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Spending a year in India - advice/opinions??

25 replies

Starsky · 21/11/2003 12:51

My dh has been asked to spend a year working in Chennai, in the SE of India. The financial package is great and it would be equivalent to doubling his salary if we go.
However, I want to make sure we have thought of everything and are fully informed before we decide to go. We have an 11 month old dd and have never lived outside the UK before. I am interested in any advice you can give, things to think about in relation to us living somewhere like Chennai. Also, tips for living abroad and also how you cope without family etc. Not asking for much then!! Any replies would be appreciated

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ks · 21/11/2003 13:08

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outofpractice · 21/11/2003 13:33

Starsky, Congratulations to your dh, it sounds like a great opportunity to travel while your children are not yet in school. We were in India in the spring. Chennai is a big city, and nowadays you can get everything in the big cities that you can in a European city (eg tampons, disposable nappies, cosmetics, DVD players if you can pay for it, however, on UK salary, you will very rich over there. Have you ever visited an Asian country before? Most well-off people in Chennai will have a live-in cook/ cleaner / babysitter, and your dh's work will presumably help you to find accommodation and suitable women to interview if you want a live-in help. You may feel that you don't want a servant, but do consider that there is still a lot of poverty in India, and you could provide an opportunity for someone to earn a decent living. You may be shocked to hear people talking about their "maidservant", but this is not necessarily disrespectful, and most families with servants are very involved in helping their extended family financially and socially, eg helping her cousins to find jobs, paying for her children's school fees and checking up on their progress, sorting out legal problems, etc. There also seem to be day nurseries opening up for working mothers there who are no longer living in a joint family or prefer nursery to nanny. If you want, I am sure you could find a playgroup for your dd. India is very high tech now, and most businesses have excellent websites. I bet if you just start searching on the internet you will find out lots of information which will help put your mind at rest.

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whymummy · 21/11/2003 13:36

hi starsky,i absolutely loved india,we were there for 3 months long before we had the children,i must admit i spent the first week crying my eyes out at the things i saw and i wanted to adopt every child in the streets i also hated the way the "untouchables" were treated but it is a fascinating country and has lovely people that will make you feel very welcome,like ks said check the conditions, but it is a great oportunity and a year is not too long,good luck

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Starsky · 21/11/2003 14:05

Thanks for replying so quickly, your comments have been really helpful. I have been to Bali and Singapore before over that side of the world but never India. My DH has been about 10 times, but is not the best at describing things to me! We would get a house, driver and maid provided as well as 24 hr health insurance. I don't have too many worries with the health insurance as they are a good company with quite a few senior UK people already out there on the same terms.
I did feel a bit funny about having a 'servant' but see your point outofpractise about thinking about it in terms of helping out the community, something I would be much happier with. I am a bit worried about 'depriving' the grandparents of their one and only grandchild but (1) they can come and visit and (2) we have to live our life for us really don't we? Thanks again for the comments so far

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august24 · 21/11/2003 17:47

I haven't been to India since 1996, and I understand things have really changed since then with the tech boom in terms of what is available and desposable income for the average Indian and therefore more creature comforts. We are actually planning a trip back early 2004, as my husband is from Bangalore. Anyways I have to say that life is very different there(again I am basing this on 7-8 years ago)there was still a lot of sexism, and it was hard being a woman out on my own at times(I had men feel my breast or bum while walking down the street)! I think it could be easy to get either stuck inside ones house or else only hang out with other expats, both of which would be a sad life. I am saying this because India can be really hard at times. But it can also be really beautiful. On the upside there are so many great things about India, there are a lot of really wonderful people, I met some of the smartest and most political people when I lived in India. Spritual life is awesome, yoga, buddhism, hinduism et al. You can have clothes tailored to your body type, in the fabric that you choose. There are really great bookstores. If you have money in India it can be a really great place. hmmm. I know I will think of more.

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ks · 21/11/2003 18:36

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steppemum · 21/11/2003 18:53

Wow starstky, so much to say, but I can't say it all so where to begin? We live overseas and they are definite highs and lows. The more prepared you are the less culture shock you will get, read up on India, and see if you can get hold of any books about culture shock, describing what it is and how to cope (basically, when you leave you own culture to go and live in another one there are stages you go through, like the honeymoon period etc, and certain things everyone finds themselves doing, like getting ridiculously angry or upset over a trivial incident because it is happening in another cultural context)
I think it is fantastic to have a chance to live over seas for a couple of years, it gives you a whole new perspective, and your dd is at a great age to do it.
On the grandparent front, my parents spent 7 years overseas and I was very close to my grandparents. We have an 11 month ds, and so he is away form his grandparents, and the best thing we have done is to get a webcam. Using the webcam we can take little 30 second videos and send them via the email. They are very easy for the grandparents to open, only email technology required (although you need a reasonably up to date computer). ds has just started wlaking, so yesterday we made a little tape of first steps, and sent that off. That way they feel as if they aren't missing out on his development.
For your dd, get a video of granny and grandpa reading an easy book and take the book and video with you, that way their faces stay familiar. My sil has our photo on the fridge door, and my neice and nephew (both preschool) know exactly who we are even though we haven't seen them for a year.
I hope you have a great time. When is the contract due to begin?

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steppemum · 21/11/2003 18:56

whoops, I should preview. Sorry that should be starsky obviously.
And I meant I was overseas with my parents, but despite that knew my grandparents well, and now dh and I are living overseas as well.

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Starsky · 21/11/2003 19:20

A lot of great stuff here, thanks. The contract is due to start in Feb 2004. The company will provide the staff so I won't have to find my own, which is great. As I said before, I am not completely comfortable with having one in the first place, I am just an ordinary person and it feels weird to have a servant. But, they will be able to help me in all ways including where to go etc AND most importantly I will be giving someone a living so I suppose it is worth it.
Not sure about I will fit in as an expat. I have never been a 'joiner' and not the best at making friends right away, although I am OK in social situations IYSWIM. I guess it will be a challenge, and I will muddle my way through.
Getting stuff to read is a great idea - trip to Waterstones at the weekend I think!
And the webcam is a great idea. So is the idea of videoing grandparents reading a story..
There is just so much to get my head around. 3 months is no time at all!!

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suedonim · 22/11/2003 02:09

We've just returned from living in Indonesia and it was an amazing experience, bombs not withstanding. I also went to India, when my son was living there, though I didn't like it much.

We had staff (although no one ever called them 'servants' ) and they were a godsend. If you don't have them, you'll probably find people knocking at your door anyway, demanding that you employ them!! In Indonesia, working for Westeners is a coveted position. Many Indonesians employ staff as well, so don't feel guilty about it. We found that you take on their family as well, though I don't know if that's the same in India.

Don't write off the expat community. They aren't some other weird breed, they're just people, like everyone else. Their expertise can help you settle in, avoiding time consuming mistakes etc. They'll know where to buy things, find services, bring you up to speed on social mores, are somewhere to go in a crisis and generally save you having to reinvent the wheel. In Indonesia the expat community was well integrated into the local community and offered inroads into local life that you probably wouldn't easily be able to do on your own, such as working in orphanages, supporting scavenger familes and so on. I certainly didn't meet any expats who sat by the pool all day, drinking G&T's!! Try an internet search and you may find more info - Indonesia has a great site for expats, which I found very useful for getting started. HTH

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steppemum · 22/11/2003 05:14

just thought of a couple of practical things, get a power of attorney made for someone you REALLY trust here, so they can sort anything out in your absence. (you can do it yourself, but you must have 2 independent witnesses sign it)
Get an online access number for your UK bamk accounts so you can do everything online (no need to change accounts with most banks, just get an online user password)
There is a great set of books called "Culture Shock - Indonesia" "Culture Shock - Netherlands" etc. I don't know if there is one for India, but itis worthtrying to order it, they cover all the basic dos and don'ts and explain some of the basic local ways of thinking etc.

If you buy a webcam, don't get the cheapest ones, they don't have a microphone, get one with an integral microphone.
Hope you have a great time

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august24 · 22/11/2003 09:17

I just wanted to point out that most households, even the poorest ones have people who help them in India. It is very common. It is a strange feeling to have "servants", but they will help you out in ways you can't even imagine at this point. For instance when I lived in Bangalore, it was hard to get a rikshaw driver to charge me a fair price, I wasn't even looking for the "Indian" rate just not 10 times that, so if you have a driver you won't have to worry about that. Then also in the market it is really easy not to know what fair prices are, and again really easy to be taken advantage of, your staff will know where to buy things and how much they should cost. When I was there, there were always fruit and veg seller that would come to the house to sell to you! Also Ladies would come around to stitch up pillows, duvets and matresses.

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Beetroot · 22/11/2003 09:22

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Starsky · 01/12/2003 19:05

An update - and more questions! We have set our minds on going, and have told family who have been positive. We have been offered a visit before Xmas to go and visit Chennai to see what we are getting in to - dh has been but I haven't. However, it would be a short trip - 5 days and I am worried about taking dd. BUT, I don't want to leave her behind! What do you think? Is two 10 hr flights in the space of a week plus a 5 hr time difference too much? Would I be better leaving her behind? Do you think it is a necessity for me to go beforehand? Is there anyone who has moved abroad without seeing where they were going first? What are your thoughts?

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LIZS · 01/12/2003 19:45

Hi Starsky

We haven't been as adventurous as you are thinking of but I have found the Internet and several net based communities (including MN)very useful. You could have a look at the following (no personal experience though) and see if any appeal, they are general expat sites and discussion boards/groups:

Expat Expert - Robin Pascoe
www.expatexpert.com/index.html

Expat Focus
"News, Information & Community for Expats Everywhere"
www.expatfocus.com/

Expat-Moms.com
www.expat-moms.com/

ExpatForum.com
www.expatforum.com/

ExpatSite.com
www.expatsite.com/homepage/index1.php3

Expatmum.com
Written my Mums for Mums
www.expatmum.com/

Family Life Abroad
www.familylifeabroad.com/

Foreign Wives Club
An online community by and for women in bicultural marriages.
www.foreignwivesclub.com/

Living Abroad
www.liveabroad.com/

Tales from a Small Planet
The literary and humor magazine for expatriates everywhere!
www.talesmag.com/

TheTrailingSpouse.com
users.anet.com/~smcnulty/homepage.html

Expat Book Lovers: a virtual bookclub discussion group
groups.yahoo.com/group/Expat-Book-Lovers/

There is also one aimed specifically at British Expat Mums but can't find the address atm - probably also Yahoo based. My best advice is to find as much as you can regarding what to expect beforehand, talk to someone who has already there a year or more, and if worst comes to worst it is only a year and your dd will not feel deprived at all at that age.

hth

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AussieSim · 01/12/2003 20:33

IMO take the check it out trip, if just for peace of mind and to give you a bit more mental space to adapt before you feel 100% obligated. My ds has been on several flights since he was born and I have always been pleasantly surprised as to how adaptable he has been. Hopefully they will send you Business Class, which should guarantee you a bit more space and a bit more help from the staff.

Also check with the firm what would happen if you had to come back home for a family emergency/bereavement (heaven forbid). Also check what your obligations would be if you absolutely hated it and wanted to go home under a year.

I would also recommend discussing your dh's working hours situation - especially while you are first settling in. If he is working 14 hours days and you are having a rough time of it things can snowball fast.

A good company will appreciate the role that a happy contented spouse can play in a successful expat assignment and should be very supportive.

Good Luck!

Great list LIZS. I've just sent it to my expat group for the state I live in here in Germany.

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LIZS · 01/12/2003 20:38

Thanks Aussie Sim but can't really take the credit - cut and pasted from message of another Group's moderator who is a mine fo information like this !

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sashaboo · 01/12/2003 20:49

Definitely go and check out. Babies are very adaptable and even if the flight/jet lag isn't great you really need to see the place for yourself. It's a big decision and though exciting you need to get your head around it all.

Exciting as it all sounds (and I'm sure it will be) please don't rule out the possibility of homesickness. We moved to Ireland several years ago (pre children) and I'd been there a number of times before and thought it was a great place, was happy to go, etc. But... in the long, wet wintery days in a damp house with no job, DH at work all day I became really miserable and desperate to go home. It sounds pathetic in the telling (Ireland for goodness sake!) but when you don't know anyone it is hard and there was a culture shock. I know there was a mumsnetter a month or so ago who was finding it really hard in Spain and yet it sounded idyllic on paper.

We left Ireland to go the US and I had a fantastic time so it's a combination of factors rather the place itself. Making plans for having visitors to stay can be a real help and allowing yourself to make those long distance phone calls.

All that said, it sounds like a fantastic opportunity but look after yourself even if the money/opportunities look great for DH.

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Starsky · 01/12/2003 21:02

Thanks for the advice. I am feeling a bit funny about how it will be for me. It suddenly hit me last night that dh will be at work all day and I will be in a strange place alone all day! A few people are planning to come over and at least it has an end date of a year so I have a target to aim for. I have been on short flights (2hrs) with dd but have the image that a 10 hr flight will be a nightmare - from what you have said it might not be that bad...

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motherinferior · 01/12/2003 21:09

Hey, I missed this thread! My mother is Indian and I've got cousins in Chennai (actually both my parents are there at the moment). I think it's a wonderful place (but agree about the physical hassle - I look completely white so have always been quite harrassed during my time in India).

Lots of artsy stuff happening, fabulous food, oh wow....

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suedonim · 02/12/2003 12:32

I'd go and have a looksee, as it's on offer. But if you don't go, that's also ok. I hadn't seen Jakarta before we went but as dh was already there he'd done his homework (he checked out which were the best malls for me, bless!) and knew what was what. Presumably, your dh's HR dept will be on hand to help, as well?

I think your baby will be fine on the flight - SueW travelled all over the place with her young baby - try a search on her name. A 10 hr flight will pass quite quickly, I reckon. I always think it's like being a baby yourself - you get put into a seat, fed, toileted, lights out, woken up for brekkies etc!

One thing I'd recommend is to keep a base in the UK, in case you need to be repatriated for any reason. Our friends have unexpectedly had to leave Indonesia and they are currently homeless as they've rented their house out.

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Starsky · 02/12/2003 18:04

`. nks for the advice. There is HR out there and we are planning on keeping our house here just in case - our accommodation out there is paid for so we are no worse off keeping it and would prefer to have our own house to come back to. I think you are right about seeing it first, would be good to scope the place out beforehand.

Motherinferior - any inside knowledge on Chennai or things I should look out for?

Thanks to everyone for your replies, they have all been really useful.

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dinosaur · 02/12/2003 18:10

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This has been withdrawn by MNHQ at the poster's request.

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LIZS · 02/12/2003 20:48

Another site I've heard of is groups.yahoo.com/group/British-expat-mums-abroad/

hth

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august24 · 03/12/2003 00:03

just found this website not sure if anyone else posted it, but on it it mentions an expat communty in Chennai. And also this one And also this one

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