Melissa Parkerton shares why being in India is no fun- Expat Experience In India
Melissa and her husband were excited about moving to India. Originally from Connecticut on the East Coast, Melissa spent her whole adult life on the West coast between Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland Oregon. Melissa and her husband moved to Bangalore in August 2017 after her husband got a job at the Canadian International School. “We had been interested in living overseas for a long time, and this just seemed like the perfect time and way to do that. We were particularly interested in India because my parents met in Punjab and married in Delhi”, she informed.
Melissa is an American woman living overseas for the first time. She worked for healthcare but currently is not working and have become a trailing spouse. “It’s hard to figure out how to even introduce yourself to a new person when your job used to be part of your personal introduction”, she told. She is married to a wonderful man, and they arrived in India on their 6th anniversary.
“Living in India is an adventure. One day I can go to a beautiful Hindu temple or ancient palace ruins. The next day I can go to a bustling produce market or walk through a park downtown. And the next day I can go out for cocktails in a fancy hotel or see great theater. Everything is here”, Melissa expressed.
Yes, it’s so true. India is a diverse land not only one can witness diversity among people but also have a variety of its culture and incredible destinations. However, an expat living in our country may find challenging to stay here. On being asked Melissa opened up on the quality of life in India. She said, “In many ways, life is more difficult here – the traffic is more challenging, the sidewalks are treacherous, and it can be hard to navigate the bureaucracy when trying to get things done. I don’t know that I’d say the quality of life is worse, though – it’s really just very different and those challenges are balanced out by other things”.
She further added that the biggest challenge for her is living with the garbage. Even after being here for almost six months, she still finds herself shocked when she passes a big garbage pile right next to a busy sidewalk. When the garbage is in a stream, it does not just smell horrible, it’s tragic given the water issues that this city faces. “A friend suggested to me that when I’m upset by the garbage, I should look around for something beautiful and focus on that. For me, that helps. I pay attention to the flowers, to beautiful rangoli in a doorway, to a woman’s gorgeous saree instead of fixating on what bothers me. I also always have a scarf to cover my face so I can avoid breathing noxious air when I pass a really bad place”, she sighed.
Speaking about how she misses her country she mentioned about the people and the ease of living in a place where she knows how things work, where she doesn’t have to worry about being culturally inappropriate or misunderstanding someone she is I’m talking to. “I think I’m still so new here that I still just have a lot to learn before I feel settled. And cheese. I miss the availability of really good cheese! Great cheese can be found here, but it’s so expensive that we don’t get it often. A lot of expats come here on really lucrative contracts so may not need to ration their access to imported foods, but we’re living on one teacher’s salary so we try to exercise a little frugality”, she expressed.
Culture shock is one of the elements that an expat has to experience. They have to make adjustments when settling into expat life in India. Melissa too shared her own adjustments that she made. “One adjustment for me has been financial. Because my husband is working and I am not, our bank account only has his name. We only have one debit card, and debit card use here frequently requires an OTP which is sent to his phone. That means that even though I carry the card, I’m limited in what I can do with it while he’s working. That has been really frustrating but just seems insurmountable. The bank won’t add me to the account or give us a second card unless I have a PAN card, for which I need an employer which I don’t have”.
“In terms of culture shock, I think back to our first day here in Bangalore. We arrived from the US at about 3 am after traveling for 24 hours, so even after a nap, we were pretty jet-lagged. A man came over to connect our internet and had some difficulty, but we didn’t know what it was because we couldn’t really understand him even though he was trying to explain in English. He said he had to get something and would be back in 20 minutes. An hour later, we realized that 20 minutes doesn’t mean 20 minutes here and we had no idea when he’d actually return. Punctuality just doesn’t seem to be a value here. Then we really needed to go to a store to buy some groceries and household items and were told that there was a store just down the street. It felt like an act of courage to walk down the broken sidewalk, occasionally venturing into the street with the chaotic, honking cars and motorbikes. We were just floored when we saw a cow walking in the traffic. We were completely overwhelmed by everything – the noise, the dust, the vehicles, the people. When we got to the store, we couldn’t find anything because it just wasn’t organized the way we’re used to stores being organized. Now we stroll through traffic and have no shopping problems, but we actually lost weight in our first weeks here because we couldn’t figure out what to eat or where to get it.
I don’t know if this really fits into this category, but the other big adjustment for me was losing my identity as a professional. I have worked my whole adult life, and I loved what I did, but my husband and I were excited by the opportunity to experience another culture. His job translated overseas better than mine did, so I became a “trailing spouse.” It’s a designation that I see for a lot of expat women who were working professionals in their home countries. And it’s hard to figure out how to even introduce yourself to a new person when your job used to be part of your personal introduction”, she expressed.
Melisssa’s experience with the local people was nice. People often strike up conversations with her even though both of them struggle with language barriers. They try to connect and she appreciates it. “Most Indians I’ve met have been absolutely lovely. I’ve never felt any kind of intolerance or experienced any discrimination. I do notice that when I’m out in public, I tend to attract more attention than I want. Having light hair here is challenging. I can’t go to any cultural setting or park without someone asking me for a selfie – my husband and I were stopped about 15 times in 2 hours while trying to just have a relaxing stroll through Lalbagh Botanical Garden – that’s truly not an exaggeration”, she mentioned.
Melissa is quite convinced about the cost of living in the city as compared to her home. She tells us about the cheapest and expensive things in the city. “Most things here are so much less expensive than at home. My phone and data plan at home costs about 20 times more. Home internet is similar. Produce varies but is easily five times more expensive at home. On the other hand, cashews cost about the same and wine is much more expensive here. If we eat at a casual local restaurant, it’s quite inexpensive, but if we go out for a fancier meal, it easily costs as much as it would at home”, she informed.
The range of housing for expats is huge. She mentions having her friends living in lovely free-standing villas, beautiful high rises, and more modest apartment buildings. Talking about her experience she further mentioned, “There are so many nice sections of town, but I’d suggest living near the central core just to make it easier to go to good restaurants, movies, shopping, theater, museums, etc”.
Living in Yehalanka which is quite a long way from downtown, transportation actually gets pretty expensive, but a fraction of the cost of a car and driver, Melissa shared. “I wouldn’t feel safe driving here – the traffic rules are just very different from home, so I think a driver would be essential if someone had a car. I know a bus is an option, but slower than a car. Since I’m already spending over an hour to get most places I go, I’m not willing to extend that. The metro is great, though. I use it whenever I can and hope to move closer to a metro stop – it’s clean, air-conditioned, inexpensive, and efficient. The problem is that it’s really limited and only covers the downtown area”, she informed.
She concluded by sharing the thought that anyone who has the opportunity to experience India should jump at it. “Be prepared for the fact that there will be difficult and frustrating days when things don’t work efficiently – take a deep breath and know that some days are perfectly easy. Be prepared for the fact that your GI system will object to some of the things you eat – it’s ok, it happens to everyone, and it gets better over time. Try to stay curious rather than getting judgmental, and keep your mind open. There are surprises around every corner (Today I saw a triple-decker truck full of goats! There are baby cows right down the street! Indian sweets are so crazy delicious!) and it’s all worth any challenges you encounter”, she signed off.