Xu Yang (back 2nd left) and his Indian classmates on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus in New Delhi Photo: Courtesy of Xu Yang
It's another sweltering night. Liang Yuying wakes up in her sweaty pajamas and finds it hard to fall asleep again. New Delhi's summer is hot, and it's even hotter in Liang's dorm room on the top floor after a whole day's sunshine.
A PhD student at a top university in New Delhi, Liang has been living in the country for more than two years. Despite the tough living conditions, she doesn't regret her choice.
Studying in India a new trend
"The professors and lecturers are first-class, and the learning atmosphere is very good," Liang said.
She said that many of the staff are from world top institutions like Oxford and Cambridge. Compared with the high cost of studying in the West, Liang thinks India is the perfect destination for those who want to broaden their horizons but have limited finances.
Indian universities have been attracting Chinese students for years. Their cost-effectiveness, English language environment, and diverse student and teacher population have made schools around New Delhi and Bombay increasingly popular among Chinese students looking to study abroad in recent times.
"Due to its postcolonial heritage, India is very westernized. Apart from the people's accent, it's like a second UK. Most important, the cost of higher education is really low," said Wang Yuezhou, 18, who has been studying English language in New Delhi for nearly a year.
According to a January report by news portal sohu.com, college tuition at Delhi University averages at around $500 per year, and some programs cost as little as $150 per annum. Expensive degree programs, such as computer science, cost about $3,500 per year.
Famous universities in the UK charge students an average of more than $13,044 a year, and at the most expensive one, the University of Cambridge, fees can reach up to $30,254, according to a July 31 sohu.com report.
Wang will start college life at University of Pune soon. He said he attended many open lectures given by well-known local and internal scholars and experts and is grateful for the opportunity.
"If I decided to go to Europe or the US, then that would be a huge economic burden for my family. Here I can still get what I want with much less money," he said.
Life on the other side
"Indian locals are very hospitable. They are very happy to help others and friendly to foreigners, including Chinese," said Huo Wenle, 28, a PhD student majoring international relations in New Delhi.
Huo was not allocated a room in the student dormitory when he arrived on campus for school. With no idea what to do, he stood outside the dorm for quite a while until an Indian student passed by and asked him what happened.
"Once he knew my situation, he just took me to his dorm and shared his place with me until I got my own dorm room days later. I was very touched and felt very supported," he recalled.
Later, when he had an allergic reaction to an insect bite and became sick, two of his Indian friends took him the hospital. According to Huo, his Indian friends place a high value on family and are very patient and caring toward the people around them. They often have dinner together, and politics is often talked about.
"They are very curious about China and political issues between the two countries, and we can openly discuss it without hurting anyone's feelings," he said.
Huo said his friends on campus are open-minded and would like to hear the story from the other side.
Regarding the recent China-India border conflict, Huo said there is little negative influence on his relationship with the locals, which is echoed by many other Chinese students.
"We made it very clear that politics is for governments, which has nothing to do with people. And I don't feel my Indian friends treat me any differently after the conflicts," said Zhao Zhiguang, an economics student at University of Pune.
Having lived in India for three years, Zhao gets along with his Indian classmates very well and is often invited to their homes.
Zhu Peiling moved to Pune with her husband and four-year old son in February. As a mother and student, she is happy to have the support and help from the local community.
"Some of the neighbors will teach our son how to dance and play with him. We get along with each other in great harmony. It's a lovely environment for kids," Zhu said.
The more educated they are, the more eager they are to learn from China, according to Xu Yang, who got his master's degree in New Delhi.
"It's often the poorly educated people, whose knowledge about China is entirely from some local media, that might hold negative views against China. But they are very few," he said.
Xu said most of the Indians he meets are very kind and locals often ask him to take pictures with them because of his Chinese face.
Chinese and Indian students wait for class to begin at University of Pune. Photo: Courtesy of Zhao Zhiguang
Feeling at home
Chinese products are available in local shops, and Chinese mobile phone stores are all around, which make Chinese students feel more at home.
"Chinese products, especially phones, have a good name in India. You see signs like Oppo and Vivo everywhere," said Wang.
He said his Indian friends love Chinese products. Also, China-made daily necessities, ranging from a dustbin to shoes and clothes, are all available in local shops.
"Many of the bulbs that they use for Dewali Festival are made in China, and some people also fly Chinese Kongming lanterns during the festival in New Delhi," Wang said.
He added that although some voices call for a boycott of Chinese products, most locals still like them. Huo had the same observation. He feels that Chinese products bring Indians closer to him.
"Sometimes when a local finds out that I'm Chinese, they would be pleasantly surprised and talk about their favorite Chinese phone brands with me," he said.
Zhao also said that those who advocated for a boycott were from radical parties, and the actual boycott only had tens of participants.
"Most locals just stood by and watched. So, the actual effect was very limited," he said.
Still not without challenges
However, getting friendly with the locals doesn't mean that living in India is easy. Chinese students have to overcome many challenges. Also, culture shock is inevitable.
The hot weather in summer and poor living conditions are among the biggest challenges of living in India.
India's tropical monsoon climate makes it one of the most sweltering countries in the world. In some areas, including New Delhi, the temperature can surpass 40 C, and air conditioners are a luxury.
"The only place on campus that has air conditioning is the library. So, I often go there in summer and spend days and nights inside," said Liang.
She said it gets so hot that her clothes are soaked in sweat within an hour, but she doesn't complain because her professors "are still there passionately giving their lectures" and they are much older than her.
Others, including Xu, Huo and Wang, agree that the living conditions are not that satisfying compared with their lives in China.
The infrastructure is less developed and electricity and water are occasionally cut, even in cities. The Wi-Fi on campus is also unstable.
As to culture shocks, religion is one of the main generators.
"The first three questions that a new Indian friend would ask me are my name, my hometown and my religion, and when I say I'm not really religious, they are just stunned," said Huo.
India is a religious country, and almost everyone has a religious belief, while in China many people follow Confucianism and Taoism, which are not considered religions.
"They would ask whether I believe in Confucianism, and I find it hard to explain since our definition of region is somehow different," Huo said.
Another cultural shock is the different value placed on time and punctuality. Compared with Chinese, Indians have a more relaxed and slow-paced life. Being late is quite common, which sometimes causes problems.
"If they say 'wait' for two minutes, it actually means two hours; and if they say 'two hours,' then you can translate it into 'a day,'" said Zhao.
Breaking appointment is also common. Zhao recalled calling a repairman when his apartment toilet didn't work. The man showed up a week later.
Wang feels the same about the locals. He said he often has to wait for his Indian friends when they plan to go out and has been stood up by them many times.
"It seems that women tend to be more punctual than men in India," he said. "I prefer to make friends with women."
However, he is gradually getting used to it. Whenever he makes an appointment with the locals, he will "be mentally prepared."
"I think it might have something to do with their religion," Wang said.
"They believe in reincarnation or samsara, so they don't push themselves too hard in this life."