GETTING TO KNOW DHARAMSALA
India is the land of colors. With the Himalayan Mountains in the north and warm waters of the Indian Ocean to the south, India is a place where you’ll feel welcomed the moment you arrive. From the vast cultural differences to your impact as an international volunteer, India is beautiful and inspiring!
Learn About India
Like many countries, India was once an English colony. However, once it gained its independence in 1947, India stabilized and has remained a democratic country since Mohandas Gandhi first advocated for its independence. Learn more about the incredible history of India, including its independence movement.
While Hindi is the primary language for 41% of the people, there are 14 other official languages (including English, the language of business). Our staff will help you learn Hindi while on the program, but why not try your hand at one of the 14 other languages? It will help you connect even more to the program and the people.
About one third the size of the USA and the seventh biggest country in the world, India is a power house in emerging markets. Today, India is a leading economy known for rich cultural diversity. India is developing into an open-market economy and the educated English-speaking population has become a major exporter of information technology services, business outsourcing services, and software workers.
As you explore Dharamsala, you’ll quickly notice that the city (as well as India as a whole) is filled with a seemingly endless number of amazing sites. From the excitement that you’ll find on the streets to the myriad foods and spices, Dharmasala is an incredible way to experience life in the Indian Himalayas. Have a visit to one of the many temples or plan your trip around a multitude of festivals, including the Festival of Colors, also known as Holi. When you arrive, you will be inspired by the beauty and the life that is India.
High up in the Himalayan Mountains, Dharamsala features many beautiful forests filled with oak, pine, and fir trees. It’s unlikely you’ll come across any large animals in this city, but if you trek (with a guide) further into the mountains, you may come across deer, wild boar, mountain goats, and Tibetan sheep. As with hiking through any mountains, it’s important to remain hydrated, wear sturdy hiking shoes, and avoid any slippery surfaces or loose rocks.
Cultural Do’s and Don’ts
Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.
Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?
Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, its cultural norms, and its people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.
Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.
- Have a sense humor.
Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
- Expect differences.
In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
- ...but look for what’s the same.
You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
- Keep learning.
Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.
Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.
As with learning any new language, reading phrases is helpful. But listening is one of the best ways to grasp sounds and vocabulary. Click below to hear Country Director Bela Singh begin your first Hindi language lesson.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Hindi with this online site:
Recommended Reading and Films
We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of India so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:
Article: Trekking in the Indian Himalayas »
CCS Blog: Dharamsala »
YouTube: Dharamsala »
Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends. Free time is an important part of your experience for independent exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always have some great, local tips to share.
Start your planning with a few of our favorite suggestions, but also remember that you can plan most of your trips once you arrive in-country (especially if flights aren’t required) with your fellow volunteers.
If you’re ready to start learning more, review your online Training Sessions below (these are required – so make sure you allocate enough time to review each of these trainings, each under 30-minutes). About two weeks before your program begins, you’ll join your final pre-departure call with your group. We can’t wait for you to join us, meet your fellow volunteers, and explore all that CCS has to offer.
Training Call 1:
How to be a Successful Volunteer »
Training Call 2:
Savvy Street Smarts »
Training Call 3:
Volunteer Work Assignments »