An expat for almost 12 years, Guatemalan born Claudia Villanueva lived in the US with her husband, and about three years in India. She and her husband moved to India in 2016, and was immediately startled by how noisy the country is. She’s studying for a master’s degree and has moved to Indonesia with her family.
Besides the noise, what were the other things that took you by surprise, and has your impression of India changed at all?
I think the smell and the dirtiness were a big challenge because I have kids, who are 6 and 12 years old, but when we arrived here, they were 3 and 9 years old, so they were young! If you walk outside, you see the dirtiness and the poop of the cows and the goats, as a mother, it worries me. Another concern is the recklessness of people while driving! A couple of times we saw the monkeys near our windows, my daughter was playing in the bedroom, she saw the monkey and called us, we immediately rushed to her.
Of course, my perception changed. I started enjoying my stay here after six months. India is a very different country compared to what we have seen before, and this made us who we really are; it helped us get closer to ourselves. It helps to look for your community; as a Latina, I am part of a WhatsApp group. There are about 200 hundred people from different countries of Latin America, through the group we connect and help each other and I appreciate that.
India is a very different country compared to what we have seen before, and this made us who we really are; it helped us get closer to ourselves.
What would you say are the best and the worst things about living in India?
The best thing for me is being able to experience a different culture. It’s also great to meet new people and build relationships; this for me, is most satisfying. Unfortunately, most of them have left the country. It took me almost six months, but I made friends. They were all from different parts of South America, like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, and Salvador.
Another great thing that happened to us is that we don’t need that much meat now. We are mostly vegetarian now; it is not something that bothers us anymore. We enjoy whatever we have.
The worst thing would be how living here can get frustrating and how women are treated here! Indian men ignore us when we say something. The other thing I dislike is not having the liberty of wearing what you want—the fact that you have to cover yourself till the knee. I think there is hypocrisy. I just don’t get it, Bollywood movies, show women in different types of clothing!
Do you also watch Bollywood movies?
I have watched a few, but not too much because of the language; we look for the one with English subtitles. My husband and I both enjoy it; sometimes, however, you can see a lot of green screens, but they are good movies. I remember we spent an entire Saturday watching Hindi movies because we just couldn’t stop!
What are struggles you’ve come across being an expat for so long?
After having spent so much time away from my home country, of course, I miss it. Sometimes, you just wish to be there, but then you get adjusted to this kind of life. You learn to balance things, and it gets better. One of the worst things for people like me who have kids is getting them attached to their country. It’s a challenge familiarizing them with their roots because we don’t live anywhere near it. Nevertheless, I try to make them listen to the National anthem, and show them videos of family, and teach them different values from home.
One of the most painful experiences I’ve had was losing my mom last year, and I couldn’t be there to take care of her during her illness.
One of the worst things for people like me who have kids, is getting them attached to their country. It’s a challenge familiarizing them with their roots because we don’t live anywhere near it.
Do you have any advice for new expats in India?
In India, you see things that you wouldn’t have imagined, and anything could happen here. I think you just have to learn to let it go; it will pass eventually. Don’t stick to your first impression about this country, rather enjoy the beauty of India. Always take precautions, especially when it comes to the food, even my husband struggled with Delhi Belly.