Visiting India as an Indian American teenager

At first it is a culture shock, but after a short amount of time the unfamiliarity fades and it is easy to find comfort.


Complicated! Going back to India as a second generation Indian is complicated — it is every imaginable mix of emotions. It is exciting, scary, eye-opening, unique, overwhelming, wonderful, and most importantly it is transformative.

There is a famous quote in Spanish which is helpful in explaining the complexity of returning to India. “Un extranjero en el extranjero,” which roughly translates into “a stranger in a strange land,” which is what we feel like.

Yes, technically we are Indian. But having brown skin and wearing traditional clothing does not shield us from the strange looks in the streets. We are the strangers, and to us, it definitely feels like we are in a strange land; but whether it is intentional or not, we adapt in many ways.

Saying the Indian lifestyle is different from the American lifestyle is an understatement. There are no lazy Saturday mornings, 6pm dinners, or showering at night. India is a place in which my definition of normal, is the definition of abnormal.

In America, never in my life have I voluntarily woken up before 10am, and I am positive that this is true for most other teenagers as well. But in India, I found myself waking up at 7 and sometimes even 6, completely voluntarily.

There are many reasons for why this was happening, but I felt that the main one was the human instinct to adapt. This example is one of many that shows that though we feel out of place initially, eventually we transition into the Indian lifestyle. At first it is a culture shock, everything seems unfamiliar and different, but after a short amount of time the unfamiliarity fades and it is easy to find comfort.

For some, it is not a gradual transition into the Indian lifestyle but an immediate switch. A 16-year-old who has Indian parents and was raised in America said, “For me personally, I have two personalities, and Indian one and an American one. When I go to India immediately the ‘Indian personality’ comes out and when I return home it goes away, it is like flipping a switch.”

For others, the Indian lifestyle never really sits in. “Even when I am in Gujarat for long periods of time, it still feels a little bit unnatural,” said another second generation Indian. “I get accustomed to some things but I still feel out of place.”

Like every other country, the lifestyle and customs in India are always changing. So, the aspects of the culture that need to be adapted to are also always changing. The first time I remember visiting Bengaluru was when I was 4 years old, and the most significantly different thing to me was that we were walking everywhere. But now, the most significantly different thing to me was the pace of life. India (like teenagers) is constantly developing and growing, so each time the journey of adapting to the lifestyle is different.

The experience of going back to India as a second generation Indian is like seeing an old friend who you don’t quite know anymore. There is familiarity but there is an equal amount of unfamiliarity. It is awkward at first, but once the familiarity is reawakened, after the rock hard ice has been broken, the amount of comfort and love is limitless.

Avani Venkatesh is a 10th grader in the IB program and an aspiring writer.

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