The Many Kinds of Indian Students You Will Meet in College

Indians are everywhere. Okay well, mostly in New Jersey but an increasing number of us are joining American universities. So what happens when your hitherto white liberal arts college accepts a bunch of kids from across the world? Do you stop and ask them about elephants, yoga and their ability to speak English? (The answer is NO, always.) Unfortunately using Jungle Book-era stereotypes will make you look quaint and Slumdog Millionaire references will win you no samosa-points. To truly offend, you need to update your knowledge of Unacceptable Stereotypes of Brown People.

Disclaimer: This is part-satire. You’re welcome to figure out which part.

City Party People
Most Indian students you meet will come from big to medium cities with all the privileges of the upper class. They are sufficiently westernized, capable of preparing a decent hookah and unusually knowledgable about the poem “Daffodils.” But they’re mostly defined by their active nightlife. These kids are used to spending the weekends drinking, clubbing and going on long drives in the middle of the night. America’s legal drinking age is therefore more than a little annoying to these club-crawlers. So is the lack of drivers, maids and bribable officials but that’s a whole other article. *psst* Be their friends, they’re usually a lot of fun to hang out (and get drunk) with. And free hookah!

ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis)
Did you experience some cognitive dissonance when your newly assigned Indian-looking roommate spoke in a flawless southern accent? If so, google Tom Haverford and watch a few episodes of Parks and Rec. before proceeding. ABCDs have been a part of American pop culture for a while now. It’s like the TV and film industry collectively decided a few years ago that the token brown person was the new token black person. The “C” is a little misleading, I haven’t met many confused ones. They exist in both worlds rather comfortably so don’t be alarmed when the above mentioned roommate is hollering in a foreign language at his grandparents over Skype.

Desi Overachievers
Tiger Moms exist in India too. “Coming First” in academics, extra circulars, SATs etc is a cultural obsession. Usually by the time they start college, most Indian students let go of the rat race and embrace all those hippie notions about learning for the sake of it. But they are still trained to perform excellently on exams and assignments. They will routinely top the class, have the highest GPA and generally make you resent your holistic education. It’s okay! They’re probably not attending as many tailgate parties as you. Think about that when you’re asking them for a job five years from now.

International School Products/Third Culture Kids
Technically, they’re a sub category of City Party People. But international school kids tend to be from a culture of their own. Most kids lived in more than one place, have friends in all corners of the world and almost no empty pages on their passport. Sometimes they’re also incredibly accomplished for a college student. They’ve started NGOs, saved a forest or two and learned to be fluent in about 5 languages. These kids also tend to hang out almost exclusively with other internationals, something about avoiding anything or anyone “too-American.”

Bangladeshis/Pakistanis/Sri Lankans/Nepalis
Statistically speaking, it’s an almost understandable mistake to assume every South Asian you meet is Indian. But occasionally, you’ll perhaps meet a Bangaladeshi who finds your assumption very annoying. You could apologize and be branded ignorant forever or you could point out that technically Bangladesh was once a part of India and culturally they have more in common with West Bengal than Tamil Nadu anyway. But really, if you can, try not to make assumptions about other people’s nationalities. (Africa is the exception since pop culture tells me it’s a country)

So there you go; every stereotype you need to know to never make an Indian friend. Don’t worry, we don’t bite. But we will probably steal all your jobs.

[Pictured above: An Indian student grapples with his identity through a haze of alcohol and promiscuity. Photo by Sachi Shah. Featured image by Daran Talbott]

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