Neil: Learning India
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to India, etc.
My name is Neil Miller. I moved to India from the US in 2010 with my wife. I came not as a traditional expat, but with a friend who was starting up a small business here. My wife and I now have two kids and live in Chennai.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I got the bug to share my experiences with a larger audience back in September of 2013, but didn’t really launch anything publicly until January of 2014. I’ve had a pretty unique experience in many ways in India, and I feel like the lessons I learned can help others too.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Most of my articles have taken years to write, so I get attached to all of them. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the feedback on Two Kinds of Culture Shock, and How to Please the Babu. The lessons I share in Parent Leadership were really foundational for my understanding of India.
Tell us about the ways your new life in India differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Things are vastly different and yet may not seem so much on the outside. Life is both simpler and much harder too. India has been a constant adjustment. Now, four years later, we’ve found a decent flow and have surrounded ourselves with people who understand. I had several culture shock experiences, but the more severe ones were what I called culture attacks when it seemed like the whole world was out to get me.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in India? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Not a chance. I was very prepared, but that can only get you so far. I don’t think I could have done much more to prepare. I only wish I would have had more work experience in my home country so that I could know better what is actually different and what only seems different.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well, we tend to see large stuffed animal costumes (with people inside) like Mickey Mouse in random places like at weddings and on the side of the road. I would classify most of our experiences as more bizarre than funny so far.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in India?
- Get a vocabulary for understanding the things that will wear at you over time. It is really helpful to be able to name the thing that is eating at you.
- Come in with a positive perspective. Some expats get really bitter over time and it is sad to see them in this state. Things can be tough, but there are advantages here that you won’t find in any other place.
- Be willing to redefine what is “right and wrong”. India’s ethics are far more situational and relational than most people are comfortable with. Ask the question “Why is this person doing this?” rather than reassuring yourself that they are wrong.
How is the expat community in India? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I really didn’t seek out many expats when we first came. Of course you slowly find each other when you need some specialty import item or something. For not being a very cosmopolitan city, Chennai has a decent expat crowd. We find that we relate the best with Indians who have lived in the US, but have come back to live in India.
How would you summarize your expat life in India in a single, catchy sentence?
I feel like I’m riding underneath a massive elephant who doesn’t really care about me, but has shown me more insight and love than I’ll ever be able to find anywhere else.