Syrian Expat Living in India
Toleen is a Syrian Expat living in India from last 2 years. After 2 years in India she has seen and experiences quite a lot of the culture of this country. She initially came to work with an Indian Consultancy Company, but after a few disappointments she decided to switch and work in the education sector. Now she is part of the PR team of a school for further studies and has leveraged her background in IT to start new projects.
- What did you know about India before coming?
The broad and misrepresented Bollywood version of India. When I knew I was travelling here, I did a quick Google search and chose to only mind the “bright” images.
- What expectations did you have about your experience here?
I didn’t set any, it was never on my “to visit” list. I honestly didn’t have the luxury of time to read any articles – I did that after I got here – It all happened too fast, as I had seven days to finalize my documents, pack up, say my goodbyes, and get going.
- What was the first thing that shocked you when you first came here?
You sense it when you first board the plane, there seems to be a perpetual endeavour to make this country smell more pleasant, sadly it never works!
After that comes the unfathomable display of poverty.
- What things took you the longest to get used to? (Food, people, noise, dirt, traffic, pollution, etc.)
I still haven’t got used to the food yet, and I don’t see it happening any time in the future. It took me a while to get used to the traffic, assigning an extra hour and a half “just in case” of heavy traffic is not a concept I’m used to, plus it’s a vast country traveling from point A to point B can consume 40 Kilometers off of your vehicle’s lifespan. People are people, and most of the times they’re genuinely sweet.
- In your daily life what are the main challenges you find?
The language barrier is a tough one to get through, although the majority (60% of the people I’ve met) of the population speak English, some would simply choose not to, and people in charge of your “service” are not among the blessed ones.
The joke of “Indian five minutes” is an actual reality. There seems to be a limited ability to comprehend the concept of time, how to manage it, and its importance; from a basic grocery order that sometimes never even gets delivered, to high end business deadlines that are rarely met.
- Professionally what are main challenges you find?
The Indian way of doing business is different, it relies on pushing -seems to be working though, so nothing wrong with that- , but I can’t give an opinion here, since I’m still a fresher.
- Culturally, what things are hard to deal with?
Many things like: Animals on the streets, the bewildering habit of spitting, and your driver stopping the car in the middle of the road to relieve himself.
- What has helped you the most to get used to live here?
Opening up and embracing India for all that it is, when I decided to open up to it, I stopped focusing on the negative stuff and started seeing beauty. Having friends who struggle with similar issues also helps a lot; you can’t keep stuff bottled up or you’ll explode 🙂
- How about housing? Was it complicated to deal with landlords? Were there new rules you were not expecting?
First, there’s the challenge of finding a decent place that is both close to your work and your social activities. Most flats here are too big, four bedrooms is just too much, especially if you’re not planning on having a flat mate. Brokers would try their best to get a piece of you. Oh and the landlords! Out of experience, I’d advise to never live in a place with the landlord close by. The relationship between you and the landlord never ends after you get the flat, you might have regular visits and checkups, sometimes they don’t approve drinking, smoking or having pets, boyfriends or girlfriends are sometimes out of the question. If a guy and a girl are sharing a flat together the landlord would question the kind of relationship they have.
- Do people treat you differently because of being a foreigner?
Yes, and it goes both ways, sometimes being a foreigner would mean you’re an easy target for scams – a friend once told me that being white is like having the Dollar sign stamped to your forehead- on the other hand, some people are extra helpful, in every sense of the word, if you’re having a problem communicating with the cab drive, you can simply walk to anyone on the street and they’ll be more than pleased to help with directions.
- Was it hard to deal with the immigration requirements?
Yes, it took me a year to get my residence permit, simply because the employees didn’t have full apprehension of the rules and laws.
- What recommendations, tips and advice could you give to people coming to India for work?
Before coming, do your homework. Don’t be satisfied with a google search, ask others from similar background who “lived” in India about their experience.
Get your shots and vaccinations, better safe than sorry.
Check which season you’ll be arriving in.
If you enjoy your red, stock up in the duty free, alcohol is unreasonably expensive here.
Get something to keep the nostalgia at bay, whatever that would make you feel closer to home.
No matter how tasty it is, stay away from Naan, it just gets you fat!
Finally try to take it with an open heart, it’s a lovely place once you decide to take it with no prejudgments, and enjoy the ride.
Finally, what are the positive thingsof being here? (BTW, thank you for your time 🙂 Have a great day!
On the personal level, you’ll put your limits to the test and feel awesome when you discover that you’re stronger than what you’ve thought, you’ll experience something completely new; every day hold a new adventure.
Professionally, it’s great on your resume.