Claire Bens is a junior at Ohio University, majoring in political and global studies, focusing on peace and war. Claire is currently studying in Hyderabad, India at the Universidad Hyderabad.
I am not a person who is generally very aware or in-touch with my race. I have never found that being white affected me much or in any way influenced my life before I came to India. In the last month, I have become more aware of my whiteness and my inherent foreignness here. I have never felt as distinguished by my appearance as I feel being a white female in India. So here is a crash course in being a white girl, or really any foreigner, in the South Asian world.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be famous? Wonder how you would handle the attention? Well now I know, every foreigner is a celebrity in India. First lesson in our crash course on India, get ready for your photo shoot! Maybe it is because I choose a large yet not non-touristy city, but I am not exaggerating the attention I receive, especially because I am a female. Every time I set foot off of my university’s campus there is a constant flash flash flash and a lot of conspicuous cell phones raised trying to slip a shot without us noticing. At first I made the silly mistake of allowing a young girl to stand with me for a photo. I was then forced to walk away from a line of individuals and groups who all wanted photos with the iconic white girl. So beware and be ready if you ever choose to travel in India, you may receive more attention than you want, but take it as an experience to see how you would handle the spotlight.
Next lesson is quickly learned as a foreigner in India. Don’t feel bad asking for a lower price, and stick to it. Especially with modes of transportation, drivers are charging you a minimum of double the Indian price because you are a foreigner. Ask an Indian what the price would be, and I guarantee it is half of the best price you can settle on. This is not to say Indians are dishonest, they are in fact very honest and trusting people, they simply know how to operate their business in order to make a profit, and we are part of that profit. And trust me, you still won’t end up spending that much by American standards.
Last lesson, use your foreignness to your advantage. The best part of standing out is that sometimes you can use it to your benefit. For example, being an American is a great way to meet Indians, you can nearly always find someone willing to stop and help you with directions or answer your questions, and people are generally very patient with language barriers (especially because India is a country of many languages).
You can have one of two outlooks on being treated differently as a foreigner in India. The first is an outlook in which you focus on the fact that you will never blend in or feel accepted. The second is you can accept that you will always stand out!