An American in IndiaJuly 4, 2012
India is a great place for medical work experience. While India is a modern, growing economy, it still has high levels of poverty, which leads to many social health issues that offer a medical student invaluable experience. India is a place where you can really make a difference to people’ s lives, and a work placement in India offers a very rewarding and satisfying experience for the trainee medical professional.
India is also culturally very different to America and can bring about a unique traveling experience that will broaden the mind and turn you into a more well rounded professional. But often, these cultural difference can be a challenge when faced for the first time, as India has many customs and traditions that are completely alien to the average American.
Compared to the United States India is a very conservative nation. The way people dress and behave to one another is far more reserved than in the United States. Nudity and skimpy clothing is something that will offend many Indians. For women travelers, refraining from exposing too much flesh can be difficult, especially in the heat, but even shorts or vest tops will get you some distasteful glances. Even on the beach, exposing too much skin will upset people, and going topless is a complete no-no. Men too shouldn’t walk around in shorts or go bare-chested, and many of the casual clothes commonly worn in the United States may look scruffy to the average Indian, who may scratch their heads and wonder why a relatively wealthy westerner would wear such garments.
While it’s common to see public displays of affection between men in India, this is seen as a sign of brotherhood, and is non-sexual. Contact between men and women is frowned upon. Holding hands or kissing in public will result in stares and disapproving looks, so if you are traveling with a partner it is best to refrain from such public displays of affection.
Indian people are also very conservative in their conversations with each other. Indians expect politeness at all times, especially from people in professions. When working it is always best to avoid jocular comments, and to ensure you address people as sir or madam.
In India, people usually eat with their hands. However, the left hand should never be used for putting food into your mouth. Indians use the left hand for tasks such as tying their shoelaces or cleaning themselves, so it is highly offensive to offer your left hand to somebody or pass something in it.
Caste System and Poverty
While the Indian authorities have tried to limit the Indian caste system and make society equal, it is still widespread throughout India. Those of low castes are often employed to do jobs higher cast Indians deem as dirty. Many Indians of higher caste may refuse to do tasks such as cleaning, emptying bins or handling waste of any kind.
Something that shocks many Americans the most when they arrive in India is the high levels of poverty and the number of people seen begging in the streets. Begging is widespread throughout India, and it is traditional for wealthier Indians to give alms to those less fortunate than they are. Being a westerner, you may find you are the attention of beggars wherever you go as they may deem you to be wealthy. Giving a few small coins can make a big difference to people, but it is important to be firm about how much you want to give.