Valérie Valentin: On how the internet painted a different picture of India.

Author: We The Expats
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Valérie Valentin: On how the internet painted a different picture of India.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Having visited India for the first time as an intern, it wasn’t a surprise that Valérie came back to work with the travel agency she works with today. After finishing her degree in France, she flew back to India to manage a sales team based in Kochi, Kerela.

What brought you to India?

To tell you the whole story, I had worked for my current agency three years ago. I did six months internship in Delhi when I was a student. At the end of those six months, I went back to France and finished my studies. However, I kept in touch with my former manager, and he offered me a job as they were opening a new office in South India. This was a great job opportunity, and that’s why I’m here in India.

What was your first impression of India?

First, I have to tell you how it all began! I was supposed to go to Singapore. But one week before I left, I got the news that I was not granted a visa! I was stuck in France with only one week to go before my internship starts. I needed to find another solution.
This is when the opportunity to come to India presented itself. Nonetheless, I was so stuck on Singapore, which is a lot more like Europe that going to India wasn’t so convincing.  Don’t get me wrong; I was happy that I found a place to intern at and on top of that, it was a travel agency! However, when I spoke to my family and friends about going to India, they voiced concerns about my safety, since we’ve heard a lot of stories about the struggles of women in India. Immediately, whatever joy I felt about finding an internship was quickly replaced with confusion and anxiety.

A few days later, after settling down and spending time with people and colleagues, I realized that I had forgotten every reservation my family had about India. I understood, quickly, that their doubts were not a reality. My family had never been to India before, and they were talking about things they didn’t know. 

So I went on the Internet to do some research, and doing that made it even worse! There were a lot of unpleasant stories. It was like looking up symptoms when you’re sick— not a good idea! Nevertheless, I said to myself, “Okay, you’re here. You have this opportunity, so just go and experience it for yourself.”
I remember vividly, the few moments before I landed in Delhi. It was around 11 P.M., everything was dark, and I remember being so anxious. I wanted nothing more than to go back to France.
A few days later, after settling down and spending time with people and colleagues, I realized that I had forgotten every reservation my family had about India. I understood, quickly, that their doubts were not a reality. My family had never been to India before, and they were talking about things they didn’t know.
I was quite surprised because it took me just a couple of days and I already knew that was in my element! I was so happy to discover this country, one that’s so different from Europe! It’s been an enjoyable experience.

What was your biggest shock?

The noise, the smell, and too many people! However, I think that it’s only in Delhi. Now that I’ve travelled India, I can compare it to other cities— Delhi is extreme. There’s too much pollution, traffic, and it’s crowded.

And now, are you used to the environment in Delhi?

I live in Kerala now, which is very different. Whenever I come back to Delhi for work though, I have the same experience as the first time I was here, with less pollution.

Have you been an expat anywhere else?

Yes, in Namibia.

How different was it from India?

I think that Namibia is quite different from India, but the common point being the people. The people are very nice. But then again, Delhi could be different. People in the capital aren’t always friendly.

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

The worst thing for me is the administration. It’s terrible! It’s a challenge to deal with the FRRO (The Foreigner Registration Office). You have to register yourself as a foreigner.
An example is, when I first came to India, I tried to open a bank account. It was so confusing! Because to open an account, I needed a PAN card, but an FRRO registration was compulsory to obtain a PAN card! I felt like I was going in circles because everything was required to get another thing! I think it took me four months to get a bank account.
As for the best thing, I would say, people, especially in Kerala. They are very lovely, helpful and also very kind.

Did you have any issues being a woman in India?

In the beginning, yes, it was difficult, especially three years ago in Delhi. There were so many men everywhere; it was difficult to see other women in Old Delhi. I terrible memory I have about Delhi is when you’re a woman, especially a white woman, men stare at you in the street. It’s difficult because I had no idea how to manage the situation, not knowing if I should look down or not. However, I’ve lived with it and told myself not to look at them. Here in the South though, I’ve never experienced this kind of behaviour! It’s very comfortable.

What are the differences between the work culture in India and France?

I had to learn and to be very patient in general. There were many situations where we had issues because of cultural differences. We do not work or think the same way! For example, something can appear essential to me but won’t for them. Because I work for European clients, I have to fulfill their requests, which are usually very European. However, sometimes, my colleagues do not understand why they have such requests!

What are you doing when you’re not working?

I travel a lot. It’s one of the reasons I came here, and besides, I work in the tourism industry! Though I spent the first six months in Delhi, I only spent four weekends in the city. I was exploring the country the rest of the time! I try to do the same here in Kerala too.
India is a huge country, and there are so many things to do. So, for now, I’m trying to travel as much as possible.
India is an excellent hub to travel, plane tickets are very cheap, and there are so many destinations.
Yeah, flight tickets, train tickets, bus tickets; everything is very cheap so we can travel easily.

Is there something you miss about France, like food or culture?

Yes, I miss French food! I went to Pondicherry last weekend, and I had all my meals in French restaurants and bakeries! I also miss my family and friends. It’s difficult to build solid friendships in India because we don’t have the same way of thinking.

Do you have any advice for newbies who might want to come to India?

There is so much advice to give! But I think the most crucial point is to do some research before coming here! It’s very different from Europe; be aware of the conditions. Nonetheless, don’t overdo the research too. Sometimes, the things we find on the Internet only highlights the negative things about the country. Find out the essentials, and then let India surprise you with the rest!

 

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