Marla Diaz, a literature and art lover from Colombia, found herself in India for an internship for university. While she wasn't specifically looking at coming to India, the opportunity arose, and she thought "Why not?"
What was your first impression of the country? Has it changed at all?
Honestly, I was prepared for more chaos than what I first encountered, and also much more heat! So, my first impression was pretty favourable. I think as time passed, it became more nuanced, but in general, I loved finding the order among the chaos (because somehow it does work out).
Culture shock was inevitable. What was your biggest shock, and how did you get over it?
Gosh, so I arrived at around 5 am in Delhi, and I remember the first thing I noticed was that my driver honked a lot. Consider this was 5 am, so there were barely any cars around, right? I thought maybe it was just him and I even made a light joke about it. Well, as the day went by, I realized it's just how Indian drivers let others know they're passing by. Why use mirrors when you have a horn, right?
Did you ever get homesick? If yes, what did you miss the most?
Yes! A little bit right away, which I think is pretty normal, and then about six months in. At first, I missed supermarkets, because I wasn’t used to going grocery shopping in small neighbourhood stores and markets. I guess I also missed shopping malls, because in my city we have so many (you ought to find at least two nearby) while Delhi has like 6, all far away from metro stations. I got used to that, though, but what I never got used to was the lack of sidewalks, and how hard it was to walk about the streets! I still did it, despite the heat and the crazy drivers, but I missed my city, where I walk and bike pretty much everywhere.
Have you been an expat anywhere else? If yes, how different is the experience between there and here?
I haven’t been an expat anywhere else, but I did study for a year in France while I was in university, so maybe that counts a bit? To me, the biggest difference was the people. Not to say French people aren’t welcoming, but I felt more at home in India.
What were the best things and worst things about living and working in India?
I think one of the best things was the food. I still miss it SO much! Also, many things are very cheap. I’d say the cost of living, in general, is quite low, so that was a perk.
The worst I think was the staring, especially from men. No matter how you dress or what you do, people tend to stare a lot.
What are your views on the work culture in India, in your industry and overall?
I think the hierarchy is quite marked, although in my case, the organization was pretty horizontal. However, you could still tell the influence, and the internalized class differentiation has in the workplace.
What would you say is the best way to spend your free time in India?
I’d say it depends on the season! Because if it’s summer or monsoon, then I wouldn’t advise going anywhere unless there’s an AC or shade. But during the colder months, I’d say explore the forts, the little markets, the different communities inside the cities. For instance, I really loved going to Little Tibet in Delhi, it was like a different world inside, and the momos were amazing!
Do you miss India? Is so, what do you miss about it?
I really do from time to time, and I must say what I miss the most is the food! It’s tough to get over samosas and jalebis cravings when they come; nothing can replace them here.
Finally, any advice to newbies?
1. Don’t eat Indian food every day, maybe go for it like twice a week and the rest of the days go for international food or for food you prepare yourself, at least while you get your stomach used to the spices. This is what I did, and it worked well, never had a sore tummy!
2. Definitely use Uber or Ola, if you don't already. It's cheap, and you'll have AC!
3. Be careful of addresses, because in some neighbourhoods they make no sense, even for the locals.
4. And something very important: if you're buying on the streets, always bargain. Indians actually like it, and even if they're giving you the right price, you could still get a "discount" and that never hurts.