“I had never been to India before, but as soon as I was presented with the opportunity, I jumped at it. The chance to explore this part of the world was one that I could not turn down.”
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m 29 years old and am currently a Director at a Communications company in Delhi. I have an MSc in International Economics from the University of Sussex. I grew up in Oxford, UK but also lived in New Zealand. My family is British and Irish, and I love to travel and read.
What brought you to India?
Work – I was living in Oxford and was the head of a team at PRIME Research UK. PRIME Research wanted to grow their Indian office in Gurgaon, which was, at the time, comprised of 53 staff. I have always loved to travel and had spent four months of the previous year outside of the UK working in the company’s German (Mainz) and American (Ann Arbor) offices. I had never been to India before, but as soon as I was presented with the opportunity, I jumped at it. The chance to explore this part of the world was one that I could not turn down.
What was your first impression of the country? Has it changed at all?
I was never nervous about coming to India. I took the job without ever having set foot in the country, and I’ve always loved that feeling of committing to something whether I am prepared or not. I arrived at Delhi airport at 1:30 am. The heat hit me first – this was something I was looking forward to though. My first experience was planned and organized by others. I spent three days in the office and travelled in cabs around Delhi. It was exciting. I realized very quickly that I was mainly not prepared for the size of the city. The roads were particularly daunting, lanes seemed unimportant, but the drivers appeared to have a good grasp of what was going on. As I continued to adjust to jet lag, I was able to listen to the sounds of the highway outside of my hotel room window – it never got quiet like it did in Oxford.
I realized very quickly that I was mainly not prepared for the size of the city. The roads were particularly daunting, lanes seemed unimportant, but the drivers appeared to have a good grasp of what was going on.
Delhi was loud, unstructured and everywhere I went, I felt that I stood out. It was the case, as it so often is, that I spent that first few days concentrated in the main touristy areas, surrounded by people trying to rip me off or sell me all kinds of useless items. Online sites list these areas as the must see’s in Delhi, but as I’ve got to know the city better – there are many better options to explore to see a city that you can really come to love.
Culture shock was inevitable. What was your biggest shock, and how did you get over it?
Few things were really surprising, but I think the one thing that I became quickly aware of was the lack of women in public. Any city feels more intimidating with groups of men in the streets and public areas. You become more accustomed to seeing this, but it never quite removes a feeling that a city or country is less friendly to women.
The ceaseless noise, animals in the streets and millennial poverty, struck me more than I had anticipated. As India is so incredibly crowded, the poverty is all around you. It feels poorer.
Personal space is also something which has no relevance in a city like Delhi.
Have you been an expat anywhere else? If yes, how different is the experience between there and here?
Yes (kind of), but as a 13-year-old child in New Zealand. I was at school for a year and spent the entire time outside with a cricket ball in my hand, or a football under my feet. I’ve worked overseas in the US and Germany but was living out of a hotel. Culturally, those three countries are not too dissimilar to the UK, and therefore adjustments were not required.
What are the best things and the worst things about living and working in India?
The food is spectacular. I’ve always travelled and understand how important food is to a culture. It also helps to understand people better. In India, the variety of cuisines and complex flavours does no disservice to the Indian people. I eat a lot of North Eastern food and have a real taste for the chilli’s used in North Eastern cooking. Being in Delhi, I’ve had a lot of Northern Mughal food and was in Kerala for a few weeks earlier this year and fell in love with the food from the south.
Outside of work in my day to day life, pointless bureaucracy becomes tiresome, and the attitudes of those with extremely limited power are exhausting to deal with. To get a phone, you need a bank account and an address, but you cannot open a bank account without a phone number and a permanent address. To rent a property, you need a bank account and a phone number—you get the idea of an endless circle which does not end until someone receives a bribe. Everything takes much longer.
Travelling can also be a nightmare – it can take an hour to travel just a few miles.
What are your views on the work culture in India, in your industry and overall?
Within work, there is very limited initiative among the average worker. Working outside of India, I am able to define the end goal for a team and allow for them to achieve those goals however, they see fit. This is just not possible in India. I have to sit the staff down and define each individual task. You cannot trust the answer ‘Yes’ here either. Indians are unwilling to admit when they are uncertain. Without follow up questions, you would assume that they are incredibly quick learners and can follow tasks in detail – this is not the case. Always ask follow up questions to ensure that everything has been understood.
Social hierarchy means that those who have obtained some power really want to take advantage of that and demonstrate an unwillingness to learn or be proven wrong.
Indians, however, are incredibly flexible and hard working. If a task needs completing, they are willing to go above and beyond their responsibilities to get the work done. There is also such an eagerness to learn new tasks. I’ve never been asked before for so much training on new tasks and ambition to move beyond current positions.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I try to see as much of the country as I can. I read, and I’ve begun to watch Hindi films to help pick up more of the language.
Do you ever get homesick? If yes, what do you miss the most?
I travel back to Europe with work every couple of months, so I have no homesickness. I get to see friends and family regularly.
Any advice to newbies?
If coming to live here, get someone you know, or at the company you are coming to, to take care of all the formalities, contracts, etc. at the beginning – Bank account, mobile phone, help with rental contracts – once you’re done with this you’re sailing.