What It’s Like to Be a Hindu Indian Student


I recently visited some Indian students at their campus. Many Indian students live in apartments close to their college or university because dorms are relatively expensive. Also (and potentially more important), dorms don’t normally have individual kitchens that can be used for cooking Indian dishes, which is essential for life far from home.

I was visiting six male Indian electrical engineering masters students at their apartment. I took off my sandals upon entering and added them to a pile just inside the floor. There were no chairs and no table. I sat down on the floor in the living room to await a tasty home-cooked Indian vegetarian meal. The six roommates had spent two hours preparing the meal. As I began to eat, one of the students sat on the floor with me while the others continued to cook. 

There was no napkin for wiping my mouth or chin, but I especially needed one for my eyes as they watered and my nose as it began to run. There was no water or other liquid to help my burning mouth cope with the spice. (I learned later that they put handfuls of spices in the pots after they have served me for their own taste.) When I untangled my stiff legs to stand up and leave, I found that my sandals were gone. Indian students share many things, including sandals. There is not a sense of something being “mine.”


A Broad Perspective

During the 2014-2015 school year, there were 132,888 Indians in the U.S. on student visas (according to the Institute of International Education). India ranks only second behind China in number of students, and Indians have increased by 29.4% from the year before. Academics predict that the number of Indian students in the U.S. will surpass China within the next ten years.

In addition to the distinctive food, there are many other characteristics of Indian international students that are different than most other international students.

Among the most significant difference is the concept of friendship. Indian students tend to have deep friendships with each other and view the American version of friendship as superficial and shallow. Never more than five days pass before Indian friends connect with one another, usually over a messaging app or social media. A true Indian friend is considered as close as a brother or sister, which is also much deeper than the American understandings of the same.

Indian students are almost always in groups and rarely meet anyone one-on-one. Most Indian students form groups based on the state of India they are from and do everything within their group of close friends. They usually speak the language of their state among themselves. They are also resistant to planning. Inviting them to an event involves strategically messaging Indian friends and following up the day before and even the morning of.

For the students, being a Hindu is more about cultural identity than religious beliefs. Their apartments will always have a shelf with depictions of a variety of Hindu gods and items used for worship (generally supplied by their parents). In this way, the concept of religion is very different.

Most young Hindus have no problem believing in the person of Jesus and that he is a good teacher. They are also willing to pray to Jesus. However, they aren’t usually interested in either American or Indian expressions of Christianity. 

Hindu students who come to study in the US are eager to make genuine friendship with Americans. One of the best parts about establishing a friendship with a Hindu student is that many of them are pursuing work visas to stay in the US, so the friendship can extend for a long time.


Image Credit: James Famika, Creative Commons License

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