What foreign students love about Ahmedabad and India despite language barrier
Garba, street food, Bollywood – foreign students in Ahmedabad seem to have embraced the city and its culture even as the language barrier remains a challenge.
Between classes and everyday routine, students like Kurukulasuriya Lakshanth Malinka Mariyo Fernando, 21, from Sri Lanka, also take out time to watch movies like Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Pathaan.
A journalism student at the Institute of Journalism and Communication affiliated to Gujarat University, Fernando prefers staying in a hostel block closer to a metro station. While exploring the city and nearby areas, he has already visited Sabarmati Ashram, Kankaria Lakefront, and Adalaj Stepwell in Gandhinagar. Now he is keen on learning Garba, the Gujarati folk dance. “I like Indian movies. I watched Pathaan recently. I love Garba. But I don’t know the steps too well. So I usually try to imitate the steps of anyone I am dancing with, and then, I go with the flow,” he shares.
A large number of international students in Ahmedabad who have come under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarship programmes say they are impressed by “the way Ahmdabadis preserve their culture”. Students come from more than 65 countries through ICCR. Many of the students in Gujarat are from Africa, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iraq, Fiji, Yemen and Myanmar.
As per Gujarat University’s School of International Studies and Diaspora, there are currently 538 foreign students enrolled in various programmes for the academic session 2022-23, highlights co-ordinator Jyoti Joshi.
Nametso Bulayani, 23, has been in India for two years and stays in a rented flat. Apart from Delhi and Mumbai, she has also visited Manali. “People from Ahmedabad are conservative and culturally-oriented, which is a good thing. As times are changing, we (youth) are slowly losing the connection with our roots. But the elders here ensure their culture is respected and preserved,” says Bulayani, a student at JG College of Business Administration.
Bulayani, who is from Botswana, says she was studying Public Health in her country before she got the opportunity to study BBA in Ahmedabad through the ICCR scholarship. Because she wanted to experience Indian culture, she quit her course and came to India.
But when she got to Ahmedabad, she was faced with a language barrier, which hindered her from exploring the city and culture to the fullest. “You go to hospitals, government offices, shops, and college… you go basically everywhere and language is a problem,” she says as she talks about not being able to converse in English with locals.
Language barrier seems to be the most pressing issue with international students, sometimes even in classrooms.
“Even in our school, you will find that all the lecturers teach in Gujarati. It’s like they don’t see us in the class,” says Dineo Anacletta Lesuhlo, 28, from South Africa’s Lesotho. Lesuhlo, who has spent two years in India has finished her studies. Apart from the Sabarmati Ashram, she has been to Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
Many of these students also confess their love for Indian food, including typical Gujarati delicacies. “I like dhokla because it is soft,” says Fernando.
For Christopher James Omoegble, 21, from Nigeria, chholey bhature tops the list. “If you have an open mind to trying new foods, you’ll come to realise that most Indian dishes are nice,” says Omoegbele, who also studies at JG College.
He loves vegetarian food as much as non-vegetarian dishes. “Chicken tikka and tandoori chicken remind me of food back home,” adds Omoegble.
Lawrence Isago Mophakedi, 28, from Botswana admits he earlier thought racism could be an issue but he later figured Indians “are only curious and friendly”. He enjoys his breakfast of Vada Pav and Poha “because they’re nutritious”.
A student of Shri Chimanbhai Patel Institute of Management and Research, now Sardar Vallabhbhai Global University, Mophakedi says he “now understands Indians properly”. He has been living in the country for about eight months.’ “I like Indian movies. I watched ‘RRR’”
Devine Akachukwu, 20, from Nigeria, has been in India since he was 18. He has visited Shamlaji in north Gujarat. “I don’t like movies. But I watched ‘RRR”, says the student from MG Science Institute.
(Tankeh Kingsley Webora is an intern at The Indian Express; with inputs from Ritu Sharma)