Culture Shock in India

by | Jun 9, 2017

I never really understood what people meant by ‘culture shock’. Yes, everywhere is different and sometimes overwhelming, but isn’t that all part of the fun?!

All this changed when I went to India.

A quiet man, who I wasn’t even sure spoke English, met me at the airport with a torn piece of cardboard stating my name. Hesitantly, I followed him to his rather beat-up car. He drove at a ridiculous speed, swerving across multiple lanes on the freeway to sneak between huge trucks and other cars. But we made it. Somehow, we made it into the chaos that was New Delhi.

I decided to explore the streets of Delhi by foot. With an absolutely useless map in hand, I stood at the hotel door and gazed at the madness. There was so much to take in that my senses were overloaded.

I couldn’t believe how colourful everything was. Girls walking by in bright, sequin-covered saris; market stands full of sparkly jewellery. I started to take in all the different smells, both good and bad. Just as I was enjoying the waft of the curries and spices, the smell of garbage and sweaty bodies would overtake it. Noise was coming at me from every angle. People shouting, music blaring, cars honking, cows mooing. Why were there so many cows on the streets?

As I walked out into the endless sea of people, homeless men and beggars of all ages surrounded me, tugging at my clothes and pleading for money. So many of them had missing limbs and not one of them had a full set of teeth. I couldn’t escape them. As soon as one was gone, another would appear. To add to my distress, I was bumping shoulders with boundless crowds of locals. The streets were overflowing with people and animals. I’ve never felt so claustrophobic in an open, outdoor space.

After a few blocks I was overwhelmed. I needed to escape this madness and return to the safety of my hotel room. I ordered room service, called my mum and stayed in bed for the rest of the day. I gave myself some time to process everything: the sights, the smells, the crowded, dirty streets and the extreme poverty so apparent at every turn.

With time, I came to love India. I was amazed by the pristine Taj Mahal and lucky enough to see a tiger roaming wild in a national park. I met locals whose hospitality was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I devoured countless curries, shopped at the markets every day and became fascinated by the cultural differences. I just wasn’t quite ready for it all on day one.