Typically Indian academic culture is marked by strong hierarchical, patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes, and therefore, it would be wise to follow certain norms during your study period. One should respect the classroom space by dressing appropriately, and that would mean that students should desist from wearing shorts, tank tops, miniskirts, figure hugging clothes, clothes that show cleavage, etc. Eating in the classroom, having personal discussions, messaging, surfing the internet during lectures is a strict no-no. It would be advisable to refer to teachers as Sir/Ma’am rather than using their first names and it would be good to be circumspect around teachers. Socialising with teachers, asking them out for dinner/drinks, accepting their offer for dinner/drinks especially on a one to one basis is not recommended.
University campuses in India are also sites of political activism. Political parties have their student wings operating on campus, and things can get heated when two political groups clash on campus. Therefore, it would be wise to not indulge in political activism on campus or actively supporting a particular student wing, however just the cause, since your stay is short and it would be a hassle to get into the crosshairs of an opposing political group or, in the worst case scenario, get into trouble involving the police and judiciary.
Another point to note, particularly for women students, is that a typical Indian university is marked by a strong presence of male students. Female students are few and tend to keep to themselves. In an attempt to having a more enriching Indian campus experience Nordic students would like to befriend the Indian student, which is a good idea in itself, but it would be better to do that in a group. Indian students are typically very helpful, hospitable and understanding of the foreign students needs. They will bend backwards to accommodate a foreign friend and will protect them in case of any conflict with a fellow Indian. The only recommendation here is that women students in particular be mindful of the gender dynamics of India, and accordingly, not get overtly friendly in terms of being physically affectionate, smoking or drinking together with an Indian student, spending time in the student’s dorm room, etc. This would also be useful for male Nordic students in dealing with their Indian female classmates. All this could be mistaken for something more than genuine affection and friendship, and could lead to problems later on. It would be advisable for male and female Nordic students to befriend a mixed group of Indian students and socialise accordingly till one is sure that there is no cross cultural confusion in verbal and non verbal communication.
NCI recommends that students travel light without any items of great value. It would be useful to carry a laptop for the purpose of the course but otherwise we recommend that you stick to a minimalist style of packing. Personal hygiene products and toiletries of various international brands are cheap and easily available in India so it would be not be necessary for you to pack these items. A pouch or money belt that can be easily hidden would be useful for carrying money, passport, credit cards and other valuables.
Students should dress conservatively while in India. For both men and women all kinds of trousers/jeans/slacks with loose half/full sleeves shirts/t-shirts would be the best option. Women should be careful to choose clothes that do not show much cleavage and that are not too body hugging as it could attract unwanted male attention whether in the form of staring or downright harassment. In certain areas of big cities students may see many Indian young men and women dressed in a more modern fashion, but this is typically limited to those areas. Given that as students you will be dependent largely on public transportation it would be prudent to dress in a manner that would not draw any unnecessary attention.
Indian clothing, particularly the salwar kameez, is comfortable and appropriate for the Indian weather and public space. Female students can opt for the same. Kurtas are available for men as well and they can be worn over pants. For women saris can be more problematic as they are a difficult to drape and wear on a regular basis. One can buy Indian clothing in various places, price ranges, patterns and styles. Shops like FabIndia, the Bombay Store, Anokhi, target the style sensibilities of the West and therefore, one could shop a bit more easily there if one does not have the time or patience to visit the local markets. Another option is that of getting clothes stitched according to your specifications. Women can get a salwar kameez stitched by any of the many ladies tailors that will do the job in a cost effective fashion. Men in India usually wear western formals and so it is easier to get pants, shirts, suits stitched here with the material of your choice at comparatively lower costs.
It would also be practical to get a hardy umbrella/raincoat, wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, a shawl/sweater, sturdy walking shoes, mosquito repellent, etc. to protect yourself from the changes in the environment. Seasons are well marked but it is not uncommon to have torrential rains in the hot summers or a warm spell in the winter months, therefore, it is good to be prepared. Students coming for the summer courses arrive during the monsoon season and need to be particularly prepared for heavy rainfall.
It is foreseeable that students will make some friends while staying in India, so it would be nice to carry some small gifts and souvenirs that one could be used as a token of affection or gratitude.
NCI’s experience with students from Nordic countries shows that they are particularly susceptible to these waterborne infections since you are not as immune as regular Indians (who by the way also are very careful with the food they eat and the water). We have learned of some ways to beat this trend of sickness though and the first rule is that you only drink from sealed mineral water bottles. Carry one or two bottles with you wherever you go. Because of the changes in weather there is a need for students to be hydrated. One can get mineral water, regular and diet Coke and Pepsi, sugary and sugarless juices/milk/soy milk at several big supermarkets and smaller shops, but its advisable to always buy sealed plastic bottles or tetra packs that are not puffy. One needs to check the expiry date as well. Staying away from freshly squeezed juices in shops and restaurants is also good as one is never too sure of the quality of water used while making the juice. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, choose the ones which are peel-able. Bananas are the best option and are cheap and easily available.
Another important rule to remain healthy would be to constantly use an alcohol based hand gels/wash. These clean, sterilise, and disinfect, making one’s hands relatively germ free and greatly reducing the probability of falling sick. This has really worked for us as we have hardly had anybody falling sick once students strictly started using a hand-wash before eating anything, or after going into a crowded public place, etc.
Indians formally tend to look down on the consumption of drugs and alcohol, but this does not mean that drugs and alcohol are not available. While sale and consumption of opiates, cannabis, chewing tobacco, and other drugs are illegal in India, cigarettes, bidis, and liquor are available for sale for consumers above the age of 21. Smoking and drinking in public, however, is a punishable offence in India. Educational institutions also severely frown upon anybody drinking or/and smoking within campus limits. Students found smoking or/and drinking will be strictly disciplined. Consumption of alcohol must be within culturally accepted norms and must be done discreetly. Consumption of alcohol by women is looked upon as an indication of sexual availability and Indian men tend to misbehave as per the perception of easy access. You can buy alcohol in certain restaurants, but consumption of the same in excess cannot be an excuse for bad behaviour.
Be wary of people offering you alcohol and drugs in pubs and bars. There are a growing number of cases of women and men being physically assaulted and robbed after unknown substances are mixed in drinks offered to them. Alcohol is available in ‘wine shops’ that are usually crowded with men who are in various degrees of inebriation, therefore, women must not attempt to buy liquor from these shops themselves, and instead use a trusted male companion for the purpose. If you do consume alcohol in your student quarters please be discreet and do not leave the bottles in and around your room for the staff to clean up. Social drinking in student quarters is also discouraged. Students must remember that they represent not only their home university but the host institution in India and infractions related to drugs and/or alcohol consumption are not taken lightly.
NCI recommends that students stay away from alcohol as much as possible during their stay in India. NCI also strictly prohibits the use of drugs among students.
The biggest potential problem that foreigners face when in India is that of diarrhoea. It usually occurs due to a change in diet, water and climate, and sometimes also because of a bacterial infection caused by consumption of bad food and impure water. In this situation it is best to eat bread, boiled food, and a lot of yoghurt. Doctors in India tend to prescribe lactobacillus pills to settle the stomach, loperamide hydrochloride for stopping the diarrhoea, Ciprofloxacin, if there is an infection to control, and domperidone for nausea and vomiting. Talk to your doctor about the required dosage before-hand so that you will feel more in control of the situation. It is advisable to take a course of ORS (oral rehydrating salts), commercially available under the popular brand name of Electral or Electrobion. An effective alternative is drinking a solution made of one teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar dissolved in one litre of water as it is considered to be an effective remedy to arrest dehydration.
Pharmacies and private hospitals are easy to access and doctors abound so it would be wise to seek an opinion from somebody known about where to go so as to not encounter any additional problems. It is important to notify the contact person at the host institution in India and seek medical attention as soon as one falls ill.
You are advised to carry along with you all you personal medication, aspirin, painkillers for fevers and minor aches and pains, calamine lotion for cuts and bites, and antihistamines for allergies. One must also carry the medicines one would require while staying in India. Prescription drugs are not easily available over the counter so one must plan accordingly. People with allergies must be very careful while eating outside as most people will not be able to understand your particular needs. Make sure to inform the staff at your place of stay, and ask somebody reliable about the ingredients in the food whenever you need to eat outside.
Please check with your local healthcare service about the vaccines you require before coming to India.
The best solution to keep in touch with home is to get a local SIM card for your mobile phone. Major service providers include Vodafone, Airtel, BSNL, and Idea. Since a considerable amount of Indians have a mobile phone, a connection of your own can be useful especially if you plan to stay for more than a couple of days. The process for getting a connection usually requires a copy of your passport, visa, passport size photographs, and sometimes, a proof of residence. Most cities also have 2G and 3G bandwiths with tariffs for surfing the internet being quite low.
In the bigger cities one can also find cafes that have free WiFi access that one could use for connecting with people back home. Most of the bisgger Indian universities also have password protected WiFi access and usually one gets registered on the network when taking part in a programme hosted by the university. Carrying a laptop or a smartphone can, therefore, be useful in India.
The cheapest way to call home when in rural areas is to go to what is commonly called an STD booth. You will find these little yellow booths and shops with the sign STD/ISD. STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) is for calls placed to numbers located out of the town you are in but within India, and ISD (International Subscriber Dialling) are for calls placed to numbers outside India. Rates are fixed for international calls and it is billed according to the duration of the call. One gets a printed receipt for the call.
Visa and Master cards are accepted in most commercial establishments in India. One can also withdraw money 24 hour ATMs that are very easy to locate especially in the big cities. There is a limit on how much money one can withdraw in a day, and it is usually INR 25000. Instructions are displayed in English, and cash is disbursed in INR. It would be advisable to use ATMs that require you to swipe your card so as to prevent the card getting captured in rare cases of power failure. It is also advisable to use ATMs during the day when there are people around and in places that are not very lonely. Money can most easily be changed when you arrive at the airport at the Thomas Cook or State Bank of India counters.