Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Indian students in Cambridge

March 9, 2010 · 1 Comment

I had the chance to spend a weekend interviewing international students at Cambridge University because I have a friend from Argentina that is doing a masters program there. I attended an Erasmus dinner and an Indian student gathering at an Indian restaurant. 

It was great that I  had just finished reading Indian Students in Britain (1963) by Dr. A.K. Singh. The author explains that it was only in the last third of the nineteenth centry that modernising Indians began to look overseas for university studies. Before then, “Oxford and Cambridge were so poor that they did not appeal to the liberal, humane minds of the great Indian and birtish-Indian reformeres of the first half of the century”. It was only after the opening of its examinations to Indian cadidates for the Indian Civil Service in the 1870s that Indignas began in large numers to go overseas for advanced studies. At the time, it was “the thing” for the Indian elite, even if Indian already had three universities of its own and a number of colleges. The students were sons of wealthy and distinguished princes, lawyers, landowneres, and sometimes proteges of Maharajahs. After completing their studies, many of them went back and got very much involved with leftist Indian nationalism.

This is not a new phenomenon and not only applies to India.Many of  those famous leaders of independence in the process of decolonization had attended Oxbridge and Ivy League institutions in America. In India, those who were ‘England-returned’ possesed the status-symbol number one in society.

Two things made these interviews important. First, to verify that in fact, the meaning of being educated in the West has not changed for Indian students. Most of them expressed how, even with very good universities back home, the value of an English or American degree is still symbolically higher. Second, it was particularly interesting to see Indian students that attend Cambridge at an Indian restaurant because it made me think of the interaction between the local Indian community that has been born here and these students. I suppose that in England there are many instances that give room for interaction between a local community that interacts with people from their nation of origin such as the Indian community with Indian tourists. Contrary to what I would think, after observing the way the restaurant staff treated the students, it didn’t seem like it matter that they were Indian, but would treat them the same as many other clearly non-Indian customers in the restaurant. However, these third year students had been friends since the first year at Cambridge and  they themselves explained that they became a group because they were all Indians. Perhaps it is the caste system, or in England, class, that puts these two groups in such a distance. Perhaps this is an isolated case and in other universities the Indian students have a good relationship with the  staff at the local Indian restaurant. i guess further research would be needed.

Other than these observations, I also got very interesting insights to what it is like being a student at Cambridge and the impressions of ‘Englishness’ that these students have, as you will see in the final research.

Hours: 6

Categories: Azul · Uncategorized
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1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Mar 11th 2010 at 08:11

    It would be intersting to see what Indian students who planned on returning thought of those who stayed, and vice versa. It also seems that there would be interesting conversations with the staff at the Indian restaurant, who I would guess are of a different class than those attending Cambridge as students. I wonder if the perceptions of “Englishness” would be different too?

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