Bharat Me, Bargains Hai! by Maja Orlowska

Besides the main excitements usually associated with traveling abroad like new foods, interesting sights, and different ways of life, us NSLI-Y students were beyond excited from the very beginning of the trip to experience one thing: shopping and bargaining in India. While there are shopping malls and regular stores, a popular way of buying goods is from streetside stands and vendors. We knew that going to the market or areas in Pune which are well known for their ample street shopping would be a fun way to not only score some beautiful Indian clothing, tapestries, jewelry, or presents for our families and friends back home, but also a great way for us to put our Hindi learning to use in a day to day setting.
Therefore, our shopping adventures started off in the classroom. Our Hindi teachers were eager to help us learn and began the preparation by teaching us useful phrases like, “Kaise diya?” (“How much is it?”) or “Kya aap ke pas _______ hai?’ (“Do you have _(name of item here)_?”) and just like that, we were prepared for the most basic interactions with shopkeepers.

However, the second step of shopping would be bargaining for a lower price. Although there are many locations with “fixed rates”, or unnegotiable prices, bargaining is possible in many locations and is a common practice in India. Being foreigners, we knew that we would most likely get charged higher prices, so we needed to polish up our bargaining tactics to get a good deal. From our teachers, we learned phrases like, “Yaha bahut mahonga hai!” (“This is too expensive!”) or “Kuch kam karo?” (“Will you lower the price?”). In addition to linguistic tips, we learned other tricks to ensure the best deal possible, like not appearing too eager about any item, or walking away and waiting for a vendor to call you back and offer a lower price.

After all this, we were prepared! While entering the markets, we were greeted with hundreds of pretty items on every side, a myriad of colors, and vendors calling out, “Special deal just for you, ma’am!” Even the appearance of the market, full of trinkets, vendors, and crowds of people, was quite the experience by itself. Once we were able to slightly absorb all these sights, it was time to shop. Although at first we were slightly timid, we soon put our newly-learned bargaining skills to good use. At the end of the day, we were all satisfied with our purchases and ability to converse with the shopkeepers in Hindi.

What is truly amazing about an immersion program is being in a context where using the language in a real-life setting is possible, and sometimes also a necessity. Learning vocabulary that is applicable to what you are doing and then being able to use it with native speakers makes the language learning  process, which can be at times quite difficult, fun and exciting. This was definitely one of the most entertaining experiences that I’ve had so far in India- not only because I was able to bring down the price of a hand-carved wooden statue from 400 rupees to 150 rupees, but also because I was able to use Hindi, the language I’ve come here to learn, to make this interaction with a vendor possible.

A Teen’s World in India by Alex Tang

What makes studying abroad so intense is that one learns as much, if not more, outside of the classroom than they would conventionally. As a result, I’ve been able to learn about India and its beautiful culture in both the academic setting of a schoolroom, and through social interactions with my brothers and their friends.

There is a universal “teenage experience”, transcending cultural and political borders alike. Having come halfway across the world, and living with a host family with two other teenaged boys, I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience the lifestyles of my similar-aged peers in India.

I’ve been extremely lucky to have been placed with two hilarious, easygoing, intelligent brothers. There is an 18-year-old and a 15-year-old. Since my arrival in India, they have seamlessly included me in their daily activities and invited me to join their individual friend groups. Indian teenagers I have noticed, are extraordinarily curious about the world outside of India. This curiosity, and as the typical Indian teen’s intrinsic open-mindedness and friendliness, has privileged me to just hang out with them without any feelings of discomfort.

Every day when I returned home from school, I would have a quick cup of chai and see what my brothers and their friends had planned for the afternoon. Some days, we met in cafes, sipping milkshakes and talking about sports and school. On other days, we might go to the soccer or basketball court to crack jokes during halftime. If we don’t feel like going out, we usually invite people over to play FIFA on the Playstation, or put on a Bollywood movie. As in any country on Earth, the teenagers in India have hobbies and drama to keep them busy, as well as dreams for the future. Whenever I’m out with my brother and their friends, they remind me so much of my own friends in America, that it’s as if I had never left the United States.

Yet, as universal as the teenager lifestyle is, certain qualities stand out amongst Indian teenagers. The Indian post-secondary educational system is much more competitive than in the United States. As a result, Indian teens spend much more time in school and in private tuition (tutoring) classes. If American teenagers think the SAT and ACT make life difficult, the Indian 12th Standard Exams and the JEE Mains/Advanced examinations are living nightmares.  While it’s indeed true that Indian teens are extremely studious, they maintain healthy social lives as well. If anything, the long hours they spend in classes increase the value they place in time spent relaxing with friends.

My favorite moments in India have been spent with my brothers and friends, being able to interact with Indian teenagers. As a result, studying in India has not only enriched my understanding of the regional language and culture, but has also confirmed my identity as a teenage citizen of the world.

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You say “Biscoot”, I say Chocolate Chip Cookie….by Kate Hales

When I asked my host sister what she wanted to do after school she hardly had to think a bit before responding, “Let’s make chocolate chip cookies.”

I was so excited when she said that. Fresh-baked cookies are not easy to find in India. My sister had never made cookies before, and although I’m no expert, I’ve made cookies enough times to know the basics. I immediately began figuring out what we would need to make cookies. The first problem I ran into is that Indian food doesn’t require an oven. That means we only have a portable stove top connected to a gas canister for cooking. And a microwave. This could have been a major setback, but leave it to Pinterest  to save the day and give us an oven free recipe. Cookie Crisis averted.

I found a one-minute microwave cookie in a mug recipe with only a few ingredients that should be easy to find in a pantry. All we needed were flour, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, butter, and chocolate chips. Easy enough, right?

We already had most of the ingredients, so we just made a quick stop at the local grocery store to pick up the last few. This is the part where I discovered that some ingredients that are common in the United States are rarely used in India.
First on our list was brown sugar. We scanned the store and found two small packages, labelled “light brown sugar.” The recipe specifically called for dark brown, but really, what’s the difference? I grabbed a package. Next we needed vanilla. We searched the entire store twice and didn’t see any. The shopkeeper pointed us towards a wall of bottles. Hidden among the barbecue sauces and vegetable oils we found an enormous bottle of vanilla. My sister asked, “When are we ever going to use that much vanilla?” According to the recipe we only needed three drops. I set the bottle down. Exceptions would have to be made. The last thing we needed was a bag of chocolate chips. Apparently this store didn’t carry chocolate chips. We would have to make do with Hershey kisses.

We started baking as soon as we got home. I had noticed that my mom never used a recipe when she cooked, but I didn’t realize that we didn’t even own measuring cups. I was not expecting it when my mom pulled out a literal cup, tablespoon and teaspoon for us to use. I was also not expecting to be handed a mortar and pestle to crush the Hershey kisses into smaller pieces. This was really weird for me, but what else could I do but grab the utensils and start baking. I’ve learned being here that home chefs have lived with their beloved recipes for so long, they hardly have use for such precision. It’s just known to them.

The cookies didn’t take long to make. As I sat and ate my delicious cookie I couldn’t help but think that this experience was an odd, but very accurate summary of my own culture shock. The confusion caused by unfamiliarity occurs on both large and small scales. I have found so many aspects of India that are strange to me. It is easy to allow the differences to cause discomfort or frustration, but it is more rewarding to see the humour and excitement of trying new things. I have found that as I try to fully embrace an Indian lifestyle it is becoming easier to love the culture. It is becoming easier to try new things and understand how incredible the new sights, sounds and smells are. At times it is hard to have a positive outlook, but I know that one can either cry over a few missing drops of vanilla, or enjoy a delicious cookie made in an Indian kitchen.

20150714_172159  cookie in a cup, the Indian remix

36 Interesting Things I’ve noticed about India by Joelle Bohringer

36 Differences between American Culture and Indian Culture

1. Food in India hands on matter. Literally. You want to eat dal and rice? Okay, you mix it with your fingers and tear off a piece of flatbread to spoon it up with. Honestly, I find it functional and fun. You don’t have that metal silverware taste in your food, there’s less dishes to wash, and I personally get the satisfaction of imagining my mom in the US cringing at me scooping food into my mouth with my hands and licking my fingers. 

2. Food is also prepared differently. No Indian families have ovens, and everything is cooked on a stove-top gas.

3. Traffic Rules? What are those? While there are actually traffic rules, they are definitely treated more as guidelines. A red light is more like a recommendation to stop, and carrying your baby on your moped is really no big deal. If a police officer does happen to stop you, I’ve been told crying, telling him that you’re old, or giving him 100 rupees ( $1.50) seems to trick him into pretending that it never happened.

4. Power outages are definitely more common. In fact, every Thursday the power is shut off during working hours for conservation efforts. While many places have backup generators, many things lack power. For instance, the streetlights in a country of 1 billion people don’t work. But, as stated in difference #2, it honestly doesn’t seem to make that big of a difference.

5. Your apartment building is known as a “society”, and it honestly makes sense. There is a society- type structure within your complex. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s really pretty cool. In my society, there is a pool, gym, cafeteria, playground, and playing field.  People go down to the common grounds in the evening to enjoy each other’s company, children play football or cricket in the playing field, and the society cultural committee plans special events on the weekends. People trust each other and they know that they are safe in their society, and honestly, that’s something that I would never expect in a city of almost 6 million people.

6. Everyone is family. Your cousins are your brothers and sisters, your mothers friends are your aunties, and your fathers friends are your uncles. Friends and family do anything for each other, and your wellbeing is a common discussion topic.

7. British English. I’ve honestly learned not only Hindi while here, but also British English. For instance, a container is a tiffin, a restaurant is a hotel, hiking is trekking, campaigning is canvasing, houses are bungalows, and a bunch of other strange British terms that are totally used in everyday speech.

8. Dinner is served sometime between  8:30 and 10:30 p.m. When I first arrived and was adjusting to the time difference, I’d often find myself falling asleep at the dinner table. Now, I’m able to fully enjoy my host mom’s DELICOUS cooking every night.

9. Waste Disposal is not really the same here. In my 3ish weeks here, I’ve maybe seen like 5 public garbage cans. Even in my school I’ve only seen one super-tiny garbage can. There is a pretty bad problem with litter, and people, mostly the underprivileged, often dump their trash on the roadsides. However, the country is working extremely hard to develop its infrastructure to suit the growing environmental needs. Many people also strive to be very environmentally friendly. For instance, reusable water bottles are huge, composting is fairly common, and water conservation is a pretty big deal.

10. Sanitation guidelines are also less strict. At all food stand markets, vendors touch their bare hands to your food. While this may seem cringe-worth by American standards, I prefer to view it as an immune system booster.

11. Food is fresh. Food is purchased, cooked, and eaten all in the same day. Food doesn’t sit around in the refrigerator, and it is must to eat everything on your plate. Also, processed food is not common. Almost everything is from-scratch and nothing really comes out of a box, bag or can.

12. While grocery stores do exist, fresh fruit and vegetable stands are much more common and much more popular. Within a 5 minute walk from my society there is three stores/ stands that sell all the fresh produce you could ever want.

13. Fruit. The fruit itself gets a post because it is sooo delicious. Since I’ve been in India I’ve tried all sorts of amazing new fruits like chickoo, jamun, lechee, gooseberry, and custard apple. Even fruits like, pineapple, cantaloupe, oranges, bananas, coconut, and mango that I can get in the US taste much better because they are picked ripe, and are much more fresh.

14. By American standards, most things here are pretty darn cheap. A dish in a nice reasturant is about 200 rs (about $3.20), a shirt I bought was about 400 rs (about $6), a simple check up with a doctor for a sore throat was 150 rs. ($2.50), and ice cream or a smoothie is about 30 rs ($.50).

15. School in India is pretty different. All Students wear a uniform, and Indian teachers are more strict and formal. A lot of stress is placed on exams, and the best students grades are posted on a whiteboard in the lobby. Classrooms only have blackboards, and there two computer labs in my school of 3000 students.  Also, there are 45-50 students in a classroom at a time. At New India School, students attend from age 3 to 10th grade.

16. High school in India only goes until grade ten. After, grade ten, a student goes to a 2 year junior college in their home city. In the junior college, they choose a course in commerce, science, arts, or technical studies. After junior college they apply to a four year university.

17. Get into an Indian University is a very different process. Instead of writing essays, competing interviews, and trying to find a college that is the best fit, students in India simply take an entrance exam. Those who get the highest scores go to the best universities. Simple as that. Doing well on this test is EXTREMELY competitive, and children spend hundreds of hours preparing

18. Most children in India become independent at a later age. Children in India often live with their parents throughout university, and most kids do not gain any sort of employment until they are in their mid to late 20s, and they are often done with graduate school (it is actually illegal for children under 18 to work). Parents cook for their children and pack their lunch throughout the whole time.  Some parents also help to make decisions such as school courses to take, people to hang out with, and clothes that are appropriate.  While it is very different, caring for older children true sign of love.

19. Many parents also help their children find love through arranged marriage. While arranged marriage is becoming less common in India, it is still very popular. However, arranged marriage is not what many Americans imagine it to be.  Parents work together with children to find people who share the same values and interests. The children then meet with the various people, and really get to know them. If they feel as though the connection is right, plans for engagement will be made. In India, there are millions of extremely happy people who had arranged marriages.

20. Most people in India speak at least three languages. Each state in India has its own language. For instance, In Maharashtra ( the state in which Pune and Mumbai are located), people speak primarily Marathi. The official government business and television is conducted in Hindi, so people also speak Hindi, and English is spoken in many school and workplaces. Some people speak more than 3 languages. For instance, my host father speaks 5 languages: Hindi, English, Marathi, Gujarati, and Kannada. (state languages of India)

21. Manners are very different in India. In Hindi, there is literally not a word for “please”. It is extremely strange to me because you never say thank you or I’m sorry to your family. It is just known that you appreciate your family; therefore, you have no need to say thank you or I’m sorry.

22. Privacy is also very different. It is strange to be private around your family and friends. Because family relationships are so close, people care about what you are doing, how your health is, how much you are eating, sleeping etc.. At first, this was strange for me, but I now find it comforting and special.

23. India has 1 billion people. That is 3 times as many people as the US. There is an overabundance of people and not enough good-paying jobs. Because of this, there is a wide income gap between the lower and middle-to-upper socio-economic classes. For instance, almost every middle class family has servants. My family has one maid. She comes every few days to make the roti for meals and tidy up the house. Many families have drivers that drive them to where they need to go. Everywhere you go, there is always someone to serve you. Hiring people for these positions is viewed as providing employment for people who would otherwise have no source of income.

24. In India, there is a gap in educational opportunities. All middle class people send their children to private schools. Only those who cannot afford private school fees send their children to public school. These schools are severely overcrowded, and lack many resources. After tenth grade, public school students are only eligible for government universities. These universities are extremely hard to get into, and public school students face extreme competition from their often better prepared peers.

25. In the United States, you can’t really tell where a person is from based on their appearance, clothing or food. The opposite is true in India; It is an extremely diverse culture and each region has distinct differences.  You can often tell where a person is from based on their appearance: South Indians tend to have darker skin, north-west Indians tend to be fair, and north- east Indians tend to have eastern-Asian features. Every state had its own style of traditional dress, its own language, and its own tradition. People are extremely proud of their family’s  home region and there heritage shows through in their dress and traditions.

26.  are also different in India. Instead of summer, fall, winter, and spring, India has summer, winter, and monsoon. Summer is from March- June, monsoon is from June- September, and winter is from November to February.

27. Many Hindus practice vegetarianism because they don’t believe in killing animals. At every restaurant, at least half of the menu is vegetarian. Even if meat is eaten, only chicken, fish, and mutton are available. Beef is never available because it is considered holy. Considering the fact that I eat a lot of meat in the US, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that a vegetarian diet did not mean a lack of flavor or protein. Many Indians also practice pure vegetarianism , which means that they don’t eat egg. In my family, it is a personal choice. Meat is not cooked in the house, but my oldest host sisters eats chicken when we go out to eat.

28. Most Indian people practice Hinduism. Hinduism is an ancient religion that began from no specific person, but a way of living based on peace and balance. Hindus worship multiple gods and many people are active in their faith.  Anywhere that you are, there is a good chance that a temple is within walking distance. While Hindus do not have a specific day of worship, many people visit temples often. Also, many people have small shrines within their homes.

29. In the US, most people drive cars. In Pune, most people drive two wheelers. A single road is covered with 100s of mopeds at any given time. People drive them because they are easy to get around on, they are less likely to get stuck in traffic jams, and because gas in India is very expensive.

30. In India, stray animals are just a normal part of life. Street dogs lounge on the roadside, wild pigs run near my house, and wild donkeys graze in empty lots. These animals keep to themselves and don’t really disturb everyday life.

31. In India, almost everything is spicy (masala). There is masala chai (tea), masala bread, masala drink, masala chips, masala cookies, etc… At first, I  had a hard time adjusting to the spiciness. Now, I find that my mouth is much more adjusted. However, I still feel the burn when I eat spicier dishes.

32. Every morning, I wake up to a glass of warm chocolate milk lovingly prepared by my host mom. However, the milk isn’t the same. Its water buffalo milk and it is absolutely delicious. It is super sweet and creamy. My family buys a small bowl of milk fresh every day. They then pasteurize the milk on the stovetop. He milk is not kept in the fridge, but on the counter. Also, instead of butter, ghee is used. Ghee is boiled, clarified butter. It becomes a liquid at room temperature. Ghee is used as a condiment and It is poured over rice, dal, bread etc… To me, it tastes sort of like the butter used on movie theater popcorn.

33. Instead of taking a taxi somewhere, people in Pune use rickshaws. A rickshaw is a small, three-wheeled vehicle with no doors. It is about the size of an American ATV. For a twenty mintute ride, a rickshaw is usually about 200 rs ($3)

34. My American family celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.. In India, people celebrate festivals instead of holidays. Some popular festivals are Diwali, Ganapati, and Holi. Instead of spending time exclusively with your family like during American holidays, Indian festivals are celebrated by going out and celebrating as a community in the streets. From what I’ve been told, festivals are extremely colorful, busy, and fun. Festival season begins in September and is marked by numerous festivals within weeks of each other.

35. In the US, people are just used to plugging in an appliance and having power. In India, every outlet has a switch. In order to receive electricity, you must first turn the outlet on.

36. Because so many people eat dinner late, go out late, work late, etc.. ,the streets are bustling all night long. Even at 2 am, the streets are crowded with people and cars.

Khanna Bharat Me. (Food in India.) by Sophie Pauken

India is all about diversity. That’s why Indian foods are some of the most interesting and delicious dishes around the world. Indians love spice. A dish is not complete unless it has some kind of “masala” or one in an array of these spices. In India, food is all about love and care. It is the way people show how they feel about someone, how they give of themselves and receive. It’s all about relationships.  It is considered the ultimate God.

Every meal consists of the main food groups you need in a day including, rice, chiapatti and delicious curry known as subzie (this is the Hindi word for vegetables) . One of the best dishes I’ve had is called pakoras. Pakoras are vegentable dipped in batter and fried gloriously to perfection. Common veggies used are onions, potatoes, and zucchini. On rainy, monsoon days, pakoras with a hot cup of chai (tea) will warm you and your heart.

Another famous dish is pani puri. Pani means “water” in Hindi, and puri are a kind of fried, hollow ball. You then have to take your thumb to create a hole in the crispy chip and fill it with chickpeas and spicy waters. One water has tamarind chutney in it and the other has coriander. You can also fill it with onions, peas, potatoes and top it with crispy sev (fried, crunchy pieces of goodness ) This is a typical street food in Maharashtra. It literally pops into your mouth.

Another great aspect of Indian food is how fresh the dishes are. Everywhere you go you can spot fresh fruit and vegetable stands. Some of the stands will even juice the fruit right in front of you to make delicious fruit drinks including pineapple and watermelon. Families buy their fruits and veggies for food made that day and don’t usually have leftovers. Freshness is important.

Indians also love their sweets. One of the best dishes I’ve had so far is kiwi cake and various candies. I think I might have to write another blogpost about the sweets 🙂 Honestly, every day is an adventure in India including the various food items I get to enjoy and taste. This has been one of my favorite and most delectable aspects of this experience. I will miss this khanna (food).

imagejpeg (1)    pani puri

imagejpeg (2)oh my pakoras!

imagejpeg (3)fresh fruit juices

imagejpeg (5) some kind of chocolate grilled sandwich goodnessimagejpeg (6) subzie market

“Quaquaversal”- A Word I finally Understand in Pune by Natalie Anumolu

Our first day in India we went on an adventure, and took our first walk. It was definitely quite the experience. To give us break from orientation, all fifteen of us marched down the streets of Pune in a single line behind our Resident Director. Heads literally turned, people waved, and people just simply stared at us. Next time we’re expecting pictures. And to be fair, there were some in our group taking pictures of India too- so both parties are curious. It was pretty comical though.

And I’ve never seen such crazy traffic. Cars would not stop for us, even if 15 pale skinned, Western clothed, camera bearing, hat wearing Americans were interesting to look at. Cars would back out right in the middle of when our group was passing, and rickshaws would fly by so close to us, that if we suddenly moved our arm, it would be gone. When we first landed in New York and were driving to the university we were staying at for orientation, we had this crazy shuttle driver who kept driving inches away from bikers, pedestrians, and cars, all while reading a piece of paper in his right hand. All of us were freaked out, but that was just preparation for Pune.

I’d describe the streets as quaquaversal, which is Latin for moving or happening in every direction instantaneously. Cars, pedestrians, cyclists, stray dogs, rickshaws and motorbikes (mopeds) fill the streets of Pune. Constantly. Motorbikes not so common in America, but they are everywhere in India, especially in Pune. In fact, I just learned that Pune actually has the greatest number of motorbikes (mopeds) in the entire world. According to the wise and holy genie Wikipedia, “Pune traffic, in short, is probably the worst nightmare for motorists.” No wonder NSLI-Y rules dictate that students aren’t allowed to even ride on motorbikes.

Why? The reason why these streets are so quaquaversal is probably because there’s no stop signs. Or hardly any stop lights. Or any signs for that matter. People just simply go- whether they are directly in the way of a pedestrian or not. Honking is a way letting people know your location, and is not considered rude here. If someone slows down for the occasional stoplight or person, people honk as if their life depends on it.

The rushing around is interesting because the average person is probably already late to wherever they’re going, because, they probably all run on IST, or Indian Standard Time. Nonetheless, it seems efficient. No one has to stop at a red light for four minutes. Everything is fast paced. To the untrained eye, everything moves in every direction instantaneously- but if you look closely, there seems to be a certain order to the craziness. People know when to pause for a few seconds to let another car pass and when to zoom by, driving by instinct. It’s actually pretty neat, and scary at the same time.

But, even if there’s an order to the chaos, I’m glad I can’t ride on a motorbike. For now, it’s enough of a challenge to make sure I am able to stay safe walking on the street. Although it seems everyone is always ok. And if I keep my wits about me, I know I will be too.

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Aam Sweet Aam by Lauren Lauter

Aam is the Hindi word for mango. It is a word, a taste, a way of life that the NSLI-Y India 2015 group quickly adopted. We agreed to name this blog “Aam Sweet Aam” for a couple of reasons. One, we all have fallen in love with sweet zing that this fruit’s juices have imparted. It may sound cliche, but you really haven’t had a mango until you’ve had an Indian mango.  2. We have playfully substituted the word “Aam”, into an adage about “Home”…….And for the next few weeks the city of Pune, in the state of Maharashtra, in the country of India is our home. All of the challenges, the frustrations, the adventure, the friendships, the family and the sweetness. Just like home. We hope that you enjoy our reflections on this experience.

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