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Posted by: Nathaneal A at 10:17 PM | No Comments | Add Comment

Recently, my family and I were in India for the first time, and it was an exhilarating experience that we will never forget. When we first arrived in Mumbai, it felt like a different world—it was hot and humid with new smells that I had never experienced before (at least not this intensely). It took me a couple of days to really get used to the new surroundings, but once I entered my "Indian trance," it seemed like home for the rest of our stay there.

I had been studying Indian culture for a few months before our trip, so I knew what to expect when we arrived in India. Before my family and I left, I read books about the country and its history, watched documentaries, and even played some games online that took place there so that I could get a better idea of what to expect. People often think that it is difficult to travel in an unfamiliar place where you don't know the language or the customs. However, travelling really isn't any different than going on vacation—you just need to plan your trip accordingly in order to make sure that you have a pleasant time.

I did my best to prepare myself for this trip, but in the end, there were still a lot of things that I should have done differently. For example, one of the most important things to do when you visit a new place is to research the food that they eat and try to find some restaurants that serve some of the dishes that are traditional. As exciting as it was to try all of these new things, there are also many foods that I didn't get a chance to try because I didn't know they existed or where to go in order to get them.

Not having local food available really sucked—and most of the time I had no idea what people were talking about when they told me how good something looked or tasted. It was really frustrating, and I wish that someone would have told me why it was important to find out about the food before I went to India.

In my case, most of my difficulty with the food in India came from eating spicy food. My family and I are big meat eaters, and there is a lot of spicy food where I live. As a result, we tend to get used to the flavors in our foods. However, when we first arrived in India (Mumbai), we were told that there wasn't going to be any American fast food or any other Western foods available because it was against their culture to serve those kinds of things to guests (they wanted people like me to experience their way of life).

I was really bummed about it at first—why wouldn't they want to serve the things that I craved all of the time? But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that maybe coming to another place and experiencing how they do things differently was part of the reason why we went there in the first place.

When we finally got to eat something different, it was usually spicy food (or foods made with chili peppers). From my understanding, Indian cuisine is not heavily focused on using strong spices. However, as a result of them being introduced to European and Arab cultures by British colonists in India during the 16 th century, they now incorporate some spices into some of their cooking—including the use of chili peppers.

India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world—with over 1.2 billion people living there, there are a lot of different types of food and spices to be found. With that being said, it can be difficult to know which foods are typical, which foods aren't typical, and which foods don't exist at all in that particular area.

For example: they told me that beef wasn't really a common food in India because cows weren't raised for eating them like they were in America. However, I saw cows eating grass just a few feet away from where we were staying at the hotel (which I had been told was not allowed). I also saw young men selling beef at the street corner (though they didn't look exactly like cows).

I also heard that the people in India were extremely religious, and I didn't want to offend people by eating food that they considered "unclean." It was difficult for me to know what was considered "common" food and what wasn't when I was first there, and I really wish that someone had been more thorough with explaining things to me.

Even though it took me a couple of days before I relaxed into my Indian groove, once I decided to relax and just do whatever felt right, everything seems to have fallen into place. I noticed that the people I was with were pretty laid back and didn't seem to mind what we were eating or how many questions I asked about things, so that made it a lot easier for me to get adjusted.

When I returned home, my family and I had a great trip and talked about it often. However, it wasn't until recently while reading over my personal journal from the time that we visited India did I realize how much we missed out on because of not knowing more beforehand. It is very hard to fully enjoy your experience when you are craving something else—and even harder when you don't know where you can get it.

Even though there were a lot of things that I wish I had known, in the end it was still a pleasant trip. We didn't have any problems with security or food, and we still ate some great foods—just not what we expected.

So, if you find yourself visiting a new place where you are unfamiliar with the culture and people speak an unusual language, then do your best to learn about their way of life before you get there. If you don't plan ahead like this, then there is really no way for you to understand how different it is from the way you are used to doing things.


In my opinion, the biggest difference between travelling in the United States and traveling in India is that in the U.S. you can usually figure out what people are talking about if they are speaking English. However, in India it wasn't as easy to figure out what was going on and things seemed pretty foreign to me until I was able to relax into my surroundings.

Until Next Time...

This post is part of a series of travel journals written by students from around the world as they prepare to take a trip abroad for their academic program.

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