Going to India in 2013 I planned only one year internship and when my visa was due to expire – just back home to Poland. But since I settled down here and started my family here, the to do list to come back gets postponed a bit to an indefinite time. It has been a while, the initial fascination with new environment, new country, culture shock or any other challenges – in general living abroad – is already over – I have gained some perspective and I learned (I still do daily!) how to survive, live and even enjoy living in India. Today, through different, believe me: both sweet and bitter experiences, I am more aware of how it works to live in India as a resident, as a foreigner in the country of contrasts and contradictions.
Only when you’re forced to condense your life into one backpack you realize how much stuff you have or how much stuff you actually need. From the day one of my Indian experience, packing in my home country – landing in India and unpacking, it was a time of many personal changes. I did not know how I would live in a new country, where all this will lead me. How my shyness to speak a foreign language will block or help in every day life, how my western background would clash with traditional and quite conservative Indian culture, how to ask for help from strangers, how to manage simple things like asking for medicines when I’m not well. I did not have all this and I did have to deal with all my fears. I went through this and I know how difficult is to overcome your doubts. Openness, the courage to try new things and meet new people, and less fear of asking and questioning, sometimes the uncomfortable matters – is the key to have a good start.
I guess, for those who already took leap of faith, jumped into deep water and decided to live abroad – temporarily or permanently – some of these points will seem familiar. No matter where your life leads you, if you land up in a foreign country, your life will be completely different. Behaviors, attitude, character, expectations, dreams or hopes. Everything will change. How? Here it goes as per my example…
What did I learn so far living in India? How did India shape my character? 5 most important learnings I took from my living abroad experience.
How to stay patient
India is a country that cannot be copied or duplicated, that is the key to understand it – as it is perhaps the most complex cultural, political and economic organism on the planet. By default and by definition they are multilingual, multicultural and religiously diversified. Therefore, no one should try to deal with it without taking into account the cultural factors and the resulting diversity. There simply cannot be one simple solution, because reality is too complex.
The day I stopped trying to change and educate people over here to make them similar to me, to follow my European logic – life became much easier. The entire tension reduced and I started living my own life without getting into other people’s businesses, lives or behaviors. Less stress made my life here somewhat pleasant 🙂
How to be consistent
Once in a while I experience AHA MOMENTS in India. One of the huge breakthrough regarding keeping myself happy here was to do things that correspond to my life values. I remember the day in Chennai when I was reading 7 habits of highly effective people (Stephen Covey) and I managed to draft my personal credo that is still with me in unchanged form. That truly helped me to stay myself and accept certain things in India that I cannot change or where I have minimal impact to encourage or empower any change. I know I have to respect Indian culture but at the same time – I keep in mind that I have the right to be myself, I have the right to have different expectations, dreams, standards because I am from another culture.
How to be resourceful
Let’s be frank. No matter how many time management books you have read, no matter how many trainings you attended – having things done in India has its own process and… logic. It takes time to understand what kind of process Indians follow to select their first things.
To manage things here I use different strategies depending on the situation. Sometimes it is “one lost foreigner searching for advice”, another time “I’m new to the country/city”, and sometimes just “I’m sure you know it – please help”. Imagination and creativity make miracles.
How to grasp simple things
My very personal way to simple and eco life went through a lot. Especially when I grew up and started taking care more for my family than me I understood that many, many things that are beautiful in this world doesn’t require smartphone, 5 credit cards, BMW or 3 luxurious houses in 3 different cities across India/world. That is actually how my husband stole my heart as he precisely taught me how to find small daily happy moments. Most appreciated! Do you want to start on your own? Try to go for a weekend trek with just one small backpack with you. It will make miracles!
How to tame the loneliness
Most of the most valuable things that I learned not to go crazy in the land of thousands of people where sometimes one can really feel lonely and overwhelmed is to find a passion that can be done regardless of latitude. No matter what happens, to stick to the one (two or three if you have) hobby-passion that will keep you alive regardless of the situation. Keeping myself busy whole day and being simply tired in the end of the day helped me a lot when I was feeling depressed or simply I had bad day.
- Do you like dancing? Try to learn some local dance style.
- Do you like playing sport? Enroll yourself to a local team of the same discipline or discover new one.
- Do you have the need to help others? Get involved in volunteering.
- Many more ideas that can be easily done from any part of the world.
I am aware that emigration, despite many advantages, also has its negative side, but it is good when we can get some conclusions out of it for ourselves. When it teaches us something new and help us grow and become a better and more self-confident person. You still will be facing challenges, but you learn how not to give up, and from all challenging situations you come out stronger. Congratulations! It shows that even something is hard to get through, it’s worth fighting and experiencing the same!
Is there anything that you can add to this list? What keeps you alive away from your family, friends or home-mom’s food?