There are nearly 1.3 billion people residing in India, more than in Europe and North America combined. Three quarters of the population live in rural environments, where the average income of an Indian household is no greater than a few hundred dollars a year. Education and opportunity are scant for many, and problems such as malnutrition and lack of available healthcare plague the countryside.
It is easy to look at these statistics about poverty from afar and form some projection in your head of not only what India is like, but what it would be like to study in India. But the truth is, whatever your impression was beforehand, it will be shattered upon studying abroad in India (what you cannot know before coming to India is the immense force of life which its lack of material wealth belies).
It is the tremendous strength and resilience of spirit which has long defined the Indian national character. The revered Mahatma K. Gandhi once remarked that a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people, and this is no doubt true of India.
Below are a list of some of the lesser known aspects of India—things to think about before you move there for a summer or semester abroad program.
1. India plays an important role in modern history.
The complex history of the Indian subcontinent spans back tens of thousands of years to encompass the reigns ancient civilizations and great empires past. This is where Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha delivered his very first sermon, where conquerors from the west established powerful sultanates and spread the influence of Islam to the east, where a divided peoples would eventually unite to throw off the shackles of colonial oppression and establish a new independent republic.
2. You'll witness a national transition.
Today you will find India to be a country in transition. Still only decades old under its own rule, it has flourished in some respects while floundering in others. Promising economic progress has been overshadowed by unequal distribution. Political stability has been shaken by charges of nepotism and corruption. Human rights and social progress have been bogged down by female oppression and lingering effects of the caste system.
3. It's more diverse than you think.
Further, India is a country characterized by immense diversity and paradox. Across the countryside hundreds of different languages and dialects are spoken and people hold strong to their regional identities. In the cities high-end mega malls overlook crowded slums and ancient ruins lay underneath new housing projects. On the streets an educated youthful demographic demands economic progress and social reform in the face of a deeply entrenched status quo of religious conservatism.
Thus is the situation of the Indian people, and thus will the struggle between balancing forces march forever forward.
4. You'll step outside the western world.
In many ways, India could not be further away from Western civilization. In geography, religion, and the mechanisms of everyday life, this country will take on an entirely alien form to most study abroad students. Whereas in the West there are highly industrialized cities with advanced infrastructures and rigid social institutions, in India there is something more like organized chaos. Helter-skelter traffic, informal bartering, wild animals co-occupying urban streets, and it all works surprisingly well (Be sure to check out Top Ways to Prepare for Study Abroad in India for some important insider information).
Witnessing the incredibly fast pace of life and raw truths of poverty in Indian cities can be an intense exposure to be sure, but there is something undeniably authentic about the experience which is lacking in Western cultures. You are not so far removed from the realities of life by a bubble of technology and mass production.
Here you witness a real struggle for survival in the streets, and the incredible passion and genuineness and humanity which rises with it.
6. You'll encounter culture. Lots of it.
Indian culture is something very large and influential to behold. From the frequent festivals and religious ceremonies to the brightly colored clothing and bazaars to the exquisite culinary tradition, students studying in India will find themselves in a whirlwind of new activities and phenomena to experience. And while adapting to cultural intricacies can indeed prove a challenge, most locals will prove extremely hospitable and helpful with your adjustment.
Studying in India will change your life
By studying abroad in India you will become only a visitor in this rich and dramatic landscape, but experiencing even a snapshot of India’s social, cultural, and spiritual complexity is nonetheless bound to change your life forever.
Uprooting from the comforts and familiarity of home to live in an environment which is so drastically different will broaden your perspective and expand your perceptions of life and and the world around you.
Which brings us back to point one—a nation’s culture residing in the hearts and in the soul of its people. The real benefit of studying abroad in India comes not from sitting in a classroom but from interacting with the people. Go into the journey willing to learn from every experience and every interaction, and you will return a happier and wiser person.
Studying abroad in India is not for everyone, but there is some spiritual mystery to the country, which has continued to attract travelers from all over the world throughout past and present. If you feel at all compelled to see the country, then do not hesitate and make the leap. A great adventure awaits you exploring the heart and mind of the one of the greatest civilizations the world has seen.
Top cultural programs for study in India
If you really want to get a full picture of how Indian culture has developed overtime and explore specifics aspects of the culture, then participating in one if these top programs will surely give you the unique perspective you are looking for. Here are some of our favorites arranging study in India for foreign students:
- Studies in Indian Culture - Knowledge Must. A four week summer program aimed at specifically fostering a better understanding of India's culture through excursions, seminars, and cultural festivals.
- Contemporary India - Alliance Global Education. Explore what India is like today, from economics to human rights to film, all in a city outside the usual path of tourists and study abroad students, Pune.
- Buddhist Studies - Carlton. Get to know India by exploring the Buddhist religion while living in a Burmese Vihar, also known as a monastery, for an entire semester.
- Summer Innovation Lab - SIT Study Abroad. Examine the food industry in India, including nutritional security, agricultural techniques, biodiversity, and food production. Participants also have a chance to experience living with a homestay.