Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Culture shock and Kolkata

{riverboats on the Hooghly}
This past weekend, I went to Kolkata (or Calcutta) and truth be told, it wasn't great. In fact, the weekend had my friends and me reeling and discussing culture shock in relation to our trip and the rest of our time in India.

There are so many ways to conceptualize culture shock. People talk about culture shock affecting you the first time you visit a new place, and then you adjust. And sometimes people add in the fact that you experience reverse culture shock whenever you go home, whatever home is. But for me, culture shock comes in waves. There are days when I'm good and in awe of how amazing this place is, whether it be Hyderabad or Mumbai or Bangalore or India in general. And there are days when it's hard and I'm confused and frustrated and angry and afraid. Even through that, I'm grateful that I came here because sometimes the moments where it's hard teach you even more than the moments that remind you how lucky you are to be alive, to have the life you do, to be who you are where you are.

Lately, I've been in a slump. I've been getting frustrated with some of my classes and I've been missing out on things with my family back in the U.S. and I miss what D.C. is like when it first becomes spring. I don't wish I was back in the States, not even for a moment. My time here is so limited and I don't know when I'll be in India next, so feeling homesick feels like a waste of time. But I've been learning a lot here in ways that haven't been easy and so I've turned to looking at photos of my time in Spain and making to-do lists for my upcoming summer in Jersey.

And it was in the middle of this slump that I went to Kolkata with two friends, friends who were in similar places regarding their feelings and frustrations with where we are in our time here in India.

Before heading to Kolkata, I'd done my research. I'd thoroughly read Lonely Planet's guide on visiting the city and had talked to friends and family about what to do, where to eat, etc. And it was with that in mind that Corinne, Rachel, and I explored Kolkata. We visited popular places like the Victoria Memorial, Mother Teresa's Motherhouse, Tagore's House, and Dakshineswar and tried to eat our way through the city. 

But there were so many times during our visit that we felt uncomfortable and unsafe and it was so frustrating to constantly feel that this was because I'm a woman, because I'm a foreigner to whatever extent. It's hard to write about these things because I in no way want to contribute to the perception that this is what India is. But as an Indian-American friend pointed out to me recently, sometimes this is part of India, just as it can be a part of living in D.C. or any other city in any other part of the world.

Our trip wasn't entirely terrible. We had some pretty good food and desserts (sondesh, mishti doi, rasgulla, and even paan gelato) and parts of the city were quite beautiful. I especially enjoyed the architecture and stained glass in many of the homes. Above all, the company made the experience much better. Throughout the long weekend, Corrine, Rachel, and I were able to vent to each other about our frustrations but still remain optimistic and hopeful about what the next day had to bring. And we were all able to recognize that our feelings weren't necessarily a reflection of the city, but more so of our experiences within the city.

I'm just at a place where I'm weary and tired of feeling like my life is harder because I'm a woman or because I'm not truly Indian or not truly American and adding to this weariness is the fact that I just really miss good pizza. And then I start thinking about how I miss driving a car. How I miss feeling like I have more agency and freedom, how I miss worrying less about my safety. Maybe this is homesickness. Maybe even though there's no place else I'd rather be right now, I'm a little homesick.
{City of Pearls}

But that doesn't mean I'm not grateful for everything I've experienced here, everything I have left to experience. Because that's how you learn. The good days, the bad days, the days in between—that's why I'm here. That's why I studied abroad. That's why I travel. And I mean it: there's no place else I'd rather be right now than in India.

And plus, culture shock fades. Homesickness fades. And I know the reminder of how much I love this place, how much it feels like home, and how damn grateful I am to be here is just around the corner.

For now, I'm glad to be back in Hyderabad and upon returning to the city, I felt so relieved that it made Hyd feel that much more like home.

My next trip won't be for a couple of weeks and until then, I'm looking forward to spending more time with my aunt and uncle and checking a few things off my to-do list. Here are some more photos from our weekend in Kolkata: 

{Rachel at brunch}
{heading to the north of the city}
{French toast at Flury's}
{the stunning architecture of the city}
{the Darjeeling tea that taught me to love Darjeeling tea}
{Ambassador taxis}
{indoor market}
{peep the ray of sunshine}
{special cloth alert}
{world's smallest menu}
{my future home}
{Tagore House}
{beautiful door}
{flowers on the steps}
{windows + architecture}
{Tagore House}
{loved the greenery in parts of Kolkata}

~ V


  1. Beautifully written and expressed. I like the fact that you are experiencing the good days, bad days and the days in between. These are the moments which are shaping you like a small stroke of a pencil sketch towards a portrait :)

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate the kind words and support. :)

  2. Missing home eh! it happens its only when you are far away that you appreciate home.will your experiences are shaping you into a beautiful wonderful women to face come what may, making you resilient.
    wonderful pics. dont like your hairstyle... love the thick gorgeous hair on you.