. I became more aware of my culture. Even though I was apprehensive about the trip from the beginning, and then wanted to go back as soon as I got there, I loved every moment. If it wasn’t for this trip, I wouldn’t know who I truly am as a person. I am now in touch with my Indian side a lot more than I was ever before. I find myself enjoying dressing up in the traditional clothes and eating the food. If it wasn’t for my parents realizing what we kids were missing out on, then I don’t think I’d get the authentic experience. Also, my two cousins Summaiya and Shabana for showing us around and teaching as well as explaining why everything was the way it was in India.

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