The Harsh Realities and Difficult Challenges of Studying Abroad in India as a Foreigner

  Studying in India is undoubtedly an adventure.
  Is it a good investment? Different people have different opinions. The key is whether you can successfully overcome many difficulties and develop your own way of survival.
  I studied abroad in India and participated in many “international” seminars, summer schools, winter camps, etc. Every time there were activities involving foreigners, someone would be sent to the hospital. The organizers must have prepared prepared clinics or hospitals to receive foreign guests who fell one after another.
  The so-called “acclimatization” means not knowing exactly where the problem lies. Is it water, earth, or air? Many people begin to experience diarrhea as soon as they get off the plane, which is like walking through hell.
Level 1: food poisoning

  The first time I traveled to India was in the winter of 2007. At that time, I had almost no impression of the beautiful pink city of Jaipur. What impressed me most was the McDonald’s toilet, because I spent the entire day guarding that toilet almost every step of the way. Door.
  In 2009, I went to Bangalore to study. Although I wasn’t seriously ill at the time, my stomach was extremely sensitive and I didn’t dare to travel far for 1-2 months. Whenever there is stimulation, no matter what you eat or drink, you will want to run to the toilet. The weirdest thing is that for the next six months, whenever I “smelled” the smell of books, my stomach and intestines began to wriggle nervously, urging me to leave quickly. Didn’t I come to India to “study”? Why can’t I even stand the smell of books?
  If you learn the ropes when it comes to food poisoning, you may suffer less. However, everyone’s physique is different, and those with weak physiques will be attacked no matter how careful they are. The first basic principle is to pay attention to drinking water, drink bottled water, mineral water, never drink the filtered water provided by the restaurant, and do not drink the water flowing out of the faucet if it has been boiled; second, the diet should be done step by step, from simple to complex. , vegetarian before meat, and avoid raw food.
  For those who have just arrived in India, you can first try the local upper-middle-class vegetarian restaurants. The Brahmin class in India is obsessed with eating and drinking, and most of their favorite vegetarian restaurants are safe and reliable. I recommend choosing local cuisine, using rice or pasta, paired with lighter vegetarian curries, and avoiding cold dipping sauces, yogurt and salads. Observe this for a few days. If no dramatic gastrointestinal events occur, expand the scope of the experiment little by little. I would recommend waiting at least a week before trying meat, starting with chicken, then lamb, and finally seafood.
  The third is to grasp the “local” principle. It is safest to eat dishes that are commonly eaten by locals. If you are in an inland area where there is no local seafood culture, it is recommended to avoid fish and shrimps. Except for a few areas in India such as Goa or the northeastern states, there are very few pork dishes. If you are not in those areas, try to avoid pork. It is best to choose a mid-to-upper-class restaurant that is “local”. Be sure to remember that “high-end restaurants” that only serve foreigners are the most dangerous.
  I learned this the hard way. In the second year of studying abroad, my little sister came to Bangalore from New York to see me. I entertained her according to the above principles, but I stumbled a lot in the “vegetarian to vegetarian” step. I took my sister to a very high-end restaurant and ordered “Tandulli Chicken”. At that time, we were the only customers in the entire restaurant, and the food was served very slowly. That night, the little girl went from cold to hot, had diarrhea, and was taken to the emergency room. I was shocked. Fortunately, after getting an injection, an intravenous drip, and taking the antibiotics prescribed by the doctor for a few days, the girl finally recovered. From then on, we didn’t touch any meat during the trip. “Tanduli Chicken” is a North Indian cuisine, and Bangalore is in South India. I didn’t grasp the principle of “locality” at that time.
  The school held an international seminar this summer. The accommodation for international students was divided into two places. One group stayed at the five-star Hilton Hotel, and the other group stayed at the local four-star old hotel. The restaurant of the old hotel is also an old high-end restaurant loved by locals, and it is crowded. After three days, the hospital delivery rate was higher at the Hilton than at the Old Hotel. It is said that the first batch of Hong Kong scholars who were hospitalized were killed because they ordered “seafood pizza” immediately after checking into the hotel.
  ”Eating” is a matter of “time”. After a period of time (half a year to a year), your stomach and intestines can accept the customs of the South Asian continent, and you can enjoy the various local cuisines. But it’s not immune to all kinds of poisons. Even locals who eat out often stumble upon it and end up with bad stomachs.
Level 2: Difficulty in finding a house

  It is definitely best if a local teacher or relatives and friends have arranged safe and reliable accommodation before arrival. If you unfortunately have to find an agent to find a house by yourself, you must have an “adventurous” spirit and a “try your luck” mentality.
The first basic principle is to pay attention to drinking water, drink bottled water, mineral water, never drink the filtered water provided by the restaurant, and do not drink the water flowing out of the faucet if it has been boiled; second, the diet should be done step by step, from simple to complex. , vegetarian before meat, and avoid raw food.

  Real estate agencies in India do not have a set of laws and regulations and rely heavily on geographical location and popularity. It can be said that everyone is an agent. Therefore, when looking for a house, it is best to find an agent trusted by relatives, friends, and teachers through local connections. In addition, India is also a place where there are no “professional landlords”. Most landlords regard the houses they rent out as family territory, continue to declare sovereignty and intervene in various ways. Therefore, rights and privacy requirements must be clearly discussed at the beginning.
  The pain of renting an apartment is not exclusive to foreigners. All students who study in cities from other places are victims. Among them, it is extremely difficult for single unmarried women and Muslims to find a house. Most Hindus refuse to rent houses to Muslims. They also believe that single women living alone are sluts and will bring men back to spend the night, so they refuse.
  Single female students from out of town, if they do not live in on-campus dormitories, can only choose to live in privately run dormitories off campus, with 3-4 people per room, providing catering, laundry, cleaning and other services, as well as access control. Compared with students from other places, most landlords are wary of foreigners who want to make more money out of them. Single foreign women can usually successfully rent a house if they spend a little more money.
  There are all kinds of strange things that people in this country will encounter. My friend K, who came from South India to study in North India, rented a room with an independent bathroom. When she came back during the summer vacation, she was surprised to find that the landlord had sealed the toilet door in her room and built a new door on the living room side. , the private bathroom is gone. She wanted to protest with the landlord, but found that after half a year of moving in, she had not received a formal lease.
  I myself once lived in a rooftop house on the top floor of a certain family. The house is a three-story house. The landlord and his family live on the second floor. I live on the balcony on the top floor. There is a bathroom, a living room, and a small kitchen. The balcony is very large, and it looks like a very independent and complete unit. Unexpectedly, the landlord felt that this floor was still under their control and asked for servants to clean it every day (with monitoring). I felt that my privacy was being violated and refused. They were very unhappy and still sent people up every day on the grounds that the plants on the balcony needed watering.
  Since they share the same entrance and exit, every time a visitor comes, they will feel uneasy about the intrusion of a stranger and will interrogate them. In fact, they don’t know what “renting a house” means. What they have in mind is a concept similar to “renting a room for you to sleep in”.
  The final point of conflict is the electricity bill. Although the rooftop house is equipped with an independent electricity meter and the electricity bill is paid according to the meter every month, I don’t know the calculation standard for their electricity bill per kilowatt hour. One day, the landlord wanted to raise the electricity bill in the name of the power company’s price increase. I asked him to show me the company’s electricity bill, and he became angry. I decided not to renew the contract that day and to move out next month.
  There are many rental websites in India, but their function is not to let you find a house, but to let the agent find you and take you to see the house. Usually the house you see on the website is not an option, and their purpose is to show you “other houses”. Different agents may also show you the same room.
  Some agents feel that they have other full-time jobs and only have one or two options at hand, so they are in a hurry to make an appointment with you. Some intermediaries seem to have a “group” behind them, with many minions. The agent drives to pick you up to look at the house. Some show up on a motorcycle and ask you to wear his helmet and ride on his motorcycle; some take a tuk-tuk and walk, and they have everything. When viewing a house, you must adhere to the highest principles: do not be alone, and it is best to clearly express the rental conditions and all details first.
  After I decided to look for a new house, an agent contacted me through the rental website. He was well-dressed, driving a car, and looked professional. He was surrounded by one or two men on motorcycles when he showed the house. He seemed to be responsible for taking care of the landlord and getting the keys before we arrived. I put forward two non-negotiable conditions to the agent: “independent entrance and exit” and “the landlord must be good”.
  India is a place with a dense network of people, and people work very hard to make money. As long as the conditions are clearly stated, no matter how trivial they are, the agent can usually find a suitable house for you (websites cannot do this). In addition, India is a place where there are no secrets. People know who is a bad landlord and who is a good landlord. Therefore, it is very helpful to set out the conditions for “good landlords”.
  Fortunately, I found a house with an independent entrance and a good landlord within one day. In the blink of an eye, I have lived here for five or six years. Every time I renew my lease with the landlord, I ask this agent to help prepare the deed and relevant court registration documents. But after that day, I never saw him “driving” again, only on a motorcycle. It seems that on the day we first met, the car was borrowed and the dignity was staged.
The third level: foreigner registration

  According to regulations, any foreigner who has held an endorsement for more than six months must go to the local Foreigner Registration Office FRRO to go through the registration process for a residence permit. No matter how long your endorsement is, FRRO will grant permission for up to one year. If the visa is extended, the same procedure applies. In other words, whether you are working or studying in India, you must enjoy the “once a year” FRRO chaos.
  I have experienced the process of FRRO from manual to digital. Before digitizing, you have to fill out the form, prepare all documents such as school attendance certificate, rent lease, and deposit certificate, and go to the local FRRO office in person. It is an extremely anxious, restless, confusing and time-wasting day.
  You have to queue twice at the FRRO office and get your number plate twice. The first step is to check the documents outside the door. The official in charge will check whether all the documents are there. If you are not satisfied, you will be asked to leave without even entering the door. Once you get started successfully, the pain begins, and you have to wait for a long time with a whole room of foreigners. The numbers were advanced so slowly that the officer reviewing the documents was somehow slow to read them.
The pain of renting an apartment is not exclusive to foreigners. All students who study in cities from other places are victims. Among them, it is extremely difficult for single unmarried women and Muslims to find housing. Most Hindus refuse to rent houses to Muslims and believe that single women living alone are sluts.

  According to my observation, although they were staring at the document and flipping it over, it was very likely that they were not actually reading it, but pretending to read it. During the process, they will use various methods to trouble you. What information is missing here, what is wrong there, and they will ask you out again, as if sending people away is also a “performance”. In the FRRO office, I saw countless foreigners crying, pleading, and wailing because they were broken down by the long wait or rejection. Some people want to leave the country but cannot leave, and some want to stay but cannot stay.
  The way I coped was to queue up early and make a small mistake on purpose every time I handed in the documents. For example, knowing that he would ask me to hand over an additional research proposal, I kept it in my school bag and withheld it until he found fault with it.
  After the application documents are sent in, the review process begins. In the past, FRRO would selectively send people to the school to verify the authenticity of the certificate of enrollment, or go to the landlord to confirm that you are a tenant. In recent years, the government has digitized this verification process. All documents are uploaded to the website first, and FRRO will send your proof of enrollment to the university for verification.
  The trouble here is that they will tell you “We have sent a letter to the school, but the school has not replied”, but they will not tell you “which mailbox” of the school it was sent to. Often, after pleading repeatedly to find out which email address it is from, you will find that many times the letter is simply turned into spam by the system.
  Nowadays, the foreigner registration process has been fully digitized, and all applications are completed online. After the application is sent, there is an endless wait. After I submitted my application to extend my visa this year, I heard nothing for two months, so I decided to go to the FRRO office to inquire about the progress. When I arrived, I found that it was still crowded with helpless foreigners, and the situation was even more chaotic than before.
  Based on past experience, I arrived at the scene early, but found that no one issued number plates. By the time the organizers showed up to hand out number plates, twenty or thirty people had gathered at the scene. The so-called “number plate” is a piece of paper torn off by the organizer with a number written on it, which is related to everyone’s fate for the day.
  The organizer held a piece of paper and asked everyone: “Who came first?”
  Someone (he was not the first person) raised his hand and got “No. 1” successfully.
  Everyone gathered around and stretched out their hands. The organizer gave a few cards at random, but then said angrily: “Sit down and come one by one.” The obedient ones stepped back and sat back in their seats, while the disobedient ones stayed there, and those few A “disobedient” successfully obtained the precious torn paper and obtained the number.
  Seeing that something was wrong, I stepped forward and asked for it, and got “No. 19” successfully. Looking at the room filled with about 40 people and the number on my hand, I felt happy, but I didn’t know that the speed of progress was inexplicably slow, and I had to wait for more than 3 hours. After working on it for a while, the organizer copied my number on another sticky note, said “I’ll ask for you”, and asked me to leave.

  It’s 8 a.m., and it’s already 1 p.m. when I walk out of the FRRO office. It feels ridiculous as if it’s a different world, but when I think about it, I also have the eye-opening pleasure of “doing the field.”
  However, it is difficult to pass the test. The characteristics of the Indian bureaucracy are: although it is annoying, it is not evil; although it is “slow” and “careless”, it has no malicious intent to harm you or really get you into trouble. . Every time a problem arises, as long as you follow the official’s instructions, make up for what needs to be made up, interview when there is a need for interviews, and push for urgent matters, there seems to be no particular problem that cannot be solved.
  When studying in India, if you can successfully pass the “one food, two housing” hurdle – you can eat normally, find a small place to settle down, and live legally, you can easily pass other hurdles.
  For example, Indian English is difficult to understand, and the accents are very different across India. It requires a long period of immersion to master the key to “listening”.
In the FRRO office, I saw countless foreigners crying, pleading, and wailing because they were broken down by the long wait or rejection. Some people want to leave the country but cannot leave, and some want to stay but cannot stay.

  For another example, no matter how big or small, you must always be careful about being cheated, but with time, you can always find a balance. Places with fixed prices are more expensive, and places with cheaper prices have to negotiate. Whether you want to spend money and save trouble, or want to spend time and save money, the decision is up to you. When you go out to hail a ride, because online ride-hailing and other systems are quite developed, it is generally reliable, although occasionally there will still be drivers who ask you to “cancel this trip” after getting in the car and want to get out of the system to earn a little more money. Although there are many pickpockets and crooks in India, the streets and residences are basically safe. Unlike New York, there are no street shootings in India, and unlike Italy, there are no house break-ins and theft.
  It takes time to adapt to the harsh climate. Delhi’s climate is harsh, with severe cold temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius and severe summer temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius. If it is fully equipped, with a water fan to increase humidity and cool down during the dry and hot weather, air conditioning during the wet and hot weather during the rainy season, and a heater in the winter, you can probably get through it smoothly.
  What is currently relatively powerless is the air pollution period in early winter. The average AQI is between 300 and 500, and I still have headaches and sore throats despite running the air purifier 24 hours a day. It is said that the air quality in Delhi is like smoking 50 cigarettes a day. At this time, I can only rely on the cold jokes from my classmates’ mothers to make fun of myself:
  Man: I will love you until I breathe my last breath.
  Woman: I’m looking for a short-term relationship.
  Man: I live in Delhi.
  Woman: Oh, okay.

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