For 2 Weeks in May 2018, myself and three other fisher Students traveled to Kochi, Kerala, India through Fisher’s Non Profit Global Projects Program. We worked with Raksha Society, a school for students with disabilities, to transform their current paper-bag-making unit into a profitable, efficient business. This experience was unlike any of my previous experiences and as a result I learned so many new lessons. Here is my list of tips and tricks for anyone who is traveling to India!
- Apply for your Visa as far in advance as possible!
While none of us had any issues obtaining our e-visas or getting in or out of the country with our visas, some people we met in-country told us stories of other students who had to delay their trip by 2 weeks because their visa application hadn’t gotten approved yet. APPLY EARLY!!!
- Get shots and vaccinations ahead of time.
This is something I didn’t do far enough in advance. Some vaccinations require a certain amount of time to get the full dosage. While some of my peers just took a pill for a week leading up to our trip, I had to get a shot because I didn’t go to the doctor’s office far enough in advance, and therefore the simple pills wouldn’t be effective.
- Exchange currency before you leave
This was another big mistake I made. Some currencies, such as rupees, aren’t as popular as other currencies, such as the euro. Because of this, depending on your bank, they may have to order currency for you ahead of time. As the procrastinator I am, I waited until the last possible minute to go the the bank to exchange my currency. I was out of luck when I went to the bank and they told me they couldn’t have that amount of rupees available by the time I left. I was stuck exchanging my currency at the airport in New Delhi, where the rates aren’t very good and you don’t get as many rupees. They can also charge high service fees depending on where you go! Again, plan ahead of time and exchange currency early!
- Understand how long it takes to physically travel to India!
On the way there, I was in an airport or on a plane for 33 hours. On the way back, it was closer to 27 hours. There’s also a 9.5 hour time difference (or 10.5 from my hometown, St. Louis MO!) the travel was LONG but worth it.
- Ensure that your clothes are respectful and appropriate.
In Kochi, leggings are rarely appropriate, unless you wear a long shirt over them that reaches around the knee area and covers your butt. Additionally, females must cover their knees and shoulders. Myself and the 2 other girls each made the mistake of bringing at least one pair of pants that had slits on the side that went a little too far up and made our pants a little too flowy… we used safety pins at the thigh and knee to ensure we respected their norms and culture for clothing. Additionally, make sure you pack for the weather! We went during a rainy season and it poured almost every night on our walk home. Bring umbrellas and shoes you don’t mind getting dirty!
When we took our Weekend trip to Munnar, we all wanted to wear comfortable leggings for our hike and tour of the tea museum. We had to make sure we wore shirts that were a bit longer than what we might usually wear to show respect to their culture and norms.
- Don’t be afraid to try new food
Before I left, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t like the food. When I arrived, I was definitely proven wrong. I tasted almost everything and ended up loving it all. Some of my favorites were Paneer, Gobi 65, and all the different types of breads.
Here is a photo of the paneer we made during our cooking class! Paneer is a type of cheese that doesn’t melt that is common in India.
- Realize how much diversity exists within India (people, geography, climate, etc)
In Kochi, most people were either Christian, Hindu, or Muslim. Each of these religions are so different but the way they coexisted and meshed with eachother was incredible. Additionally, when we first flew into India it looked very dry and like a desert but once we got to Kochi it was so green and lush but very hot and humid. When we traveled to Munnar tea plantations over the weekend, it was still green and lush but it was also very cool and relaxing.
Here is a photo from Kochi! We were right next to the water and the weather was extremely hot and humid. It rained heavily nearly every night! Kochi was very green and lush. We had layovers in Mumbai and New Delhi and we could see from the plane that the land was very dry and dusty.
This photo is from our weekend trip to Munnar Tea Plantations. The weather was much cooler than Kochi and a lot less rainy.
- Have an open mind.
The culture in India is so different from anywhere I have ever traveled (the US, Mexico, Dominican Republic, France, Canada) but being open to learning about differences in your own culture and the culture of the country you visit is so important. Without an effort to understand another culture, there will be no teamwork, cohesion, or collaboration. In the end, we were able to collaborate so well with Raksha and overcome our cultural differences because both parties were open to learning about and understanding the culture and norms of the other party. This made our work a success!!
I could go on and on about tips for traveling to India but this is a great list to get you started. Most importantly, wherever you travel, be open to new experiences and don’t restrict yourself by being afraid of different cultures. Embrace it and learn, that’s how you’ll grow!