When I decided to go to India as an Expat there were three things I knew about this country: yoga, curry and that there were cows walking freely on the streets (although I was a little suspicious about this last one, it’s true).
India has been for me a bittersweet relationship as an expat because there wasn’t a single day in which I didn’t do, see or find out something that took my breathe away for good or for bad.
Don´t know precisely the proportion of the up’s vs. the down’s, but each of them has been a wonderful learning experience. In fact, I think that whoever came up with the motto “Incredible India” had very well in mind that it had to be a word game to refer to a country that is full of challenging surprises and contrasts.
Not too long ago, a very good friend of mine shared with me some theory about adaptation in a new country that basically explains that a given person will have initial attitudes and biases, followed by encountering cross-cultural reactions that can cause confusion, tension, frustration or embarrasment. The way of coping can be either observing, listening and asking or criticizing, rationalizing and withdrawing. According to this theory each of the two ways can take either to a possitive rapport, or to an aversion.
The complication with the latter theory is that India doesn´t let you grasp the beautiness of their culture because it lies underneath a thick layer of challenges that are impossible to undermine. But that´s exactly the point, India makes you confront yourself and defies everything that you thought you knew and slaps you right in the face with a whole new world of experiences.
Ever since I passed the phase of amusement of seeing cows in the streets, watching people eat with their hands, families of 3, 4, or 5 people riding the same motorbike (with no helmets) and other things that are easily noticed, I started to question myself if weather I was absorbing this experience as fast as things were happening down here. The truth is, I didn’t, it’s just so much happening too fast.
Contrary to other places where I have been, this country is not here to show you what you want, to be what you want it to be or to take from it what you want to take. India doesn’t pushes or challenge you directly, it makes you think how much you are willing to give of yourself, and only then India will let you take a bit of her.
While the rest of the world is waiting for the latest iPhone, the new tablet, the fanciest car, or the latest apparel collection, there are 650 million Indians living on $0.50 dollars per day… 650M people, by the way, are twice the population of the US or whole Latin America combined. So next time you are in a supermarket deciding which box of cereal has the coolest package, think there are people who wake up everymorning whithout knowing if they will have a plate of anything in the first place.
How can you neglect that and how can’t you thank life for being in a country that allows you to appreciate the most basic things and pleasures of life? This for me has been the real beauty of India and I will always be thankful for having the opportunity of living and working there.
I am very aware that it will probably take the rest of my life to understand all the lessons, experiences and funny stories of my years in India, but for now it’s time to go back to the country that changed my life, after living in the country that changed my destiny…