Department of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology of the RWTH Aachen University

And suddenly, everything is different

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It´s Monday morning, the first day of the new semester at the RWTH Aachen. Everything is quite normal, it´s half past seven, you have to catch the bus at eight, but still a lot of things left to do and you are running out of time. Than you grab your backpack, and another one and then you realize that you are not going to university. You are going to India, for three months.
As it has been the time of the exams closely before, there was not much time for me to fully realize this fact. But by riding the train to the airport, staring out the window, it finally reached my mind.
I am going to India, for three months.
When I was travelling before, I used to travel by car, bus or train, only rarely by plane and never by such a big one as we travelled with now. I didn’t expect to find such things as touchscreens, a media center and a lot of space and food on a plane in the economy class. So that was the first thing that was different and a totally new experience for me, even though it might be quite normal for other people.
When arriving in Mumbai during the night, the next surprise was that beautiful airport. First setting foot on a soft carpet, passing by combined art and history projects and little gardens with ponds and waterfalls.

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Well, Raipur itself then was a totally different thing.
We were shown pictures of Raipur and searched it on the internet, but reality was quite different. When we were picked up by the pick-up service of our first hotel and had a ride from the airport through the outskirts of Raipur to its center, the surrounding had grown louder, dirtier and denser. The poverty around us became more and more remarkable. Everywhere small huts made of anything, trash piles, sometimes burning, people defecating on the streets. When we reached the hotel, it came to my mind: Oh my, this will be your home for at least two months. And there he was, the cultural shock promised by everyone. I had expected that I would be shocked, but not in the way I actually had been. It all was so different from what I was used to, as I only travelled through Europe before.
But by time, when you get used to your surroundings, you start to explore all the differences that first assailed in all their might one by one.
First thing to learn is that you have to follow some rules, even if that sometimes means to not follow any at all.
It is important to know that there are different queues for women and men, in temples as well as in the post office or at the fair.
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Even the traffic system follows some rules, nevertheless it feels as if they are more seen as “guidelines”, as a lot of people drive the streets in any direction they want, even if they are supposed to drive on the left side, cross the streets whenever possible or even if not and pass on the left and right wherever there seems some space left. Even if not following such things as traffic lights, driving lanes and such things which really exist, at least they follow the guideline of honking every time they come near, meaning simply always and resulting in a noisy concert of disharmonies. The traffic is also a good example that even if everything goes faster and more hectic, everything takes more time, and that everything is connected to the “no problem”-problem.

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If you ask someone for anything, you will get a fast and promising answer and think that everything will be fine and go quite smoothly. But by the time you really need something, you will experience that there is only an unsatisfying solution or none at all. Same thing goes for appointments and such things. You never know if something occurs until 15 minutes before or an urgent call. On the other hand, if you really get stuck somewhere, there will be always a nice person that will kindly try to help you in the best way he or she can.
Sometimes, this kindness borders on incapacitation, especially in restaurants. When the dishes are ready, they will come in bowls and plates and will be served equally divided on every plate, as sharing is a big part in the Indian dining culture. The waiters will be standing close by and whenever your plate gets nearly empty, you will again get another share. If you want to take it by yourself, they will take the bowls out of your hand and kindly demanding you to be served. This gets really annoying when you order your favorite dish and you really only want to eat that and it gets shared amongst all, while the others ordered things you don’t really like.
All this attention is also a quite different thing, whether in restaurants or on the streets. When in Germany, no one looks at your face if you pass the streets. Here in Raipur, you feel quite like celebrities, as everyone is greeting you, smiles at you, wants to meet you, wants to take selfies. You can’t pass the streets unnoticed or buy a watermelon on the streets without being asked to take a selfie with someone. But to admit, the people here are quite experienced in doing them and most of the time it’s quite funny, also because you are often mistaken for a famous cricket player. Nevertheless, it takes a lot of time to get used to so much attention, being stared at and feel to be treated like a VIP, as you are a normal person and have done nothing remarkable or important.

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In the same way the people are crazy about making photos and posing, they are crazy about sharing it in every social media available. The people are a lot into showing themselves and looking on others.
This is also reflected in their style of dressing, as everyone wears shirts of known brands, kind of a lot of jewelry and the newest gadgets as soon as he or she can afford it.
As facile the people seem to be on the first sight, the moment you start to speak to them, as described earlier, you experience their heartwarming and hospitable nature never experienced in Germany in the same way. You will see that the saying, that the Indian people are the most hospitable in the world has a lot of truth in it.
To quote one newly made friend: India is a land of contradiction. And these contradictions seem to be everywhere around you.
On the one hand, most of the people pursue a good financial status, pursue a well-paid job and orientate to so-called “western values”. On the other hand, religion and tradition are really big parts peoples live. There are a lot more examples for this contradiction, but this would definitely fill another blog entry.
Maybe one last contradiction, which is also a huge difference to Germany: while the people are really into cleaning themselves and their houses, they like to spit and throw everything everywhere, especially the so called pan and all the packing, which is usually multiple times nearly around everything you buy.

And so, you dive into all the little differences one by one, and there will be even more to be discovered.

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