Debbie: Meet Me Here And There
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to New Delhi, etc.
I moved to Delhi in the fall of 2012 to work in the World Bank’s India office. I used to travel constantly to the region for work from the US and was admittedly getting tired of feeling like I lived on two continents (is it healthy to have nightmares about airplane food chasing you?). Before Delhi I most recently lived in Washington DC, San Francisco, and Boston, and mostly grew up in California and Florida. My father is from Los Angeles and my mother is from Vietnam – making my life a big melting pot of cultures.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
While moving around prevents you from obtaining any real assets to your name (even owning furniture seems like a weighty concept), there are definitely perks - job opportunities, food, shopping, people and of course stomach infections adventure. And I’m not alone – more and more people my age are changing cities or at least jobs every few years. Blogs are great resources for getting a lay of the land, hearing unsponsored advice on local favorites (i.e. is there decent Mexican food in Delhi?), and seeing a city through a unique perspective. With only a few expat blogs regularly updated in Delhi, I remember thinking, “I could do that.” I set some goals for creating my blog and I have learned a ton from it. Just don’t be alarmed when you find my camera in your face, food, and overall personal business.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite and most popular blog entry was a series on career development about informational interviews. When you’re changing jobs every couple of years you spend a lot of time looking for the next gig. Like a lot of spouses in Delhi, my husband moved to Delhi without a job and had to really hit the pavement to network into opportunities. Luckily this approach worked, so soon after we got here he had to stop going to his male kitty parties (isn’t that what daytime basketball leagues really are?) and start working:
- Coffee talk informational interview
- Coffee talk informational interview - The ask
- Coffee talk informational interview - How to
Also the blog has really helped me come a long way with my photography since I bought a DSLR for the first time last year. This is one of my favorite posts about exploring old Delhi (something South Delhi-ites rarely do).
Tell us about the ways your new life in New Delhi differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I had to acclimate a lot to Delhi. Initially, the hardest thing was all the spice– which was a big blow to my ego. I absolutely love Indian food, so when my body started rejecting the local diet (I could hear my insides scream at the sight of curry) I felt totally defeated. After a few months though I completely acclimated, and can’t imagine breakfast without chilies anymore. One thing that I still struggle with though is how my time is divided so differently between my everyday tasks in Delhi. While I am lucky enough to have a maid do most of my cleaning, I also have to spend tons of time doing other everyday things I didn’t even have to think about in the US. I’m pretty sure it’s easier to bail someone out of jail in the US than it is to pay your electricity bill in Delhi. While I love living in Delhi’s vibrancy, the chaos can definitely consume an afternoon – even when all you had set out to do was buy some sugar. Your rickshaw breaks down, or you get caught in a monsoon, or you run out of small bills –small things can each easily cost you an hour of your time.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in New Delhi? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Luckily I had visited Delhi several times recently for work, so I had a fairly good idea of where I was going. I wasn’t however prepared for the city turning into a boiling swamp (also known as “summer”) for six months, and would have planned more trips and breaks ahead of time to go up north or into Nepal to break up the heat.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
During one of my first weeks in Delhi, I tried to walk from my gym to my office (a 5 minute walk) during the first heavy rain in months. I was wearing freshly pressed suit pants tucked into my rain boots, and distinctly remember thinking, “Bring it!” to all the Delhi puddles. Excess dirt from a local construction site, however, had filled the street with some sort of super strength quick sand. So while I kept walking, my rain boot stayed firmly planted in the mud – causing me to step barefooted into a calf-deep pool of, well, all the stuff you don’t want to think about in Delhi. I wiped off my leg, my pants, and my pride with my gym clothes and sadly limped all the way back to my office bathroom. I humbly emerged about 45 minutes and five stacks of paper towels later.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in New Delhi?
- Learn Hindi
- Have patience
- Try to see more of India to keep perspective.
How is the expat community in New Delhi? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Like the city itself, the expat community is pretty sprawling – it is hard to meet people by just running into them in public spaces. But as soon as you establish a few relationships you’ll find yourself trying things all over the city and running into the same people again and again. We didn’t have much trouble meeting people since I knew some great friends from old jobs, and my husband met a lot of people playing on recreational basketball teams. I have met so many great people, some that I’m sure will be life-long friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in New Delhi in a single, catchy sentence?
Embrace the chaos.