American culture contrasts India

Isaac Sierra

Anxiously twirling a strand of hair, the new student sits down in the Indian classroom, filled with students she has never seen before. Immediately, she is welcomed by her new classmates, and she sighs in relief, elated to have new friends. Sr. Aashi Chhabra experienced her childhood in India  before immigrating to the U.S. Indian students communicate much more directly, and Indian culture has much more rigid expectations for students’ behavior.

 In India, Chhabra noticed that people are constantly greeting and accepting newcomers into society, no matter how uncomfortable approaching them may be. Whenever a new student in India enters a classroom, fellow students instantly welcome them. In the United States, whenever a new student joins the school, students hardly take notice and they just continue life as normal.

  Last school year, Chhabra began attending West Ottawa. Her experience was not at all like her experience with the school environment in India. “When I came to the U.S., it took me roughly 2 months to make friends, simply because I was shy and no one in my school would talk to the new girl who joined in the middle of the year,” Sr. Aashi Chhabra said. American students do not intend to be rude or uninclusive, as they live in a society that teaches them to be less open. The technology advancement especially has proven to take a toll on the openness of Americans. “In the U.S. it’s become the ‘SMS generation’. Everything is done through texting and technology. It’s like people have forgotten how to interact in person and that’s one thing I find really different,” Chhabra said. One of the consequences of being so technologically advanced in the U.S. is that people are becoming more involved with technology and less involved with face-to-face interaction. India, being a less developed country, has not experienced as much technological development as the U.S. Consequently, Indian students have learned to communicate directly to one another. “In India, there is a natural curiosity in minds that draws people to each other. They believe in social, face-to-face interaction,” Chhabra said.

 Chhabra also noticed when she immigrated to the U.S. that Indians and Americans differ considerably in their methods of discipline. In the U.S., people are allowed to wear whatever they want just as long as it follows a lenient dress code. Some private schools have school uniforms, but those students have to pay for their education, and they have the opportunity to join a public school with no school uniform if they so desire. In India, even the public schools have strict dress codes. “Everyday, we had uniform checks. I still remember my uniform and uniform checks till this day. School I.D.s were to be on our person everyday. We were to have polished black shoes, black socks. The uniform particular to my school was all white, a white skirt, white shirt, a white hairband, or hair tie for the girls, neatly combed back hair for the boys, and our school tie,” Chhabra said. Being forced to wear certain clothes with actual uniform checks is only one way where Chhabra’s experience of Indian culture is far more disciplined than the U.S. Another Indian custom that Chhabra experienced is to be extremely respectful in all situations. In the U.S., although being rude may be considered wrong and improper, nothing is ever done about it, so people are impolite all the time. Chhabra’s experiences in India were far different. “There are some things that you just do when you grow up in India. You greet your elders every morning and touch their feet as a sign of respect before you start your day. You never call anyone older than you by their name, be it your parents, grandparents, or even siblings. You always call your teachers by ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’,” Chhabra said. In the U.S. most people would never even consider actions like calling a teacher “sir”, but in India people are required to have utmost respect at all times, even if that means touching someone’s feet.

 Aashi Chhabra’s experiences in both India and the U.S. have revealed that Indian students communicate much more directly, and Indian culture has much more rigid expectations for students’ behavior. In the U.S. it is perfectly fine to ignore strangers or to address elders without having to touch their feet. However, in India, people are generally more open and they are more respectful due to their discipline. Chhabra has experienced a unique situation in which she is able to live in two very different countries, both being unique in their own way.