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8 Things All Indians Studying Abroad Are Used To Hearing

8 Things All Indians Studying Abroad Are Used To Hearing

I would like to put out a disclaimer that the following is all in good humor. I am privileged to say that I have not experienced most of these things firsthand since I am lucky to have amazing friends and roommates who are very open minded and curious to learn about my culture (and vice versa). But, these are some things that many Indians studying abroad have definitely encountered at their university.

1. The common question, “How do you speak English so well?”

I really do not know why people are still not aware that English is a primary language in India. Yeah, our accents and pronunciations may vary, but many of us are pretty darn good and proficient in English. A lot of people in India speak English as their first language.

2. The strange observation, “You don’t look Indian.”

While no one has ever said this to me because I fall into the usual image of how Indians look, for those Indians studying abroad who have a fairer complexion, brown hair, or


lighter eyes, many people assume that these are not Indian physical traits. India is a pretty big country, with a large history of invasions and mixed cultures, no one looks the same.

3. The confused inquiry, “Do you speak Indian?”

Let’s get this straight. We are Indian but there is no existing language called “Indian.” India is filled with multiple cultures and huge diversity; practically each state has its own language or two. Us Indians actually identify ourselves with the State and the language of that state. For example, my familial roots are from a southern state called Andhra Pradesh and we speak Telugu. Some other commonly heard languages would be Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Gujurati, Kanada, Punjabi and plenty more!

4. The misconception about “life” in India.

Let me put it out there that India is really not the land of snake charmers, nor are we undeveloped. I would like to say that India is actually really poppin’! When I lived in India, I enjoyed life there so much and I can almost guarantee anyone who has spent time there would say the same!


5. The assumption that we wear “those flowy dresses.”

Of course this is asked in all good intention and curiosity, but no, we don’t wear those flowy dresses. In fact, the way Indians studying abroad dress over here is usually how we dressed back in India, too. Those dresses are different from one another; some popular styles would be lehenga/ghagra or a sari, mostly worn during festivals and special occasions. If you ask me, I usually wore shorts and sweat pants in India.

6. The bizarre question, “Do you ride animals?”

*Confused look* No, we do not. Probably for tourism, you’d see the occasional camel or sadly treated elephants on the street with their owners (I really feel bad for those animals). Otherwise, cars and motor bikes are used heavily; go see the traffic in India, it makes Manhattan traffic look like a baby.

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7. The (rude) statement, “You’re not like other Indians.”

Let me inform you that this is not a compliment, but is actually really offensive. What do people even mean by that? That we do not wear traditional attire or are not religious? I do not know. But, an Indian is an Indian, period. We are not a homogeneous pool.

8. The hilariousness of the phrase “Chai Tea Latte.”

This is actually cute and I have seen it in a lot of cafes and bistros. It is funny because “chai” in Hindi means “tea.” So basically, the definition of that term would be “Tea Tea Latte.” I think a little more research is needed.

Oh and, cultural appropriation – just don’t.

I do not want to argue into depth about this, but please, just don’t. Many Indians do not want symbols and culture used as a fashion statement and costume. So many aspects have a deep, cultural, and scientific context to them. This is something I have seen in person myself. In one of my classes there was a guy wearing a jersey material shirt, nothing wrong in that right? The problem was what was on his shirt. A colorful array of Hindu deities and on the front and sleeve of the shirt is written “Mauth” in Hindi. That means Death. The combination of the deities and the term was just a mess and of course just used because it looks “nice.” Well not really in the eye of the Indian who actually understands and believes in aspects of that shirt.


I am sure people of different backgrounds find something or another weird about each other’s cultures, and that is okay! But what is really needed is an open mindedness and awareness about other cultures. While Indians studying abroad are used to hearing many of these things, a question that may not seem offensive, could actually be interpreted wrong. So, it is important that when it comes to race and culture, we need to have a certain background and idea about it, without any stereotypes and obnoxiousness.

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