In December last year, Forbes published an article about the 10 worst cities to live in, also highlighting finance, housing, and cost of living— a major pain point for expats. I feel that a big part of expat is about settlement and seeing the things from their perspective. Speaking to an expat woman in India, a few weeks ago, we spoke about her frustration and anguish of working and living in Bangalore. For her, the initial experience of expat life in India came with many surprises and shocks that weren’t easy to adjust to.
It got me thinking, how many of us struggle this way? With so much legalities like the FRRO, opening bank accounts, getting the right documentation to get stuff done, do we all go through this initial stress and yet never talk about it? So, I decided to five incredible expat women we have spoken to, to find out what the things they struggled with the most when they moved to India and how they overcame it.
1. Svetlana Bakshi, on learning how to be patient in India
“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,” says Svetlana Bakshi, a Russian expat running her artisanal floral business in Delhi. In comparison to Moscow, where her family is from, everything in India is comparatively slow, “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.” After living in India for four years now, she said that India has taught her how to be patient when things do not go according to plan or schedule. She further adds that living here answered a lot of question she’s always had, “There are always a lot of questions in my head about life, how? What? Where? So many questions and no answers. But I found my answers. I found them here, and when I did, it was like a puzzle that made sense.”
2. Julie Parvery on how there is a solution for everything in India
French travel consultant and trained sailor, Julie Parvery was living in Beijing for three years before moving to India with her husband and their two teenage kids. “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,” says Julie. Being completely out of your comfort zone, she adds that even the slightest discomfort can affect your mood—the good thing however, in India, there will always be a fast solution. “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.”
3. It is better to adapt than to deal with culture shock, Alexandra Bret
Alexandra Bret revisited India as an exchange student and finished her Bachelor’s degree in Hindi from Delhi. “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,” shares Alexandra. She further suggests not to struggle with the concept of time, instead, 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. 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.
4. Impact of expats on each other, Ginalyn Makanawa
Married to a chef, Ginalyn Makanawa, from the Philippines, calls India home. She moved to Chennai seven and a half years ago with her husband and daughter, Sophia. “It took me eight months to adjust and accept that we were in India. The surrounding was dirty, animals (cows, goats, and pigs) were roaming on the street, the people were wearing their traditional clothing – saree for the women and the men wore lungi which looks like a wrap skirt. Plus, the weather was hot. There are three seasons— hot, hotter, and hottest.” Nevertheless, as time went by, she began loving the city, appreciating her surroundings, and befriending fellow expats, “After dropping the kids to school, we all sit in the parents’ cafeteria and get to know each other. We have barbecues, play dates for the kids, and even host parties just to catch up. It’s the close friendship we had that made Chennai a great place to be in. If one mom is not well, a friend will offer to pick her kids up or make their dinner so the mom can rest.” She advises to be patient, take time to appreciate the little things. The most important is to make friends. Join some expat groups, and from there, life will be easier as they have been here longer, and they will tell you where, what, when, and how.
5. Valérie Valentin on how the Internet painted a different picture of India
Valérie’s first stint was a short internship with a travel company whom she joined full time after finishing her Degree course from France. “When I spoke to my family and friends about moving 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,” says Valérie. After reading more articles on the internet, she was terrified of coming to India. Nonetheless, after her arrival, she was surprised to find that inspite being so different from her home country, she was in her element. “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!”
Expat life in India takes getting used to. It’s not just the crowd on the streets or the dangerous, all-horn-no-rules driving style. It’s about getting used to poverty, being followed by beggars and being overcharged for most things. It is important to quickly establish yourself as a resident—by visiting the same salon, coffee shop or grocery store—so they know that you are not a tourist.
It is all about finding ways to infuse our days with happiness and joy that lead to a sense of fulfilment and empowerment. Shifting your mood and what you say yes to affects your career (and life) in more ways than you know.
So, while all these women expats in India had their initial challenges, they found a way to get through it. If you are an expat moving to India, think of your strong point and carry that your initial time of expat life in India. I bet you will sail through, until then. Happy relocating to India.
Photography by: Becca Tapert