1 August 2016

Pamela Johnson - Expat in India

Pamela Johnson - Expat in India

Ms. Pamela Johnson is an American expat, originally from South Carolina, currently assigned to work in Bangalore, India. Ms. Johnson, who is a Clinical Researcher, was assigned to Bangalore for work for 1 year, with a possibility of an extension.

Ms. Johnson has several valuable experiences as an expat in India so far, and has enjoyed her life as an expat, but she still has a hard time when it comes to communication. Since India has several local dialects, and English is not very widely spoken outside the work place, finding a social circle, or even getting by your day-to-day interaction with the local community, can be a bit of a challenge.

According to Ms. Johnson “Communicating with locals (when they know 4 local languages and are short on English, and you know only how to say NAMASTE.) When you find a local (out in public, not speaking of the workplace) who speaks good English, you almost cry with joy!”.

Read more about Ms. Johnson’s experiences as an expat in Bangalore, through her full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: US, North Carolina

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I am on a 1 year (possibly extended) assignment for my job, and re-located from RTP, NC to Bangalore India.

Q: Where are you living now?

A:  Bangalore, India

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence? 

A: My organization has a presence here, and needed several staff to move here for a specified period.

Q: How long have you been living in India?  

A: Since June 2014, and due to be here through June 2015, hopefully longer.

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in India? 

A: Communicating with locals (when they know 4 local languages and are short on English, and you know only how to say NAMASTE.) When you find a local (out in public, not speaking of the workplace) who speaks good English, you almost cry with joy!

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in India? What was your experience with these?

A: My organization/company luckily did all of this work on my behalf.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I live alone.

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in India? How did you manage to find a social circle? 

A: I have made a few close friends who are invaluable to this experience. It has been more difficult than expected to make “a lot” of friends as I expected I would have made in this period of time. I interact with other expats from my company, and several friends local to the region. I have one contact with whom I join and volunteer, and that has been fulfilling.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Bangalore has a lot of neat/varied restaurants, a lot of rich culture, lots of interesting “people watching”, and finally, lots of day or weekend trips for wildlife/outdoor experiences. India, of course, is one of the only countries where you can see one of the 3500 tigers that are still alive, in the wild.

Q: How does the cost of living in India compared to your home?

a/ how much is a cup of coffee? At the Café Coffee Day in my building, a cappuccino is 25 cents. At Starbucks, I believe it is cheaper than US of course, but definitely more pricey than local Indian coffee shops. They have built 8 Starbucks in Bangalore between Nov 2013 and Nov 2014.

b/ how much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant? 2.50 USD per person on average

c/ how much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?  15 USD maybe?  (not including alcohol)

d/ how much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes? Have not bought a bottle of wine or cigarettes.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in India?

A: I think as in any country, there are “good experiences with certain people, as well as negative experiences”. In India, the good has definitely outweighed the bad. The hospitality factor is off the charts, and expats are treated very nicely in my opinion. I often feel a bit guilty for getting preferential treatment over a local. (getting seated in front of locals at a restaurant, etc.) That does not sit well with me, and I don’t take advantage of what I “could get”.

Also, the Indian culture is comprised of people who do not like to say “No”, and this is well-documented—I am not the first one to discover this! Indian people are just a nice crowd. But I have experienced it a lot, and I find that if someone says “Possibly”, or “maybe”, that means “It is not going to happen”.J I find myself being a lot more direct, and “drilling down” to the root of what the person is really thinking, and find myself going overboard with validation and appreciation for openness and honesty. One man with whom I work, told me my technical document almost put him to sleep, and I thought “AWESOME, I have found an Indian who is not afraid to tell me exactly what he thinks!”J

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in India?

A: The new experiences are fascinating. I love love love hearing the Indian accents, hearing their inflections, watching the body language and seeing how they deal with each other, watching men walk with an arm wrapped over the other’s shoulder and seeing how warmly they treat each other.

How, if there is a street accident, suddenly there are 50 Indians gathered to talk it out and “take sides”. I suppose the drama is a bit exciting and enjoyable for me! I have interesting experiences every single day and could write volumes.

Finally, Indians have positive outlooks on the whole, and that rubs off on me as well. As a skeptic, I am more practical, i.e. predicting what is going to go wrong, and sometimes feel I can see the outcome, while they may see “sunshine and rainbows”. I suppose with laid back attitudes, Indians will live longer, as they are more relaxed and “take life as it comes”. I have tons of examples. We are definitely different, and it is “the opposite factor” that is attractive to me.

The negatives: Communicating, communicating, and communicating. You will NEVER have an easy conversation outside of the workplace if you don’t speak the local language. I often give my phone to a random Indian on the street to be able to tell someone what I am trying to say.

Many of my questions, such as “How far do you have to travel to get home?” are answered with a simple “Yes”.  Being in India alone, and sometimes going a whole day without being “understood” can be frustrating, and makes me wish I had invested in ROSETTA STONE HINDI!

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I mainly use email, Facebook and facetime, though it is infrequent as we have a 10.5 time difference. I visit home twice per year.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I desire to stay in India for another year after this one finishes. Even if not in Bangalore, somewhere in India. I LOVE India, and feel as if I am just peeling back the first layer of “my Indian experience”!

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: Communicating with no knowledge of local language, other than NAMASTE. (that obviously will only get me so far. Haha) Also, worrying about the traffic accidents. I think the stat is that someone is in an accident and dies every 3 seconds (in all of India, so across billions), yet people who have travelled all over the world have said that “Bangalore traffic is the most dangerous in the world”. I do tend to stay in more than I would due to this traffic, and my cab has rear ended a motorcycle. (everyone was OK, thank goodness.) But everyone I know here has been in some kind of accident. The traffic is the only thing about India that is a bit scary to me. Even considering this, it does not make me want to leave.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in India?

A: As stated, learn the main language, Hindi, as much as you can, if you have any lead time at all. I know, most expats don’t. Don’t worry so much about food-borne illness (unless you just plan to guzzle tap water) and only worry about malaria prevention in certain areas. It is not that common where I am, for example, but I would check the health status of another area on an up-to-date map of diseases before I went, and determine if I wanted to take precautionary pills for a few weeks, etc.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about India?

A: I read expat blogs at random, but cannot think of an exact name of one currently. My blog is http://nctobangalore.blogspot.com