India is the 7th largest country in the world in size at 3,166,414 km squared. It is the most populous democracy with over 1.2 billion citizens and has one of the oldest civilizations with continuous settlement since about 2500 BCE.
India's economy usually ranks around 10th in the world and there are many more millionaires in India than in Canada, but there are also many, many more individuals in extreme poverty. Even though India is economically strong, the per capita income is quite low and earning and saving money is extremely difficult.
It is quite important to be aware of and respect the fact that South Asia (also called the Indian Sub-Continent) consists of many nations and cultures including those of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan. Calling someone from Pakistan Indian or vice versa would reveal ignorance of the geography and history of this region. You could learn a lot by asking a new friend to tell you a bit about their experiences in South Asia, but be aware that their level of intercultural sensitivity may need work too, and they may include their pain at land disputes, wars, ethnic clashes etc. in their response.
Most parts of India are tropical or sub-tropical so newcomers from India (unless they have lived in or visited the many mountain ranges including the Himalayas) may not have experienced intense cold and snow.
Class and Hierarchy
India has a young and rapidly growing workforce with strong basic education and technical skills. India has long had adventurous entrepreneurs and workers starting businesses and obtaining employment all over the world.
Status is very important in India. Unlike in Canada where there is a large, stable middle class in which many people have similar lifestyles, the middle class in India is highly stratified. Historical factors, such as the caste system, have led to strong hierarchies which are just starting to weaken. Position and profession still matter. Dignity and reputation matter. Money is not easy to come by and is spent carefully. Belongings are generally cared for carefully. Food is not wasted. Ask a new friend from India to describe some things about resource use that have shocked them in Canada.
Religion and Government
Many different cultures and religions co-exist in India. There are 28 states and immense cultural, linguistic, food, and lifestyle differences between areas. The differences between southern and northern India are much greater than between the various coasts of Canada. Be sure to ask your new friend to tell you about some things that they miss from home. As they talk, you'll start to get a window into how their life was, and how different they may be finding things here at the college.
A new friend from India could be Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jain, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, another religion or non-religious. Most Indians have some beliefs in a spiritual world. These beliefs impact every aspect of their life from food choices to gender relationships to clothing. It is sometimes hard to separate religious and cultural rules. For example, a young Indian woman may not be Muslim, but may still avoid contact with men to protect her modesty and reputation. A new friend may avoid meat at a given time, not for religious reasons but in self-sacrifice as a form of discipline or respect for food and animals.
Intercultural communication between people from India and the rest of the world is nothing new. India has been a cultural and commercial centre throughout history. It was to India that Europeans were trying to find an efficient sea route when Christopher Columbus arrived in North America by mistake. The British gradually got control of India in the 18th and 19th centuries but, in 1947, Mahatma Ghandi and other leaders brought India, and what is now Pakistan, out of colonization to renewed independence. A civil war immediately followed dividing the large peninsula (sub-continent) into two countries: India and Pakistan. Many families have roots in both parts. Wars between the two nations have occurred with the last as recently as 1999.
India's national language is Hindi, but many other languages are also spoken. English and English loan words are broadly used in the media, education, and business. English, in turn, has borrowed many words from Hindi including avatar, bangle, bungalow, cot, guru, jungle, karma, loot, pajamas, thug, sentry, and shampoo.
Most international students from India have spoken English since kindergarten, but the variety of English differs from Canadian English. Reading poses few challenges but speaking and writing in the Canadian style can be problematic. Canadians will sometimes misinterpret "Indian English" so messages are not transmitted effectively.
A few examples can highlight this: "Come home." in Indian English means the speaker feels you get along and you are welcome at his/her house. You can actually accept and when you arrive, he/she will be as hospitable as possible. You can see this does not have the same meaning as a Canadian-English "Let's have coffee sometime." which usually means the speaker is getting along with the listener but does not necessarily include a follow up invitation. In addition to different idiomatic expressions and small grammar changes, Indian English uses a different stress and intonation pattern meaning that you will need to accustom your ears to the differences. This is quite easy for the listener to do as human beings' brains are set up to listen to quite a bit of variation in pronunciation. You might think the newcomer should adjust, but it is very hard to find a pronunciation coach and very expensive! In fact, being able to decode a variety of Englishes will be a boon to you in the diverse workplace, so enjoy the challenge and practice while at the same time suggesting pronunciation changes to your new friend when miscommunication or ridicule will occur.
Social Interaction and Values
India is considered to be a very collectivist and family-oriented culture. It is very common for Indians to offer food, even from a lunchbox. Eating is a time for camaraderie and sharing. Don't be surprised if a friend from India asks, "What are you eating for lunch?" It's not a check of your nutritional choice; food is a common conversation starter!
In business meetings and study meetings, it's necessary to be sociable before getting down to the task. Canadians may feel this is wasting time, but in India and in many other countries, relationships must be established or solidified before work can begin.
Deadlines, start times, rules, and restrictions are not considered to be carved in stone in India. All can be bent for a good cause. A teacher might forgive a student's late assignment if the student is hard-working and reliable in general. Help your friend to understand how strictly rules are regarded here, especially in large organizations like a college. Some students from India have expressed surprise and confusion over the rules for academic citations and sources. This is an area that often causes younger Canadian-educated students grief too. Why not proofread each others' work and check that there is no danger of being accused of plagiarism before submission?
In India, it is not usually necessary to be a stickler for punctuality - it is ok if family, or previous appointments supersede being on time. And don't be surprised if you are asked personal questions or offered advice. Friends can be quite open with each other and are expected to look out for each other's interests.
Direct 'no' is not as common in India as in Canada and a student from India may seem to indicate understanding or agreement when trying to be polite and then not follow through. Indian head nods can also confuse if the speaker has the circular nod in their repertoire as well as the up-down and back-and-forth. The circular nod usually indicates agreement but, again, this might be polite agreement and not a commitment. It's a good practice to confirm what will happen next by asking for confirmation. Don't be afraid to say you are confused and ask that the non-verbal be accompanied by a verbal yes, no, or maybe. It is too stressful, and too risky, to be always second guessing unfamiliar cues.
Intra-gender intimacy of a non-sexual nature is much more common in India than in Canada. You can frequently see two men walking hand in hand or arm in arm and two women doing the same. You might find a new friend invades your "personal space", as such a concept does not exist among same sex friends in India. However, it can be quite shocking for a man to reach out to touch a female friend's hair or give her a hug. Ask your new friend to tell you what has surprised him or her about intra and inter gender familiarity in public at Conestoga.
Inter-relationships built on mutual help and trust are key elements of Indian society. In Canada, school and work relationships can be less intimate. This can be lonely and even frightening for a newcomer to our college. Imagine leaving a complex, extended family and friend group and being more or less alone! Why not be that person in our Conestoga community who reaches out and asks, "How can I help?"
The arts, cinema, culinary skill, and sports have a strong history in India. A new friend may be able to take you home or to the GTA to experience a taste of this rich tradition. Try one of the traditional indigenous sports! You could perhaps suggest a game of chess. Chess originated in India and the current world champion is from India.
Family is extremely important in India. It is common for even adult children to consult their parents or elders when making a decision. Hearing someone who was raised in Canada mocking or poking fun at family members can be quite shocking for newcomers from India. The independence so highly prized by the younger generations in Canada can be considered quite lonely and sad by newcomers from India, especially when they are far from home, missing a close-knit family atmosphere. Do ask how your friend's family is and wish them well. It is generally considered good manners in India to inquire after a friend's family members.
Hospitality is a key cultural value. Try to find an opportunity to visit and be visited. When offering or preparing food, always ask if there is anything that a new friend from India does not eat. Strict Hindus do not eat beef. Muslims don't eat pork and many eat only Halal meats (killed according to religious prescription). Many individuals are vegetarian. Although some Indians drink alcohol, offer carefully as many don't.
Family groups generally work together to collect money for education and immigration. Most Indian international students and immigrants come from India's growing middle class. A new friend from India may be very afraid of not passing because their success or lack of success is a family, rather than a personal, matter.
Experts are highly regarded in India and so are teachers. It is very uncommon for a student to question or contradict a teacher or a patient to question a doctor. The expert or teacher can be quite authoritative without this being considered rude. A strong Indian student may study hard but be quite passive and untalkative in class. Your new friend may need help in learning how to be seen and heard in class without over-doing things. It's always hard in a new culture to find the right balance in a new skill such as being assertive in class. It is sometimes surprising for Indian students to see Canadian students don't stand up to answer the teacher or address the teacher with an honorific, such as "Sir" or "Professor."
Many thanks to Yasin Dewji for his input on this profile.