Expectations and Realities of Expat Life in India

June 26, 2013

Expat Life, India

Expat Life in IndiaI left San Francisco ready for adventure, excitement, travel and days filled with amazingness. What I found on the other side included all of this, but also loneliness, disillusionment and hard work.  I had already traveled all over the world and couldn’t seem to get my fill of adventure. I thought that actually living abroad would cure me of my disease. (Update: It didn’t work!) I left the comfort of San Francisco with the thought that even though I was heading off for an adventure that life back “home” would still be there waiting for me when I returned. After  more than 8 years in India, my former life and much of my former self were nowhere to be found.

Expat in IndiaMy initial few weeks and months were filled with excitement as I had hoped. I spent my days exploring Mumbai’s nooks and crannies, sampling street food without the fear of “Delhi belly” ruining my trip, taking yoga classes and enjoying the novelty of seeing elephants and cows walk down my street.  However as the honeymoon phase of life abroad wore off, I realized that living abroad was not at all like travelling. When I was travelling I was able to easily pass off moments and days of frustration as being “part of the adventure”. When it took months of constant negotiations with the mobile phone company just to change my mailing address, I felt disillusioned. I was constantly comparing life in India to what I had in San Francisco and wanted to know why life had to be so difficult here.

I quickly learned not to share these frustrations with friends and family back home since their only response was “then come home”.  I had a difficult time coming to terms with the dreams I had of loving life abroad with the daily frustrations that had begun overshadowing my existence.  It was at this time that I took a trip back to San Francisco to evaluate what I wanted and where I wanted to be.  Once on the other side, I realized that life for many friends in San Francisco was the same as it was when I had left, but I was no longer the same person. I also saw that many of my frustrations in India existed in the US as well, I just never noticed them before.

Expat in IndiaReturning to India and moving past the stage of disillusionment, I began to accept India for what it was. It felt like a rebirth of the initial honeymoon phase. I was able to see humor in the absurdity and began to embrace the differences by actually incorporating them into my own life. I recognized the faults of India, but I no longer dwelled on them.  Some would say I went native.

It was only through accepting and embracing India through my new lens of an expat and not just a traveler that I flourished professionally, emotionally and socially.  I created an online forum and support network for other expats (Bombay Expats), I adopted street cats and I began working in the development field.

Getting to the point of contentment in India didn’t mean that I never floated back through the other stages every so often. That’s the beauty of being an expat; your days are not predictable, while your routine may resemble what you had at “home”, your life is continually filled with newness. This is what becomes addicting about living abroad – the constant change and the feeling of overcoming the challenges of daily life.

That’s the beauty of being an expat; your days are not predictable, while your routine may resemble what you had at “home”, your life is continually filled with newness.

Expat life in India

I have just celebrated my 1 year return to the US and while I miss my former life immensely, I also am thankful for where I am now. I didn’t go back “home” to San Francisco; instead life took me to a new city where I experienced all of these emotions once again as a re-pat.  

Looking back at my years abroad I realize what a gift it was to have the chance to live and learn in a culture so completely different from my own.  It was absolutely a life changing experience that has opened my eyes and heart like nothing else.

For anyone wanting to get started down the path of an expat life, I recommend that you set aside all of the reasons why you can’t do it and instead focus on how you can.  Start by conducting tons of research about where you want to go.   Begin saving money or paying off debt to provide more flexibility for yourself.  Lastly, work on seeing the humor in everything; a sense of humor is essential to life abroad!​
Do you have dreams of living abroad? Or have you lived abroad? Share your experiences with me in the comments.
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