Caroline Young: On life in India and what it means to be a Creative Diplomat.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A journey that started in England when she was only 17, creative diplomat, Caroline Young, has lived and worked in London, Brussels, Italy, Japan, France and now calls India home. Over the years, she has worked with some of the most prolific names in the Creative industry, like Condé Nast, Arte TV, Peter Saville, Peter Lindbergh, Fabrizio Ferri, Bharat Sikka, Joyce Ma, Brian Eno, Hermès, Giorgio Armani, Balenciaga and Lecoanet Hemant to name a few. She has been living in India since 2005 and has played a vital role in nurturing many of India’s emerging talent in the field of fashion and art.

After living in several different places, was it an easy decision to move to India?

People often ask me, “Caroline, after Paris, why India?” But I wanted to move to India since the very first time I visited in 1995. I have this very vivid memory of having the sensation that I was home, as the plane doors opened just after the plane touched the runway in Kolkata and my feet had not even touched Indian soil. That particular day also coincided Holi, and I was slightly perplexed because there were neon pink-coloured cows on the runway; I was baffled by why everyone was so colourful. Once I got out of the plane, the airport attendant came up to me and said, “Madam, we don’t normally look like this. It’s Holi,” it was extraordinary. I had always been fascinated about India; my grandfather was here in the 1920s. He lived in Mumbai and worked for the Bank of India, so there was a subconscious sort of connection to this country. After a year of commuting from Europe to Calcutta I returned to Paris and told my friends that I was going to live in India, and sure it took ten years, but I have lived here since 2005.

The only advice my mother gave me about India was, it might be quite hot, so it would be wise to do everything in slow motion. Which indeed echoes somehow, in regards to the ways of navigating through the system, or just life in India. Things happen here in slow motion, and I say this with affection and humour. I always tell people that whenever they travel to India, they need to arrive without any preconceptions, pack a piece of elastic, because you need to be very flexible, and keep your sense of humour or if you don’t have one, develop one before arriving. There is laughter every day, no matter what, an amalgamation of the absurdity, and the vibrant colours here is intoxicating
So, in answer to your question, it seemed normal. I kept being pulled back to India because every time I went back to Paris, colleagues and clients kept saying we need you to do a shoot, to art direct this, to consult on this, and so it made sense, even logistically to be here. It didn’t feel odd or strange; it was more like “Oh, this is the right time.”

Things happen here in slow motion, and I say this with affection and humour. I always tell people that whenever they travel to India, they need to arrive without any preconceptions, pack a piece of elastic, because you need to be very flexible, and keep your sense of humour or if you don’t have one, develop one before arriving.

You’ve been here for quite a while now, did you, at any point, experience any kind of cultural shock?

Nothing really shocked me. People were very welcoming, and because I had come from Paris, which was tough, I was amazed by the generosity and the kindness of people here. However I did find it initially difficult to find a flat because I was not married. My private life was and is no one’s business;
I found the attitude towards women rather complex. I meet very brilliant, astute and articulate women, and the lack of respect for them in some areas is disheartening. Sometimes it was difficult to see that women were not taken seriously for their work and were treated differently, or always being asked, why aren’t you married? Why do you not have children? It wasn’t a thing to adjust to, but it baffled me that in the 21st century, the marital status of women was still an issue.

You did say that everything happened by chance, but at what point did you know that creative direction was the path for you?

The thing is, “Creative Director” straddles several things. Sometimes I do the styling, or sometimes I am the executive producer and art director. I have always had a passion for anything visual. I have been doing this from a very early age. I’ve been in this business for 40 nearly years! And if anything, I would say, I describe myself more as a creative diplomat in India because I often find extraordinary creative talent in India and connect them with international clients.
But if you say at what point, I think it would be very early on when I was in Florence studying History of Art, studying paintings and sculpture. It’s always appealed to me, anything that’s creatively stimulating or visual to look at. So, it wasn’t one day I woke and said I’m a creative director because I don’t really feel it is necessary to be boxed into a particular category — there wasn’t an exact moment, but the creative journey just dovetailed through encounters and travelling.

I describe myself more as a creative diplomat in India because I often find extraordinary creative talent in India and connect them with international clients.

I understand that every brand has its own identity, but as creative, what inspires you and influences you?

It’s a mixture of many elements, an aesthetic, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be fashion. However, it has to have a sense of musicality to it—a melody in a visual. In that sense, a piece of music can inspire me also. Often, I get very inspired by landscapes, mostly by just being quiet and admiring the scenery around me or recalling the memory of specific panoramic view. It could a Temple garden in Kyoto, a field in Rajasthan or an anecdote by a writer. Whatever it is, it’s very visual. I get my ideas by looking but also listening.

And I do have muses, who have intriguing personalities and are not archetypal beauties.. including stylish women such as Betty Catroux and the late Tina Chow. I do not adhere to the traditional cliché of what is beautiful. There is beauty in flaws and I am not very pro-photoshop. I find, particularly fashion photography today per se rather pedestrian. It’s too perfect and polished. I like flaws, spontaneity, creative mishaps.

Several expat women who also work here have said that India is a man’s world. What are your views or experiences on this?

It depends on what discipline, though. There’s very much a hierarchy within different disciplines. Fortunately, in the fashion industry or the visual industry, particularly the art world, there are a lot of women. I do find that a strange dilemma raises its head with both men and women here. At times there is a reluctance to work as a team due to an unfounded fear of treading on someone else’s territory or unwarranted competitiveness within a group.

There’s very much a hierarchy within different disciplines. Fortunately, in the fashion industry or the visual industry, particularly the art world, there are a lot of women.

I have the wonderful privilege, and I don’t mean this in a monetary sense, but creatively, of being selective with the people I work with; hence I ensure that there is always a collaborative spirit. Nevertheless, it has been challenging in the past. I go through extraordinary lengths to make sure that everyone feels included. The only time when I get firm is about being on time, discipline, and work ethic. If I get up at 5 in the morning, I expect the models & the rest of the team to be up by 5 AM for their wake-up call. It’s about respecting each other.

In terms of work culture, how would you compare India with the other places you’ve worked at?

In Paris, you have to be very self-disciplined. It was very tough there. It was tougher for me to start in Paris. Parisians! They can be very judgmental but once you have gained their respect, creative collaborations can be exceptional. Italy was chaotic and also had its challenges but the working environment was much more inclusive and friendly. I learnt a tremendous amount from both studying and living in Italy and this enabled me many years later to navigate my journey living in India. The Japanese are meticulous about timekeeping and their very refined sense of aesthetics has always influenced and inspired my work

India is almost like a country of countries. I live in Delhi, but when I go to Mumbai, no one is concerned about where I live or who I work for. They’re just happy that you’re in India! When it comes to working, both cities have their positive attributes. It’s a difficult question to answer in comparison because they both have such a diverse landscape and characteristics.

Keeping time is an issue. It is imperative for me, particularly on a photoshoot, because outside lighting on a location shoot is an essential component to the image. If the photographer wants to catch the sunrise at 6:30 and the model oversleeps, or the make-up artist/stylist are late, then you have a very limited time frame, and can lose that crucial shot. So, I would say that that’s the biggest difference in the area of photography. However, I am very selective with the teams I work with now. Although individually they may be excellent in their domain, if they show up late and do not behave in a professional manner, it is not necessary for me to work with them again. I am very meticulous about attention to every detail on a shoot, and everybody on the team needs to be completely focused and not wander off. However these instances have been few and far between and I have enjoyed working with some great talent who have a great work ethic particularly from the Northeast, Kerala and Rajasthan.

What would you say are the best things and worst things about living in India?

I would never be negative, it’s bad karma, and India is my hostess. The best thing will be the beauty of the place, of the country. It’s so diversified— you go to Calcutta, you’re in Rajasthan, you’re in Kerala, you’re in the south, in Gokarna, every place is magical. However, for me, the further you go into the countryside, the villages are where you’ll find the real essence of India and where the spirit of generosity is prevalent.

The further you go into the countryside, the villages are where you’ll find the real essence of India and where the spirit of generosity is prevalent.

Do you have any advice for people who want a career in fashion or creative direction here?

With fashion, I would say, find some way to collaborate with the textile or embroidery industry, not fast fashion. I also think that if an expat is coming here, they should bring in their specialised knowledge, for example, pattern cutting, responsible business acumen, journalism, and put a spotlight on the artisans here. I also refer to these collaborators as creative diplomats.
India is one of the last places in the world that still has these exceptional artisanal techniques but they need a 21st-century dialogue to move forward. With regards to Creative Direction, endeavour to work on collaborative projects which celebrate the creative complexities and true essence of India and enhance it with an open mind and thoughtful vision.

Diana Alcalà talks about adjusting and finding a new perspective about life in India.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Never travelled to Asia before, a 36-year-old Mexican mother of two and married to a British diplomat, Diana Alcalà, a Pilates trainer, talks about her adjustment in India and the new perspective of Indian culture and lifestyle.

How did you feel before moving to India because it’s very different from your home country?

To be honest, I wanted to come here as a tourist in my early 20s, but that never happened. I quietly pursued that idea in the back of my mind, so I felt very excited about coming here. I was a little bit scared because you hear many crazy things about India and you read many opposite things, people love it or hate it. You never hear like an objective sort of point of view. So yeah, I was anxious but super excited at the same time.

Since you heard and read a lot about India and was it real or was it different?

I would say nothing prepared me for what India actually is. One of the things I heard the most was that it is a very dirty and dangerous country, but I didn’t find India particularly dangerous. I do feel that in India, particularly the concept of clean, cleaner spaces is very flexible. This is one of the most challenging things to understand. Also, you always have to bargain for correct prices because they always want to make money from you, especially if you are a foreigner.

I would say nothing prepared me for what India actually is.

While most expats find all this very tough, it is relatively easy for me because, in the end, I come from a country with a very high inequality situation. I grew up seeing children selling the stuff in the street, so when you put everything in those numbers, every problem that you’ve had in many other countries culminates in all dimensions now. What was shocking is that I can come from a city like Mexico city with 22 million people and still with that I can’t beat Delhi.

Do you think that expats have an influence on Indian culture or not?

That’s a difficult question, but I guess it does. In some ways, expats have already changed India. No? Like, if you think that the Mongols were expats in India, or, the early British, French in Pondicherry, and the Portuguese in Goa. India is huge, from the borders of Pakistan to Bangladesh, it is a whole subcontinent. So I guess for the little expat community, we end up acquiring more of Indian culture than Indian culture acquires things from us.

So when you came to India, of course, there was a cultural shock. What was the biggest one for you?

I’m trying to remember what was my biggest shock. I didn’t realise that despite living in the best area with the best brands, a high-street market is allowed to have a pot and dirty holes and dirty water outside and street dogs with fleas. So it was a challenge, and I think with Latinos we have a hard time to put those in their order of social class. Latinos are indeed a little white, you know, and Indians seem to appreciate the skin colour and fair hands. People are very open, they talk to you a lot, but it doesn’t go beyond that, and then they have these things they don’t know where to classify you which is just weird sometimes.

A lot of expats say that it is very difficult to make friends in India. What do you think about it? Is it the same for you? Or it’s different.

Well, as I said, I think they can be very friendly at the beginning. Especially if you speak a bit of Hindi, they find it like whoa! My husband is a Hindi teacher, so with all that social encounters we had, when they see him speaking Hindi, they love it. But then nothing happens afterwards unless there is a bit of interest like when they need a visa. In Europe you don’t operate this way, you cannot take anyone to get their visa. And here, social interaction becomes a bit awkward. I would say I do have a couple of Indian friends or good acquaintances. But I can’t say how difficult it is. You know, the older you are, the more difficult it is to make friends.

Do you have Indian friends or is it easier to make friends with expats?

Yeah, because when I first arrived, the obvious thing was getting close to people like you. So in India, all Westerners, no matter if you are Mexican, British, French, Canadian, whatever, we all end up being closer to each other here. I mean being an expat plays an active part in your social life. Most of our time, the people we mingle with people are from expat communities.

What are the best things and the worst things about living in India?

I am retreating in Rishikesh, and I have a brilliant and all around the clock nanny to look after my children. She’s super loving, caring, trustworthy, and my good companion. And that’s something I’m most content about, and you cannot afford to have at other places. The other thing that I find amazing in India is the richness of the culture. I am doing a spiritual tourism holiday now, which I can’t think of doing in any other country where you can go on tourist trips that talk about your spiritual life. I love the fact that in India you have all the possible religions coexisting and most of the Hindu would be delighted to tell their stories to non-Hindu. They love people who are not Hindus to open them to the ideology of Hinduism. It opens a fascinating door for people like me, especially if you come from Europe, where you cannot speak about God outside the church. It just feels pleasant from time to allow humans to be openly spiritual and not feel guilty for believing in God. I sometimes think in western countries if you’re speaking out about your beliefs, you’re touching a difficult subject. While here you could be Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, of any denomination or whatever, people wouldn’t care. In India, if you come out loudly and say I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in God, then you will have a problem.

I love the fact that in India you have all the possible religions coexisting and most of the Hindu would be delighted to tell their stories to non-Hindu. They love people who are not Hindus to open them to the ideology of Hinduism.

Well, you told me a lot of very nice things about living in India but what are the worst things?

People don’t aim to solve a problem- like you call someone to fix something at home and there are 20 people, and they cannot fix it. It does say a lot about the lack of professionalism, the lack of skills of people doing their jobs. I like that it is an exchange of Nobel prizes and people are well educated. And everybody who does all these regular daily jobs doesn’t know how to do something. I don’t know who told them they could be a plumber or electrician. Many times the drivers come late, and that’s fine for them. But then they drive a little bit crazy when you are in, we come from a very time-oriented country.

You are a Pilates trainer, and train people from home. What are your views on the work culture in India, but as you work from home, is it a little different?

I can’t talk about it because I have been trying to find courses in India about pilates trainers. And it has been very difficult to find places that teach you properly. The few courses that are happening now are very expensive. They bring trainers from Canada or the US, and they teach. Most of the things in Delhi are about a typical workout like a personal trainer. I find a few Yoga and pilates trainers but they are very non-professional.

You have been in India for years now. Did you ever get homesick?

Yeah, I mean yeah but I’d be out of it for six years now. So, I have changed a lot. If I miss things about Mexico, it’s my friends and family. So I don’t know. I haven’t been feeling homesick for a few months.

What is your advice for new expats moving to India?

A new expat in India? Come with an open heart and open mind and not too many expectations and enjoy the ride. India is not the kind of country you can see with a narrow mind. You have to let things happen. It’s something that comes across as difficult so just retreat a little bit, try again and later decide for yourself. I would say that you have to look between those two extremes.

Come with an open heart and open mind and not too many expectations and enjoy the ride. India is not the kind of country you can see with a narrow mind. You have to let things happen.

So did you finally plan to go to another country?

We will move away once my husband’s job finishes in three years from now. That is not a permanent home.

How did India make a difference in your life?

If you get angry every time someone does something crazy, you’re going to become insane by staying in India. But it’s going to happen, loads of difficult moments, lots of challenging issues, you know, like things we keep for granted in western countries like there are no cows in the street. From the things you used to believe were massively important to realise what’s actually important- It does put a lot of things in that perspective.

Going beyond fashion: Hemant Sagar challenges perspective on fashion, culture, and tradition.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Born to a German mother and an Indian father, fashion designer, Hemant Sagar is deeply influenced by five different cultures, speaks six languages, and loves the millennial way of thinking and culture. He co-founded the label Lecoanet Hemant, in Paris, with Didier Lecoanet, in the early ’80s and have launched two other labels Genes LH and Ayurganic, ever since.

Why don’t you tell us something about yourself?

I always regard ourselves as a unique species because we are very international, and we come from varied backgrounds, which we made more diverse by living in different places and adapting very profoundly to all different kinds of cultures. I lived in India first, and then I moved to Germany, my mother’s German, my father was Indian, but Pakistani, so the traveling genes were in us, always. Then I moved from Germany to France, and back to India. I’m now planning a whole new life at a personal level in Thailand, so it’s like it’s all mixed up. And I speak six languages and enjoy finding cross-cultural rapports. The French I speak is said to be fluent, but I don’t express the French culture when I speak French. The same thing in Hindi, I can say things in Hindi, but I will not express the Indian culture when I talk in Hindi, I will be expressing myself in Hindi— it’s a very different thing. And the same thing applies in English or American, which for me are two different things, just like how Asian and Indian English is another thing. Everything has its different values, I might be speaking six languages, but culturally, it’s more.

So, I express the language that belongs to my personal culture, which belongs to millennials, in a certain way. I love the way millennial people know all these things, don’t really question them, leave them aside, and go ahead with their own business. I find that very applicable to daily life today.

Lecoanet Hemant was initially based in Paris, and when you decided to shift base, how did you narrow it down to India, and why?

Well, it was quite simple, because I am half Indian. I was born here, but it doesn’t mean I was part of the cultural entity. By the time I was nine, I was out of Indian schools. I was put into a German school, where I learned German at a daily level in an Indian international ambiance, in a school which had 17 or 19 different nationalities! So yeah, my best friends were Hungarian and Dutch, it was like a totally different scene. And so, in fact, narrowing it down to India wasn’t really narrowing it down, it was just like where can we realize this dream of ours, of setting up a factory, and manufacturing our own ready to wear? That doesn’t exist anywhere in the world. Hardly any designer has a factory of their own.

Was it difficult setting up here all over again?

I mean could have chosen an easier place, because as you know, to get into a certain situation, legally, in Indian means unbelievable efforts of organization, administration, bribing, standing in queues, all of that stuff. We never speak about it, but it’s true. I mean every expat who comes to India finds out that it’s a big deal to get a telephone line, that you have to wait for months, and you have to bribe people for that, and these kinds of things! For me, having lived in Europe, I come from a different place where you just pick up the phone and call the telephone agency, and you’ll have a line in the next few minutes.

Specifically, as designers, entrepreneurs, and expats, what are the things you came across in starting all over here?

I came across a very fixed cultural landscape in which everyone has a social order that they have to react to. I was very surprised to find that the artisans, who I thought you could simply ask to come an embroider things, had very high cultural thresholds they had to crossover before agreeing to make a certain embellishment because it was not taught to them by their grandparents. For example, if you go to an Indian designer who does classic work, makes new versions of designs, do all his merchandising, all his trend-searching in a traditional precinct, as I would call it. He will have classical tailors who will embroider one principle which he will have to execute, and if it’s in 20 different colors and 20 different materials, there will only be one guy who does it. That’s mind-boggling. The same thing applies to a cook. If a cook was trained in a particular region in India, he would only cook in that manner. And he will go into a family that employs him and teaches him “new recipes” which are old recipes, in which their grandmother or mother have taught them.

I came across a very fixed cultural landscape in which everyone has a social order that they have to react to. I was very surprised to find that the artisans, who I thought you could simply ask to come an embroider things, had very high cultural thresholds they had to crossover before agreeing to make a certain embellishment because it was not taught to them by their grandparents.

There is a notion here that you will dress this way, eat this way, get married this way, and have your family this way. Obviously, there was no space for these unbelievably cheeky intruders who dare come in and change the order. Obviously, they’re not interested at all! See, that is what it is about. It’s not about something static, it goes much further. It’s a way of life, it’s a way of thinking, of establishing a circuit around the way every aspect of life.

You have three different brands Lecoanet Hemant, Genes LH, and Ayurganic. Tell us how these brands came to be and the inspiration behind it.

Lecoanet Hemant is the original brand. It’s the brand under which we operated and founded it together in the early 80’s in Paris. We used his family name and my first name together— it was very intentional. Until then, it had never existed, where people got together and used two names together in fashion. You had plenty of cases where people were using their surnames together, like Mr. Roll and Mr. Royce, or Benz used his daughter’s first name Mercedes and put it together to form Mercedes Benz, that kind of thing existed. However, two people from different cultures, uniting to make a singular cultural entity out of their brand, is a novelty and still is kind of unique. In fact, all of the Indian designers, 98%, are two names together, and I think they were very encouraged by the fact that we did it. I believe this is why India is a country where most twosomes designers exist. I mean Viktor and Rolf came after us, Dolce and Gabanna came after us, Proenza Schouler came after us, all those many fashion brands came after us, and liked the concept.

So, the initial brand was the Lecoanet Hemant brand, which we operated on to make haute couture, which is a work field in which you deliberately do not reproduce tradition. You produce creations, and the idea.

Then we came here, and we knew very well that we would not be able to sustain ourselves with this handmade creation. The Indian traditional scene just did not have space for that, and it still doesn’t, because tradition is an important thing in an Indian clan or family. It has to be respected, that’s what you do, so we decided on not making clothes for weddings, but clothes for daily life, which we’re doing still. We find that there is more and more space for that which is a new discovery! Of course, everybody dresses daily to a certain level, but the actual expression of a career dressing and daily dressing, to enhance your own social appearance outside a wedding or a branded social event, is fairly new here. When you go to a wedding, you will suddenly realize how important the social structure is, and that every person on the woman’s side or the man’s side has a different name and designation. If you see how precise it is, you understand how important it is, and you realize that can’t just come in and say you’ll dress them in a pink evening dress. They’ll say, are you mad? Are you out of your mind? How dare you change my tradition?

Then we came here, and we knew very well that we would not be able to sustain ourselves with this handmade creation. The Indian traditional scene just did not have space for that, and it still doesn’t, because tradition is an important thing in an Indian clan or family. It has to be respected, that’s what you do, so we decided on not making clothes for weddings, but clothes for daily life, which we’re doing still.

Talking about culture and fashion, what do you think is the scope of influence of the first to the latter?

There was this big cultural revolution in 1981 when we opened our shop in Paris. We were making only daily wear clothes; we were not making evening wear clothes. We were only making clothes in sharp, modern, non-traditional tailoring, and self-invented designs with sharp shoulders for young women who were going into a career. Sharp top shoulder, why? Because in a corporate world of men, women need sharp shoulders, otherwise they did not exist. And at the same time, Giorgio Armani was making his first revolutionary suits for men with rounded shoulders. Now, what do all these mean? The men were getting the soft shoulders, and the women were getting the strong, sharp shoulders, because women had to nudge their way into society, literally. They had to be decorative, to be non-traditional, they had to be pretty and feminine, and they needed to make a statement in a male-dominated world.

So, all of that was uniting a product. Don’t think that you’ll do anything in that scene by putting a girl in a lengha; you’ll do nothing to that. It doesn’t even exist!

What do you think of the fashion industry in India and the work culture in this industry?

Well, if you consider my prelude of everything, I just gave you, I would tell you that the fashion industry doesn’t exist. It’s a cottage industry, and it has a general, tremendous respect for tradition and its interpretation around traditional paths that have been undertaken over the last 15 to 40 years, but it is not a fashion industry. First of all, it’s not even an industry.

Do you think it’ll ever change?
It will have to; there is absolutely no question. Otherwise, it will be dominated by imports. So, while the young people are not acting because the older people are telling them they have to do old stuff, you know who’s happy? Uniqlo, H&M, Zara—they are all thrilled! Because when the local industry is out of business, theirs grow.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability and fast fashion. In terms of the brand, where do you stand on this?

Sustainable is a word that’s used to sell better. We’ve been having a very profound dialogue about sustainability for the last 15-20 years, and we hurt our heads against the fact that we can’t change society, and we cannot change everything around us. So at least, we try to do it in our collections, etc. I find it a challenging topic to address. To imagine that people will find sustainable ways when we live in this soup which has such vast pollution problems. The pollution in India is so vast that you don’t even know where to start. Air pollution, land pollution, water pollution.

Do you think it’s achievable? Or is it just an idea that everybody loves, but not really attainable.
Well, if you look at the latest numbers, if the whole planet, by a miracle, was to become sustainable and to abide by all kinds of pollution risk, hazard levels by tonight, the entire world. If we did by tonight and we adapt it and maintain that level, strictly for the next 30 years, we will still not bypass the 2-degree temperature rise that the planet is in for in the next 30 years. We will not. It’s already too late for that. So, we will have to face inevitable consequences, but it is not too late to make life better afterward, but we have to understand what we’re going through.

How finding a home helped Hee Jin Park have a better understanding of the local culture.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Moving to India with her lawyer husband and two kids, Hee Jin Park, originally from Korea, has been living in Gurgaon for the past year. She is the distributor of Unicity in India, producing natural products to help people fight obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol — a career she is passionate about.

It’s really great to hear how passionate you are about you do. What is the process of distribution?

People can order products online. It is like a membership business, when people sign up as members, they can order the product online, and I earn through commissions. My job does not have a lot of restrictions, so my job is mostly raising awareness for health. You know, there is a solution for diabetes, cholesterols, medicines, and I educate people by giving them other alternatives.

Your family is quite multi-cultural, tell us about it!

I met my husband in the Philippines in 1993. I went there to travel and learn English. When you are at a certain age; you can meet people anywhere. Yes, you can meet people you know, in the cafe and you might meet your special person, and I met him in the Philippines, I didn’t plan anything I was one year younger than him. My husband was 27, and I was 26! He was a law student, and we met at the university where I studied English.

Ever since then, we’ve lived in New York, Malaysia, London, Singapore, and now we’re here!

You moved a lot!

Yes, because my husband specializes in internet law and intellectual property, he doesn’t go to court, and it’s more like a business. He specializes in Asia and Europe and businesses like broadcasting games on different channels need to go through the internet law, and he handles that part. He specializes in this type of field as a lawyer, so he can work in any part of the world.

How did you feel before coming here? India is quite different from New York or London.

Honestly, you know, coming to India gave us a lot of concern compared to Singapore. In India, there are a lot of scary things like the number of rape cases that you read on the internet, and then the pollution, and so many other things. I was worried, and one of my best friends in Singapore said it’s one of the worst countries to go. She was telling me about the quality of the air, and it made me worried.
I have five to six air purifiers in my house. I really panicked. Also, I didn’t have any friends when I moved to India. So, the only thing I was doing was watching the news and the TV. For the first three to six months, I couldn’t settle. I wanted to go back to Singapore. At last, we quit the hotel and found this house.
Once we found a house, we started to find our own community and friends. Then I really started getting to know the people in India. They are very lovely. We shouldn’t judge people, and I realized that the people in India are very, very nice. They are willing to be your friend, and they are very kind. Of course, people, you know, every part of the world. There are good and bad people, even in Korea and Singapore. If somebody wants to take advantage, they will do it anyway, it’s not the country. In India, you need to be more aware because we are foreigners and people are really lovely.

Once we found a house, we started to find our own community and friends. Then I really started getting to know the people in India. They are very lovely… Of course, people, you know, every part of the world. There are good and bad people, even in Korea and Singapore. If somebody wants to take advantage, they will do it anyway, it’s not the country.

One difference I see though, is the air and then the environment. You know the living condition in India comes with a lot of limitations. A good thing about India, however, is that people are open whether they are rich or poor. You know, in Singapore I had a group of friends, and we used to get together quite often. We have the same kind of living style, same kind of interests but here in India, people are different, and they have different social, which is very interesting.

With such a vast difference in cultures, between Korea and India, at what point did you realize “Okay, I just have to adapt?”

The first time I moved here, I had my own standards like everything needs to be this way, or that way. Men urinating in public is the worst part. They urinate wherever they want, which is very surprising. In fact, I was frustrated even with small things, but this is part of Indian culture, and everybody grows up in a different way. But after a few months, I go with the culture, you know, this is a different culture, where people have a different lifestyle. So, I need to adapt to their culture.

I was frustrated even with small things, but this is part of Indian culture, and everybody grows up in a different way.

Talk to us about working here. How has your expat working experience been so far?

I’ve realized that being late in India is a very common thing. Even my husband told me they set the meetings and then delay it for one to two hours every now and then. But yes, I would say it depends on person to person. Each person has different goals. And most people, you know, they don’t have a goal, they just live day by day.

Do you think India has changed you?

Yes! It helped me build confidence because when you meet different people in different positions, and from different classes, you have a better understanding of people. One thing I learned in India, everybody’s the same. Everybody wants to get attention from the other person. Everybody wants to be understood. So, I try to understand people.
I learned, whether they’re Korean, whether they’re Indian or Caucasian, once I open my heart to listen, I can communicate with anyone. The church also really helped me to settle down in the community. One more thing I really believe God is real. I’ve been Christian for so long, but now I know he is really real.

It [India] helped me build confidence because when you meet different people in different positions, and from different classes, you have a better understanding of people.

How moving to India taught Sayo Osine to be patient.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When we move to unfamiliar, our eyes widen, although our values don’t change, the way we perceive life changes constantly. The process of moving to India invariably causes some initial challenges to expats on how they engage, learn, absorb, and discover a new culture. Sayo Osine moved to India from Japan, one year ago, to be with her husband. Though not too keen about living in India, initially, expat life in Gurgaon—the infrastructure and the varieties of international cuisine, changed her mind. Today, she spends her time traveling and learning to read and write in Hindi!

Have you experienced the expat life elsewhere, how different is it from here?

I worked in Hong Kong a few years ago. Hong Kong is an international city, and since it is a duty-free city, you can find a lot of foreign products at reasonable prices. Besides that, you can reach anywhere by metro, bus, and taxi within one hour. On the other hand, in India, imported products are sold at unbelievable prices because of the high duty rate, and we cannot go everywhere easily as the mode of transportation is limited, and usually, the services are delayed.

In fact, the Japanese expat community in India faces the same kind of inconvenience and stress, but we can all become closer by sharing these struggles.

Many expats we’ve spoken to said that it’s tough to meet people and make friends here, do you share this struggle too?

Since people from different countries have different cultural backgrounds, we may think it is difficult to make friends. In fact, the Japanese expat community in India faces the same kind of inconvenience and stress, but we can all become closer by sharing these struggles. So, we should always be open-minded.

How do you spend your time here?

I take Hindi classes. It’s handy, especially in negotiating prices at the local market, and in communicating with the handymen, the drivers, and the maid. Whenever I’m able to read the Hindi letters written in shops, I get really impressed with myself.

Other than that, my husband and I travel a lot. India is a huge country and has a fascinating culture that differs from region to region. Moreover, there are so many other countries close to India. It’s very easy to travel to places I’ve never been to, such as the Middle East, South Asia, and the islands in the Indian Ocean.

India is a dynamic and adventurous country. You can enjoy India, but take care of your health and safety.

If you can give one advice to expats moving to India, what would it be?

India is a dynamic and adventurous country. You can enjoy India, but take care of your health and safety. Don’t be afraid! Here, we can find a lot of beautiful things!

Every expat impacts the local community in one way or the other, but at the same time, a host country also influences the life of an expat. How was living in India made a difference in yours?

I learned to be extremely patient. Whether it’s a grocery store, post office, or even the airport, you always find long queues. Everything is delayed from transport, delivery of items to a repairman. With these experiences, I learned how to wait patiently. As a result, I know how to control my feelings, and my life became less frustrated and peaceful.

Claudia Villianueva Shares Why Living in India Shapes us as a Person

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

Reshaping the floral industry in India one bouquet at a time, Svetlana Bakshi.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

With a lot of questions in mind, Russian born Svetlana Bakshi, landed in India for the first time ten years ago, exploring the country with her friend. She has been living in India for four years now and is the artist behind the Secret Garden Flora, an artisanal floral shop based in Delhi.

Tell us something about yourself?

As a person, I’m a perfectionist, and this is both good and bad because a lot of people get irritated by me, but this is how I am, I like it perfect. I feel satisfaction when I see perfect things, and that is what my bouquets are all about. I want to be around good people as you always learn something new from them, along with getting positive vibes. I like to observe things, and I think that’s why I came to India. There are always a lot of questions in my head about life, how? What? Where? So many questions and no answers. And while thinking about all those, I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.

…I wondered, why India? Why not Europe which is very close to my culture, why not Africa, why not South America? But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.

 

You said that you asked yourself a lot of questions and you found your answer, what were they and what were the answers?

My questions were about life in general. Like how everything works, about the relationship, partnership. When you turn a certain age, you begin asking yourself what you’ve achieved in your life and what to do in the future also. When I shifted here, I realized so much go around in life, that too, simultaneously. Sometimes I like to sit in the car when my husband is out and about buying stuff; I just observe things in general all around. Someone is sleeping, someone is standing there, and someone is riding a bicycle. So many things are happening at the same time, it’s so beautiful. So, in this way, I came here and found so many answers to my personal questions, but I still have so many questions like how to be happy? How to find balance? How to be patient? I believe India teaches us to be patient. Everything is so slow compared to Moscow, as I feel everything was fast there.

What did you think of India on your first visit, and has it changed at all after four years?

It was almost ten years back when I came to India! And of course, I was impressed. At that time, we (my friend and I) were 20 years old, and it was my first trip abroad with friends. It was a dream to come true for her; I was just tagging along. When we arrived here, it was a shock. We could already breathe in a different smell just by exiting the plane— I loved it. I still love coming out of my house to smell it. My husband doesn’t understand. He is like, “what smell?”

We reached late in the night at our hotel, we tried to sleep, but the constant noise from outside kept us awake. We came as backpackers, without tour package, and were by ourselves. There were so many things going on all at once; it was both fascinating and overwhelming. But I can’t judge; it’s a different place, people here have their own life, culture, mentality, and traditions. And of course, it impresses me because it’s so different! There are so many different nationalities together, in one small place.

What was a culture shock that got you, and how did you get over it?

I think the lack of manners and basic etiquettes really shocked me, and I’m still not used to it. The worst is men peeing and people spitting on roads. The other thing that annoys me is when people organize a free-food service to feed, but when everyone leaves, the place is full of garbage. It’s such a mess already and then all those cows, rats and dogs eating it. It’s crazy.

Svetlana Bakshi

How did Secret Garden Flora come to life?

Everything was done by Vidur, my husband, and me. I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood. In Moscow, I worked for a corporate company, and right next to our office was a massive market of flowers. Whenever my colleagues and I went to a party or a birthday occasion, we would go to this market, pick up flowers, and made our bouquets. I never bought readymade bouquets from the shops because they were never perfect. I always prefer getting custom bouquets. The 8th of March is the International woman’s day, and a holiday in Russia. On this day, you will find tulips everywhere. I went to the market to pick up flowers for my mother and sisters and made bouquets for them. Everyone wanted to know where I bought them from and how much it was. I told them the price, but they started complaining that it was too expensive. I make artful bouquets, and they might be quite expensive, but they are worth it.

I was always passionate about flowers. My parents grow them in their garden, so my love of flowers has always been there since childhood.

For two years, after getting married and moving here, I thought about what to do. I was still adapting, so I didn’t really think about flowers, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And you know, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always dreamt of having a supportive husband. Vidur understands when I don’t like how something looks; he gets it; I don’t even know how, but he just does. We are talented in different ways; however, when we put our talents together, we become a strong team.

Svetlana Bakshi

We noticed you use a lot of flowers that aren’t available in the local floral shops, and flowers we didn’t know we could find in India! How do you find them?

When we were building our business, we also developed a relationship with suppliers who work in flower export and import industry from around the world. The situation of the flower industry in India right now is like how it used to be in the ’90s, in Russia. The choice here is mostly lilac, roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums. However, since I like flowers, and I saw so many beautiful flowers, unique and colorful shades in just one flower, I wanted more than what was offered. This was when we started researching on how to import flowers. I also went to floristry school, where I learned what flowers exist in different parts of the world and which one you can use for making bouquets. When we built a strong relationship with suppliers, we were able to purchase everything in quantity because you can buy these kinds of flowers only as a business or if you have a shop. Sometimes if you want a unique flower, a particular color, the suppliers will let you. However, they will also demand that you 50 pieces of them, so we have to the minimum they ask for. When we started, there were maybe five companies that sold flower bouquets online. Now, it’s growing. This is why I say it’s like the ’90s in Moscow when this business had just started.

I respect everyone who is in this business because I know the massive work behind creating a bouquet. Suppliers throw tons of flowers. For me, it’s very personal, and I try to reduce any wastage if any.

Can you walk us through the thought process before designing a bouquet, to putting them together?

It’s an interesting question because I think it comes naturally; you don’t have to observe much. For example, in the market, when I choose flowers, I do not follow a recipe, because it’s a little different. You just have to see the color combination and what shades would be in harmony with each other. However, there are techniques to make bouquets, so you have to decide which one to follow.

In terms of putting them together, I get inspiration from nature itself. I take pictures for me to remember the shades of a tree, or a specific location and note it down. I think people like the bouquets when they look more natural; they don’t appreciate artificial bouquets. Of course, everyone is different, but I’m talking mostly about our audience. They understand the beauty of these things that how everything is put together.

Now it’s all online, so every morning, I take my inspiration from Instagram, Pinterest, and other websites. I follow different pages. In the beginning, it was hard because I didn’t get visual inspiration, but day by day, when you search for more and more visual art, you start getting ideas, and then when you start doing, you already know what to do. Nevertheless, while making a bouquet, it’s better to see and feel things in person. Sometimes when you see a flower, it’ll look beautiful, but when added to a bunch of flowers, it doesn’t look great. And there is a reason behind. You have to know the technics of floristry. If you take it lightly and bind a bunch of flowers, you get anything but a bouquet.

If you could describe India through a bouquet, what would it look like?

I think it will be something in bright orange or bright pink and red. It will definitely be very colorful, with many textures, like India is for me. It’s an excellent question because, in some way, you are guiding me, and I will now research about this!

Svetlana Bakshi

Being a florist in India, what do you think about your industry, the work culture in India, and then in general?

Floristry is growing, but it’s still like in the ’90s. So, there is a lot of room for growth. Competitors are also increasing day by day. Nonetheless, I think it will be interesting to make a community of florists. Currently, the florists here are not a community but are competitors, but abroad the florists are also a community. Sometimes, all the competitors come together, and it’s wonderful. I would like to do this here, so let’s see, we have big plans for the future. Let’s see how it goes.

Do you ever get homesick, and if yes, what do you miss the most?

Honestly, I think no. Sometimes, it’s just those emotional moments with my family that I miss. I don’t miss the food, clothes, or even winters. I am very comfortable with what I have today, and I love India. I love butter chicken—it took my heart away.

Julie Parvery on how there is a solution for everything in India.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

French travel consultant and trained sailor, Julie Parvery was living in Beijing for three years before moving to Delhi with her husband and their two teenage kids. They’ve been living and exploring Delhi for the last two years, with hopes of staying longer to experience more of the country.

What brought you to India from Beijing?

We came to India because my husband works for the company Airbus and he had the opportunity to come to Delhi. We were given the option not to move, but as soon as we arrived in Delhi, only after two days, we decided to stay and live here because we had the impression that we would be fine. Moreover, it was an excellent opportunity to discover a new culture and a different way of life; I can say that we never regretted it.

Can you tell us something about what you do in India?

I work for a Paris-based company called Cmycities; it has many travel agencies around the world. My job is to help people who want to visit India and to help those who will be coming to India to live as an expat. I help them find an apartment, discover Delhi, and guide them in things like where to buy food, what hospital to go to, and the best place to visit, etc. I help expats to live hassle-free in this city and also help students who want to come to Delhi for studies. This is a new concept for travelers; we support them by giving them genuine advice. They pay a package, but we don’t organize everything, we give them relevant tools to help them organize their own trips. It is an excellent way to travel for people who want to organize everything by themselves.

…as soon as we arrived in Delhi, only after two days, we decided to stay and live here because we had the impression that we would be fine. Moreover, it was an excellent opportunity to discover a new culture and a different way of life; I can say that we never regretted it.

I am also involved with the association Main Tendue. It comprises of eight NGOs based in Delhi that takes care of vulnerable people like abandoned children, children who were taken from the custody of their parents, abused and battered women etc. The association also redeploys people by teaching them how to cook or sew. For example, Mother Theresa is also part of this NGO; it helps handicapped children. Main Tendue raises funds for all of these NGOs. We organize a few events during the year like a Mela, a fair with many exhibitions. All the profit from this mela goes to the association. Then there is a charity gala at the embassy where people can buy their seat, dinner and the profit, of course, goes to the association.

Did you experience any culture shock coming to India?

I think the culture shock was mostly positive. However, India brings daily surprises, and sometimes, it can get stressful. It can be nothing or many small things that can easily disturb your everyday life. A leak in the kitchen, or an AC that stopped working when its 40 degrees inside your apartment are two good examples; these kinds of daily issues can be very tiring. Even if it’s not very important, it can affect your mood.

…India brings daily surprises, and sometimes, it can get stressful. It can be nothing or many small things that can easily disturb your everyday life.

Another thing, I felt freer in Beijing compared to Delhi. In Beijing, I could take my bicycle out and run my errands with it. I could go out any time, day or night, and not be worried about the risks. In Delhi, you can’t really do that. As a result, you are more dependent on your driver or friends.
When it comes to food, Beijing and Delhi are almost the same. I had to bring my food, cheese, and even wine from France! I also bring my butter from France as I’m not too fond of the Amul butter available in the market here.

What would you say is the best and the worst thing about working in India?

Working with Indian people is not easy! You can’t always rely on them to do the job right. You have to keep checking what they’ve done from the beginning until the end because sometimes they’ll tell you they’ve done it, but it won’t be done correctly, or as you thought it would have been. You have to check every setting, and that takes a lot of time. It’s not because they’re terrible people, it’s just that they have the impression that the work is done, but it’s not done as you would like. So, you have to make certain they did what you were expecting them to do, and this is why it can be tough working with them. In addition to that, they (the men) seem to find it difficult to work under a woman; even if she has a higher authority. They’re not used to it, and that’s a little confusing to me.

I would say the best thing about India is that everything is possible here. No matter how big the problem is, there is always a solution.

I would say the best thing about India is that everything is possible here. No matter how big the problem is, there is always a solution. I see it when I organize travel plans with people, even if you have a problem with a car or anything, there will always be a solution, and fast. In France, it can take two days to find a vehicle if the car renter doesn’t have any car. Here if you don’t find a car, the driver’s friend will come to pick you— as soon as you need a car, you can find one.

What advice would you give to someone planning to move to Delhi?

Though there are many things to discover in Delhi— it’s a beautiful city. I would suggest going outside of the city as soon as you can. For example, we recently went to Âlwâr, which is only 2 hours’ drive from Delhi, it was great! If you do that you can meet people in the countryside, walk, involve in other activities, and discover lovely places like big forts, or nice temples. If you leave the city and explore new areas in the countryside, you will see a new part of India and have a different view of this country. For me, Gurgaon is not India! This country is so beautiful that I would recommend you to try to discover every part of this country like Rajasthan, Gujarat, and even Ladakh!

Steven Guest, on how surprisingly organized the unorganized streets of India are.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

A trained electrical engineer, a pastor, and a Bible teacher, Dr. Steven Guest was born in the US, but has lived in the United Arab Emirates for ten years, and has traveled extensively abroad before moving to India, where he lived for nine years. He is married and is a father of two adult children and a grandfather of five children. Steven and his wife now live in the Philippines.

What were your first impressions of the country? And has it changed at all?

First impressions, that’s difficult. I have had so many ‘first impressions’ of the country. On the first visit in 1999, I landed in Hyderabad, took a train, taxi, ferry, rickshaw, and jeep to reach my final destination of the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. The vastness and crowdedness of the city was a stark contrast to the rural beauty of the villages I visited near the coast. Then I had first impressions of Bengaluru, Pune, Delhi, and Allahabad on a two-week visit in 2009. Even after living in the cities of Abu Dhabi and Chicago, the cities of India “took our breath away” in terms of the noise, crowds, and pollution. After living in Bengaluru for more than six years, we are less “intimidated” by the cities and have found the country to be filled with dissonance and fascinating opportunities.

Coming from a completely different culture, there must have been some things that came as a shock, what were they? And how did you get over it?

Yes, there were many things that “shocked” us. Traffic was a whole new experience—even after living in the United Arab Emirates for ten years and traveling for months at a time in the Philippines. There is nothing like the traffic in India. The other distressing thing was the dirtiness of the cities and the total disregard for the general welfare/upkeep of the city. Traffic was shocking with its “unorganized” and chaotic “patterns.” We marveled at how, for the local population, it actually worked. I remember thinking one time that watching traffic in the streets of Bengaluru was like watching the activity around an anthill. So many people coming from each and every direction, yet no one seemed to get hurt, and all eventually made it to their destinations. We were able to “get over” our shock by living on a walled campus that was well-tended and cared for. The perpetual beauty and relative quiet helped us forget that we were living in India. As for the traffic, we never tried to navigate it by ourselves but walked, hired rickshaws and taxis, or took rides with friends so that we would not be a hazard to ourselves or others.

Traffic was shocking with its “unorganized” and chaotic “patterns.” We marveled at how, for the local population, it actually worked. I remember thinking one time that watching traffic in the streets of Bengaluru was like watching the activity around an anthill. So many people coming from each and every direction, yet no one seemed to get hurt, and all eventually made it to their destinations.

A lot of expats we’ve interviewed mentioned that it’s difficult to build genuine bonds in India. Was that true to your experience as well?

Not at all. We were able to develop friendships and other personal relationships readily in India. We were very saddened when we came to the realization that the Indian government was going to make it difficult for us to stay through the unwillingness of the Bureau of Immigration to provide the necessary visa and residence permit.

What would you say were the best and worst things about living in India?

The Best: definitely the people, even if there were LOTS of them. We were able to build meaningful and lasting friendships with many. We enjoyed Indian hospitality immensely (even if we did eat too much or even if the foods had too many spices and/or chilis). The Worst: had to be the traffic. Traffic chaos was compounded by the ineffectiveness of the government to maintain the roads to any standard of reasonable quality. Moreover, even when roads were relatively clear and smooth, the constant lane strictures and speedbumps that impede the traffic were an obnoxious source of harassment.

Do you think the expat community can bring an influence to the local community? If so, how?

Obviously, any person can influence his/her community for good or ill, whether expat or local. I would like to think that we made a positive contribution through our work and lives for the time we lived in India. Taking the time to enter into the culture of India is necessary to make a positive impact. Learning that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad” is a good way to begin to evaluate if our contributions will be accepted or rejected.

Tell us about the process of moving to India.

I had made four short term trips (approx. two weeks each in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2009) to India prior to my transition to live there in Jan 2013. I visited India for a month in 2010 to interview for my future position on the faculty of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (Bengaluru). Then I returned as an adjunct faculty in February 2011 and October and November 2011. So, I had a pretty good idea of what I should anticipate when I moved in Jan 2013 to assume my full-time residential faculty role in Bengaluru.

Taking the time to enter into the culture of India is necessary to make a positive impact. Learning that “different” does not necessarily mean “bad” is a good way to begin to evaluate if our contributions will be accepted or rejected.

Let’s talk about working in India. What were the two most memorable experiences you’ve had while working here?

Over the course of the last nine years of living and working in India, I have had too many memorable experiences to accurately identify my two most memorable ones. Having traveled to the north (as far as Himachal Pradesh) and to the south (to Kanyakumari) and to the east (in Andhra Pradesh), there were sites that were breath-taking (mountain vistas, ocean seascapes, lush green jungles), we were able to appreciate the tremendous variety that is in India. But what left a lasting impression was the people of India—the friendships that we made would remain forever in our hearts.

What are your views on the work culture in India, especially in your industry?

Given that I worked for a Christian seminary, I fear for the Christians in India. The recent turn of events and the radicalization of many Hindu elements in society is a matter of grave concern. The abuse of power by the authorities and the majority rule that is uncharacteristic of a democratic, secular, constitutional government is quite worrying.

Did you ever get homesick? If yes, what did you miss the most?

I don’t think we ever became “homesick,” according to the common understanding. Obviously, when you live ten time zones away from family and the familiar, there are times when the differences are heightened, and the distance feels great. Being a world away from home when family is facing health crises, weddings, births, deaths, etc., can be difficult.

Any advice to newbies?

Take time to learn the culture. Read about the history of India. Engage in meaningful relationships with Indians and look for new experiences that can broaden your own horizons.

Alexandra Bret on Why Adapting is Better Than Struggling With Culture Shock

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Fifteen years after her first visit to the south of India, Alexandra Bret, came back as an exchange student, learning Hindi, at the age of 45. She decided to spend a little more time in India, after finishing her Bachelor’s degree in Delhi, to better understand how the country and the Indian society works. She teaches French and also works as a consultant for a cultural project based in Paris.

 

What were your first impressions of the country, 15 years ago and last year, when you arrived for the second time?

 

The first time I was here was 15 years ago, there were very few expectations. This time, however, the first thoughts I had was this is a very noisy country with a lot of mess, and people everywhere, all the time, but it is also a country filled with colour! There are lots of curious people, and usually, this curiosity is quite benevolent.

India is a country that can make you experience extreme emotions. There are days when you will love India, and days when you will completely hate it.

 

Would you say that it’s changed over the course of living here?

Of course! It has changed— what I said previously pretty much remains the same. But yes it has changed because now I have the experience of living here for almost a year. So, I got used to a few things. Now, I would say that I don’t even hear the noise anymore, except when they keep horning when they drive, and this is something I am not sure I can get used to.

 

Culture shock is a struggle every expat goes through, what was your biggest one?

Maybe to live, as a woman, in Delhi was my biggest cultural shock. Sometimes when I go out and when it’s time to go to the metro station, out of habit, I would light a cigarette. I did that here once and immediately knew that it wasn’t a very good idea. I could see how people were looking at me, especially men, because I think they thought that I was disrespectful towards them.

For me, the biggest shock sometimes, even in big cities like Delhi, is how women act. The place of a woman is different here, in comparison to Europe, and it’s quite difficult for people like me when you come from a country where girls have the freedom to go out alone and dance, etc., and feel safe. And that was the most difficult thing to adapt to. When I go out in Delhi in order to meet some friends and have dinner in a restaurant at 11 o’clock in the night, I call an Uber, but won’t wait for the Uber outside as first it’s not safe, and secondly, people would think that it’s normal to accompany me as I am a woman and I need to be protected. Therefore, the most important cultural shock is the relation between men and women, how women should act, and how their behaviour should be. For me, this is the biggest difference I had experienced here.

 

How did you get over it?

 

You don’t get over it, but you get used to it. I could not imagine acting like a Parisian as I do in Paris now that I live in India. So, I try to act as Indians do, because I think it’s a question of respect to adapt to the culture. However, it doesn’t mean I accept those things that happen to women in India, just as you don’t have to accept the wrong things happening in the world.

What is the best and worst thing about living in India?

Actually, I think the best and the worst thing are two faces of the same coin, and this is their conception of time. Yesterday, an Indian was explaining to me that if we have an appointment, coming 10 minutes late for it is not considered a big deal. The people here will take their time to do things and of course when you’re not used to it; it is a cultural shock. You might think that if they are late, they’re just being rude but if you get used to it, it could also work as a margin time for you. People just take it easy here, and I think if I do the same, maybe my day will be less stressful.

If I say I’m going to do finish this, at this particular moment, it will be finished at that moment. It was very difficult for me at the beginning, in India, because people said yes, yes it will be done, but when? You have to get used to this kind of flexibility. Moreover, this flexibility can also be a benefit for you, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be firm. In some situations, if you really need something, you have to ask firmly, and if you don’t, you can get exhausted by waiting for things you want.


Do you ever get homesick?

Of course, I get homesick, and especially for food. I love Indian food, but I miss French food. I crave cheese and real chocolate which obviously you can find in the market but which is very expensive as it is imported. There is some good Indian chocolate as well, but they are as expensive as imported chocolate. I miss my friends as I am not able to converse in my language. Now, of course, you have WhatsApp, but sometimes I feel like sharing things with the people I am close to face to face. 

I would say I also miss the silence.

 

Do you have any advice for newbies?

I would advise not to struggle with the conception of time, rather, try to accept whatever comes your way. Sometimes things won’t go as fast as we want or at the required pace, we are used to. Also, yes, we can be homesick, but I manage because I try to think though I don’t have what I want, there are other things to enjoy. And last but not least, take the time to maintain good health. There are many good doctors in Delhi who are as competent and good as there are in Europe. Even if you have a little problem and you don’t recover, don’t hesitate to go and see a doctor because they know what happens here. Take time to rest to get used to the weather, to the noise because Delhi can be easily an exhaustive city, but if you take time and protect yourself, you can really enjoy it.