23 August 2016

Stephanie Dubbeld - Expat in India

Stephanie Dubbeld - Expat in India

We’ve had the chance to talk to Stephanie Dubbeld, 36, an Australian expat who has moved to Delhi.

Ms. Dubbeld’s area of study and volunteering trip in Delhi contributed to her interest in living there. With the help of some Australian friends who lived there, she managed to make new friends and settle in with ease. The low cost of living, coupled with the plethora of delicacies and cultural attractions, made her expat experience a joy.

However, Ms. Dubbeld cautioned about the unprofessionalism of the healthcare practitioners, air pollution and hot weather. Also, women are strongly encouraged to avoid travelling alone at night. “Women get stared at all the time, and sometimes, the men will call out sleazy comments, or worse. You feel objectified and unsafe, she said.

Read more about Ms. Dubbeld’s experiences as an expat in India in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from? What made you move out?

A: Melbourne, Australia. I completed a Masters of Public Health, focusing on international health subjects. I couldn’t help but presume it was going to take me out of Melbourne.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Delhi, India. I came here to work for a few months with an NGO that I had learned about while in Melbourne. I’m no longer with them, but I came to love life in Delhi and decided to stay.


Q: How long have you been living in your India?

A: For about four years.


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

A: A disastrous healthcare experience. I won’t go into details, but I will say that privacy, respect, confidentiality and professionalism did not seem very high on a particular clinic’s list of priorities. The manager even found me on Whatsapp a while later and wanted to chat – having got my number from the medical records.


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

A: Getting Visas in India can be pretty complicated for a lot of people. Thankfully, I’ve had it pretty easy. I usually get travel insurance while I’m in Australia for a month, and then use an insurance plan for after that. Their rates are good and they’re really easy to use.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: Neither – I live with friends.


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

A: I was in a very privileged position of having my best friends from Australia already living here in Delhi. They’re gone now, but making friends was easy thanks to them putting in the groundwork before I got here.

My social circles include both Indians and expats. There are certain things that only expats will really understand, but I’m in India, so it would be kind of ridiculous not to have Indian friends as well. I really like the balance.


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

A: So many things! This is a crazy city. I’ve heard people say you either love it or hate it, but to be honest, I think it’s pretty easy to do both at the same time, in equal measure.

Some things I’d recommend are:

  • Eating – There is a lot of variety here, from cheap roadside “dhabas”, to fancy, international cuisines.
  • Markets – Again, there’s heaps of variety – you can shop on an incredibly tight budget, or get your fill of designer handbags if that’s more your thing.
  • Lodhi Garden – Beautiful manicured gardens, built around historic ruins. Great place for exercising, picnics and chilling out away from the noise.
  • Movies – The cinemas have reclining seats. It’s like Gold Class but it costs about as much as a cup of coffee would back home.
  • India Gate – It’s such a cultural experience - crowded, bustling, and fun.
  • Travel – Train travel is cheap, and relatively easy – although, it’s better to book in advance. India is such an incredible country, rich with natural and historical beauty. Every now and again, you need to get out of this crazy, wonderful, over-stimulating city and see what the rest of the country has to offer.


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

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: I don’t really drink coffee – I guess around $1.50? This is the land of chai, which you can get for as little as about ten cents.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Haha, define “restaurant”. You can pick up a meal for less than a dollar, but if you want to sit down, it might be more like two or three bucks.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: Could be $20, or even up to $70 or $80, but $20 can get you a really good meal.

  • How much is a bottle of wine?

A: That’s a tricky one. Australian wine is available, but usually around twice the price we’d pay at home – and the same goes for other imports. Cheaper wines can be as little as $5, but they’re not that great.

  • How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: No idea. In fact, most people buy their cigarettes individually, rather than in a packet. I don’t think they cost much!


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: What an interesting question! I guess it depends on the locals, I guess – like anywhere. Indian culture is intriguing, and the more you think you understand it, the more you discover things you didn’t know before. Delhi culture is another level again.

People in Delhi are so generous, hospitable and caring when they choose to be. I think everyone has a small circle of people they would give everything for but it kind of sucks to be outside of that circle. There are unfathomable numbers of people in this city, so in a sense, if you don’t push yourself forward, you’ll never get anywhere. This, naturally, requires you to ignore people, elbow people out of the way (literally and metaphorically) and, at times, act in ways that might seem unreasonable or out of proportion to get what you want. That’s the impression that I get, anyway.


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

A: Positives include:

  • Getting to know people from India, and from all walks of life
  • Seeing amazing and beautiful things – the Himalayas and the Taj Mahal are two rather obvious examples that come to mind
  • Seeing the world from a totally different perspective
  • Growing professionally – learning new things, being challenged, and having opportunities I wouldn’t have had back home

And negatives:

  • The weather, sometimes – it’s really hot for most of the year, and sometimes crazy humid. In winter, it’s pleasantly cold, except for when it’s bitterly cold and there’s just no escape.
  • The air – I’ve heard Delhi has now beaten Beijing for the auspicious title of being the city with the world’s worst air quality. You can practically feel it on your teeth.
  • Creepy men – women get stared at all the time, and sometimes, the men will call out sleazy comments, or worse. You feel objectified and unsafe.
  • Lack of independence. I guess it follows on from the above – it’s not safe to go out alone at night, which means having a social life can be a bit of an administrative exercise.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Skype, emails, texts – I love internet-based text messages. They don’t cost anything, and they’re an instant way of being in touch.


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

A: Who knows? Many people asked me when I’m moving back but I really have no idea.


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

A: I think it’s been hard to adapt to the lack of independence I described above. I don’t drive here, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable driving alone late at night. I feel like I always have to be looked after, and I’m a pretty independent soul so I don’t really love that.


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

A: Be kind to yourself. Don’t feel like you’re failing if you need to escape from time to time, whether that’s escaping into a TV show, to another part of India, or even back home for a break. Learn to love chai, if you don’t already. It breaks down a lot of social barriers. Haggle. Don’t let people rip you off just because you’re a foreigner. Don’t let any outward harshness stop you from getting to know the locals. It’s a huge country, and people might not always seem that friendly at first, but give them a chance. Use your instincts – it might appear to contradict my previous point, but sometimes people can be as dodgy as they seem. I find it best to get to know people through other people I trust, rather than putting myself in situations that might lead to me being unsafe.


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

A: My friend, Louise used to blog when she lived here – lifeandlentils.blogspot.in. She’s gone now, but it’s still a great read, and most of it is still relevant. zomato.com isn’t exactly a website about the country, but it provides a useful guide to food, which is very important. cleartrip.com and makemytrip.com both make booking trains and domestic flights very easy.