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Monday 19 July 2004
Culture shock!
Written by Andrew Webster, AIESEC member
Andrew with local people
Andrew with local people

Andrew Webster is travelling to India this summer.

He's travelling with the AIESEC student organisation, and he'll be writing a regular diary on BBC Birmingham.


Stevie Cameron
Stevie's in The Philippines.
Diary 1
Diary 2
CSR Conference
Diary 3
Diary 4

Andrew Webster
Andrew's in India.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Culture Shock!
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

Jess Rudkin
Jess is working in the Czech Republic.
Diary 1
Diary 2
Diary 3
Diary 4
Diary 5

James Eder
James is sharing his marketing skills with local people in Colombia.
Diary 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Diary 6 - Aims
Diary 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11
Diary 12 - 13 - 14 - 15
Diary 16 - 17 - 18 - 19

Working with AIESEC
Jame Eder introduces the student organisation.

AIESEC in Birmingham
Amaneeta Shokur explains more about AIESEC and how she is involved.

Scheila came to Birmingham from Brazil on a student scheme run by AIESEC.

Students index

Profile of the country from BBC News.

Official website for the UK.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.



Population: 1 billion
(UN, 2003)
Capital: New Delhi
Major languages: Hindi, English and 17 other official languages
Major religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism
Monetary unit: 1 Indian Rupee = 100 paise
Exports: Agricultural products, textiles, gems and jewellery, software and technology, engineering goods, chemicals, leather


AIESEC (pronounced "i-sek") stands for the Association for the International Exchange of Students in Economics and Commerce.

AIESEC is the world's largest international student organisation with 30,000 members in over 86 countries.

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It is almost impossible to describe the difference between a country like the UK and a country like India.

Andrew travelling in India

The only way I can think of is by saying, the UK is like a straight line, where everything is structured and systematic, and India is like a curvy line with huge peaks and troughs, where everything is a little more individual and unstructured. I'll try to explain a little better with some examples.


On most days, the temperature in Delhi reaches 40°C. This is a temperature I did not think existed until I got here. Amazingly though, it's not a heat that will burn you, and you're not always aware of how hot it is.

What it does do is make you sweat. Even after a fifteen minute walk you are in desperate need of a shower, and no matter how much water you drink, you can never replace what is being lost. Urination has become somewhat of a rarity. People like me (tourists) flock to areas with air conditioning, like shops where they have no intention of buying anything!

As for the monsoon, there will be the heaviest period of rain you are likely to see, for anything from ten minutes to two hours, which will pleasantly cool the environment. Then it will dry up within minutes as if nothing has happened. These are quite extreme climatic conditions.

• UK
The UK has summers where it's rarely extremely hot and winters where it is rarely extremely cold. It rains consistently all year round, but rain is rarely stormy or severe. If we're lucky it snows once or twice a year, but frost is a lot more frequent. It's really rather predictable and boring.


A huge range of automobile and creature dominate the roads. First, there are cars of all shapes and sizes, many with dents and missing wing mirrors...

Then there's the motorbike and moped, which weave their way through any gap regardless of size. It is common to see whole families sitting on these mopeds. The father at the front wearing a helmet, the mother behind, sitting on the bike sideways so not to crease her beautiful sari, and a baby in the mother's arms.

Then there is the auto rickshaws, the three-wheeler miniature Del-Boy vans that guarantee getting you anywhere you ask, for a negotiable price, in what is not always the most conventional way.

As for creature, cows wander the roads with a confident swagger knowing drivers will avoid them at whatever cost. The drivers seem a little less concerned about the pedestrians though, and there seems to be an understanding that cars don't stop for pedestrians and pedestrians don't wait for cars to stop in order to cross.

This is all then thrown together in a random fashion and chaos ensues which is plain to see and easy to hear by the continual use of the horn.

• UK
The UK roads have cars, which drive in lanes on the left side of the road, and overtake on the outside. There are buses, which often travel in bus lanes, and bikes often go in the cycle lane.

For the thrill seekers, there is the option of sprinting across a main road, but this really is quite unnecessary with all the zebra crossings around.


Indian food is filled with variety and flavour and is renowned for being spicy. A bold decision is often needed on what to eat, as it can have magical effects on your digestive system.

Food is different depending on where you live in India, but mostly eaten with a type of bread or rice, and is at its best when eaten with the hands. The messier it is the better the experience, apparently.

• UK
The national dish is 'fish and chips' - quite simple in recipe. It can be livened up a bit by the traditional use of salt, vinegar and tarter sauce.

Maybe a more exciting combination is the 'fry up' consisting of sausages, bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes and hash brown depending on your taste.

Urban life

I try not to blink when walking round Delhi, just out of fear of missing something. People fill the sides of the roads, either sleeping in tents, or selling fruit or water, or ironing clothes, anything you can think of.

Slum housing in India
Slum houses

Roads and streets are often half-built, and I have nearly fallen into open manholes and ditches. No two streets look the same, and no two shops do either.

Most exciting are the many markets, where traffic comes to a stand still, and you cannot see in front of you, due to the sheer volume of people. It is action-packed wherever you look, with a huge range of goods being sold, for whatever price your bargaining skills allow. There are also some Western-style malls and arcades, but I try to keep away from them, as they're far less exciting.

• UK
Many streets look the same in the UK, especially in newly built residential areas where houses are built in identical styles. High streets are usually filled with chain-store shops, and although markets exist, they are usually weekly and operate on a 'pitch system'.

There is however a lot more character in many of the smaller historic or seaside towns. Any open manholes and ditches are usually attended to after an accident and a stern letter to the council!

Real culture shock

Although this is a rather flippant comparison the point is that, whenever travelling somewhere outside of your own country, you will experience some difference, or culture shock which you need to adjust to.

In India, this culture shock is so significant that it's making my time here a real eye-opening experience. It is so different to anything I have seen or imagined before and I think the only way you can really get a grasp for it is by seeing it for yourself.

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Written by Andrew Webster

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