Dealing with Culture Shock when volunteering in India. The chance to experience a country as colorful and diverse as India while doing some real good is enough to attract the thousands of volunteers that help every year. But regardless of how worthwhile and how fun the trip can be, you’re likely to experience culture shock if you spend any extended amount of time immersed in a new culture. Here, we offer a few tips that can help you get over it as soon as possible.
Visiting a country before spending a long time in it is a good way to prepare yourself for what you’ll be living in. In India, the heat, the sheer volume of people, and the roads (which seem to be without reason) can all be overwhelming. If you can’t visit ahead of time, then do your research online and learn what to avoid and what to expect so you’re not caught too off-guard.
A country of extremes, India can be magical one moment then harrowing the next. Poverty is a huge issue in the country and non-locals are likely not only to be shocked by how open it is, they’re likely to be approached by more beggars than they can feasibly help, especially in the cities.
Be conscious of the issues the country faces, but don’t feel like you have to intervene in every case. You’re already there to do a lot of good, so focus on that.
One of the most eye-opening experiences for young doctors and dentists is learning how different medicine is practiced in certain regions of India, especially the more rural ones.
You won’t have access to a lot of the equipment you might have familiarized yourself with. Most people are going to have similar issues with the bureaucracy of India.
Your ability to help might occasionally be hampered by how long it takes to approve certain things. Patience is certainly a trait you’re going to learn (and have to learn) in India.
There are big cultural differences between India and most other countries and some of them can be difficult to get used to and difficult to accept.
Some relate to etiquette, such as clear disapproval of kissing in public (even in greeting) or dressing more conservative dress styles if you’re a woman. Others are clear flaws to western sensibilities, like the treatment of stray animals or the sight of public urination or defecation.
You will never see eye-to-eye with every aspect of life in India, and the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can enjoy the good.
You are most likely going to be working closely with locals who either run, work in, or assist the organization you’re helping. You might also be staying in the home of a local.
Finally, you will be helping locals. You have several opportunities to see how loving, welcoming, and fun the people of India can be. Take those opportunities and it can quickly turn around your opinion if you experience those first shocks.
India can be a wonderful country and volunteering a life-changing experience for the good. You just have to adjust to the culture and embrace it as much as you can.
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