Being Austrian in India. Is India a safe country?
Namaste and welcome back! Before coming to India, I was rather busy doing an internship during the summer and therefore my preparation for my exchange semester wasn’t quite as extensive as I wanted it to be. To be more honest, I had to downsize my efforts to reading the first pages of the Lonely Planet, on the plane to Kolkata. On your journey to India, you may also be strapped for time, so that is why this time, I want to give you some useful insights in what it means to be an Austrian student in India.
Exploring the inconceivable
But first things first, why would someone want to go for his exchange semester to India? I was asked this question several times by friends and relatives, who often seemed quite surprised by my decision. In general, I was mainly attracted by the wide range of opportunities, challenges and indescribable experiences the country offers. More specific from an educational point of view, as an Austrian business student who studies in Italy, India gives you all the possible insights you can get about a fast-growing developing country. Besides that, and this might have been even more decisive, the different mindset, the cultural heritage and the natural wonders which you can discover here, impacted my decision a lot.
India is a relatively safe country, but stay attentive
Thinking of India, one typical stereotype is surely the lack of safety. But is this reality or just fake news? From my experience so far, I can tell you that I feel quite safe, not only in the gated society of the campus but also in the busy streets of Kolkata. Nevertheless, to give a more holistic picture I also asked some of my female fellow students what their opinion on safety in India is:
“I’m fine here in India. I am more afraid of the mosquitos than of anything else” – Giulia, Italy
Mosquitos are definitely a threat, due to the possibility of transmitting severe diseases like dengue, malaria or Japanese encephalitis, therefore:
- Get the necessary vaccinations before your arrival in India.
- Always use repellent spray and try to bring some from home (make sure it includes DET for best results).
- And take some malaria prophylaxis with you.
Read also "Is cash still king?"
Besides that, there are a lot of homeless dogs, cows and sometimes goats on the streets. All of them are usually harmless, but be aware that especially dogs can be a host for rabies. So, in the unlikely case that you get bitten, visit the doctor or the next hospital immediately.
“In the first month, I didn’t feel very safe. Nevertheless, now - two months later - having made a lot of positive experiences, this changed completely.” – Ragnhild, Norway. Indians are in general really friendly and open-minded people, which are interested in getting to know the European culture. Therefore, take the necessary time to get to know them as well. This experience is priceless.
“In general, I feel safe, though travelling alone in the general class of the Indian Railway was not the best experience ever” – Eszter, Hungary. Using the public transport is insanely cheap in India, especially if you travel by general class on Indian trains. However, the obvious downside is, that it will be very crowded. Therefore, if you are not claustrophobic, looking to save some money and seeking an adventure, this definitely is the place to be. Otherwise (and especially for overnight trains), go for the Sleepers class or the even more comfortable, air-conditioned classes 3AC and 2AC. Moreover, if you like paying with your credit card, always have an eye on it. It happened to some of my fellow students that the waiter took a picture of it and tried to use it afterwards. Usually there is no financial damage as your bank will most likely block the payment. However, getting a new card delivered to India can be kind of a hassle and take forever.
Austria is (not) Australia
Have you ever been to Vienna? Have you ever walked around the Prater? Have you seen this T-shirts stating – No kangaroos in Austria? I was always wondering who would buy them, because the differences between the two countries seem so obvious. However, being in India this T-shirt would sometimes make things much easier. As you are south of the Austria/Australia equator, and 8.8 million Austrians don’t really compare to 1.3 billion Indians, answering the question “Where are you from?” usually prompts the reaction “Oh, Australia, nice” and a need for some explanation. I usually try to convince people that I am living in the Alps, but with a more sceptical crowd, it sometimes is easier to just go with it, put on an Australian accent and answer with “Yey mate, from Melbourne! I love cricket!”
So, for your next trip to India keep the following in mind:
- Get the necessary vaccinations beforehand (at least one month before departure).
- Put on repellent spray in order to prevent mosquito transmitted diseases.
- Take additional medicine like malaria prophylaxis and activated medical charcoal with you.
- Be aware of homeless animals and keep the necessary distance.
- Take your time exchanging ideas with Indians.
- Use the public transport but be aware of your comfort zone.
- Always keep an eye on your credit card.
- Be aware that you are south of the Austria/Australia equator.
Spicy greetings from India and until next time,
The author, Markus Habernig is a Carinthian national and studies at Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Milan. He is currently spending a semester abroad in India at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC). The images were provided by Markus Habernig.
Boat sunset Sundarbans