Life revolves around making connections with people. This task is onerous when one is thrust into a new environment. Additional layers of frustrations occur when the new location is in a foreign place. When I relocated to India, my senses were overwhelmed by everything. Even though I knew that I would need to find ways to meet others, my apprehensions and fears stalled the process. Several weeks after arriving in India, I changed my mindset. Connecting with expats became a priority. One day, I boldly hailed an auto rickshaw and made my first appearance at the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore. In Chapter 14 of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, I recount this adventure.
It’s not easy to develop new friendships when you are in your fifties under any circumstances. So imagine what it was like to be in a foreign country with limited opportunities to interact with people. I couldn’t rely on Josh to be my social director forever. If I had any hope of living and working in Bangalore, I needed to start networking and meeting other people.
Fortuitously, the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore became a portal.This group hosted a variety of social and charitable events. Every Thursday morning from ten to twelve, the club hosted an informal coffee at which foreigners could get to know one another.
After my positive experiences in the taxi and auto rickshaw, I mustered up the courage later that week to flag down a rickshaw. By providing Kiran Hospital*—a building across the street from the women’s club meeting place—as the destination instead of the five-star Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore Hotel, I was possibly short-circuiting an unethical driver’s natural tendency to rip off a foreigner. The strategy worked like a charm. I was charged the appropriate fare, forty-five rupees ($1.10), based on Josh’s calculations.
Two American women greeted me. They were seated near the entrance to a terrace situated off of a large, breathtaking garden with a cascading waterfall. I ended up speaking with one of the women, an older expatriate from America, for a very long time. Decades ago, she married an Indian man and opted to remain in India after he died. She understood that the adjustment period was a slow and cumbersome process, and told me not to hesitate to call her.
From there I helped myself to some green tea and a couple of crackers, and I proceeded to mingle. Groups of women were sitting and standing throughout the large room. Where should I start? The women in the first group were from all over the globe—Finland, England, Canada, and the United States. The Overseas Women’s Club boasted a total membership of over 900, and nearly a hundred were attending today. Almost everyone was in India due to her husband’s job. Unlike Ira, almost all of the husbands were India-based employees of American or international companies, so the wives had visas that were tied to their husbands’ employment visas. As a result, the women had deluxe accommodations, cars, chauffeurs, and servants. All of the women I spoke with sheltered themselves from the day-to-day life of India.
None of the women I met had ever taken a rickshaw—with their husband or by themselves. All were content to have a company driver take them wherever they chose to go, which seemed to be limited to a small radius from their homes. The perks offered by the corporations appeared to be the main incentive for their relocation. The costly price tag of educating expat children at private schools was a bonus that was hard to pass up. Several of the women asked if I would be interested in joining them for lunch. How could I refuse? So I dined in the hotel with nine other women who hailed from different parts of the world.
Seated across from me, a European woman with short brown hair and a radiant smile was telling everyone that she finally received her possessions after waiting for eighteen months. Before coming to Bangalore, she’d packed all of her things into a large container and had brought only one suitcase. Even though she was told not to place a car in the enormous container, her husband had opted to put the family car inside. It was hard to believe that she would disregard such an obvious restriction. How did they think custom officials would react to the car? It took a year and a half of negotiating over a hefty tax before she could obtain her possessions. When the container was finally released to her, all of her summer clothing was missing. She joked feebly that Indians were wearing her favorite designer outfits in Mumbai.
The trek to the hotel added another notch on my belt of confidence. In the process, I met a new group of people who had one thing in common with me—learning to cope in India as a Westerner.
*Kiran Hospital is a fictitious name.
Connecting with expats at the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore was one of the first steps that I took to regain my sense of balance. Over time, the symptoms of culture shock started to diminish as I reestablished my comfort zone. In retrospect, I am very glad that one of Josh’s friends told me about the Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore. By spending time with the people who attended, I learned that I was not alone. My apprehensions were shared by most of the women that I encountered. Expats from North America and Europe had common concerns. By embracing this camaraderie, I could move forward and be more confident.
If you are an expat, I highly recommend connecting with a similar group in your area.
- Do you have an expat experience that you would like to share?
- Have you stepped outside your comfort zone lately?
- Anyone sharing his/her experience in the comment section (see below) before March 31 will be eligible for a random drawing. The winner will receive an autographed copy of May This Be the Best Year of Your Life.