I recently had the opportunity to ask Ritu from India a few questions. Indians are the third largest immigrant population in the U.S., so this interview will be very interesting for many expats. What I like a lot about Ritu is, that she gives us a lot of insight into the Indian culture and how it compares to the Western world. Let’s get started!
Ritu, where are you from originally and how long have you been living in the United States?
I am originally from New Delhi, India. I have been living in the United States for almost 2 years.
Why did you decide to move to America and what do you do?
I moved here because I got married and my husband works here. I am a writer and photographer.
How did you get your visa? Tell us a little bit about this process.
I am on an H4 visa, which is linked to my husband’s work visa.
Once I got the visa, the visa renewals have been taken care of by the corporate law firm that represents my husband’s company’s employees.
What was the most difficult part of your immigration?
The most difficult part of the immigration process was getting used to relying on myself in the absence of a support network. Feelings of loneliness are a natural part of the transition to a new country. I had to learn how to give myself what I needed instead of looking outside for it. I am still learning and getting better at it.
Is there anything that you miss from home other than family?
That’s an interesting question. Other than family, what I miss is the feeling of familiarity that I had with the culture that I grew up in. Being an expat means that in your new home, you are constantly trying to understand the cultural nuances in how people interact. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what to attribute the difference in conversation styles or content to – just the personality of the person or a cultural gap.
What techniques worked best for you to learn English?
Like many other Indians, I already knew English when I came here. I grew up watching American soap operas, so understanding the accent hasn’t been a problem at all.
Have you found a good source (in-store or online) to buy Indian food in America?
Yes, I have an Indian store at walking distance from my home in the San Francisco Bay area. Finding Indian food is not difficult here because of the large number of Indians in the Silicon Valley.
What are the biggest differences between every day life in India and America?
There is a big difference in how daily life is conducted in India versus America. In India, most families, even middle-class ones, rely on help for daily chores like washing dishes, cleaning the house and doing laundry. A day in India starts with the ringing of the bell by the household help or the dhobi collecting clothes to be ironed. In contrast, in America, you need to do everything yourself. It’s interesting to see that what’s the norm in what part of the world is unheard of in another.
Apart from this basic lifestyle difference, there’s the difference in things like the traffic and the efficiency of government systems. These are much easier to navigate in America.
Have you experienced some kind of culture shock in America? Please tell us about it.
When I first came to America, during the initial honeymoon period, I thought it was going to be easy to adjust to life here. As time passed, I started noticing the many differences between Indians and Americans and now realize that it takes effort and understanding to bridge cultural gaps.
I find that Americans are very direct in their communication. That used to really throw me off in the beginning. Indians are much more circumspect in how we communicate, partly because we come from a more collectivist culture as opposed to America, which is a very individualistic one. Related to this, I used to find the way children talk here very different from the way children behave in India. Indian kids (I think this is true for most Eastern cultures) are expected to be very obedient and to not question adults. In America, children are encouraged to question and think for themselves. They can openly challenge the adults around them. I have to say I used to find this way of talking a bit rude when I first came to America. But I was subconsciously equating politeness with goodness, which is a big cultural belief.
I have come to appreciate what this difference really means. It means that parents are teaching their children to question the world around them and to think for themselves. They are equipping their children with essential life skills. I am an individualist at heart, and I value this aspect of American culture – the freedom to question and the freedom to disagree.
If you were financially independent and could live anywhere you want in the U.S., where would you be and why?
I would move an hour north and live in San Francisco, which is a fabulous place for any creative person. There’s so much happening in the city in terms of art, and I would love to live right in the middle of it.
When you go back to India what things do you miss about the USA and what do you love seeing or experiencing about India?
Just the sheer number of people in India makes it a tough country to live in. What I love about the USA is the amount of space I can occupy (at least where I live). There are no crowds on the streets and much less traffic. There is also more individual space to just “be”.
I love so many things about India. I am from New Delhi, and there is so much history in Delhi. It is one of the great old cities of the world with its centuries-old architecture. Rome reminded me so much of Delhi in terms of being a combination of the really old and the new. I love the theatrical aspect of India – there is so much art all around, great beauty (also great ugliness) and just the feeling of life happening all around you. That’s something I miss here in the States. It is more efficient, but more sanitized.
You’ve been blogging at WalkingThroughTransitions.com.
Tell us a little bit about it.
In my blog, I talk about my experiences with transitioning from India to the States. Since I am an introvert and an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), when I write about transitions and life, it is through these specific lenses. However, since all of us are more than just the sum of our parts, I hope to reach out to anyone who is going through their own life transition.
I have consciously worked to ensure that this blog is not just a “personal experiences” blog, but a blog that uses my experiences as a starting point to start discussions about universal experiences. For example: What does it mean to be an introvert in a culture that values extraversion? Or how does an HSP adjust to a big life transition such as moving to a different country when change is such a challenge for sensitive people. I use my writing to break down my experiences and integrate them. I also think of my writing as a bridge that connects my inner world with the outer world.
Tell me 3-5 things you would take back to India from the USA.
1. The spirit of questioning: Learning to disagree and challenging the status quo is what we lack as a culture.
2. The respect for all kinds of work: Although it’s related to the economics of labor, the respect for different kinds of work is lacking in India.
3. Respect for public property: We need to learn how to respect and value what’s common wealth.
And 3-5 things you think the USA should have/implement from India.
1. A long-term approach to relationships: Sometimes, it feels like relationships in America (business or personal) are very transactional in nature. Indians take a more holistic, long-term view.
2. A little less efficiency: I love efficiency in some things, and hate it in others. We are all looking to connect with people, and personal warmth might take more time, but you gain more depth and connection
3. A little more collectivism: The flip side of individualism is that it can lead to a “me first” attitude. Sometimes, thinking in terms of a group can create more harmony.
Any parting words or tips for future expats from India?
Don’t compare your transition experience to someone else’s. Depending on who you are, it could take you more or less time to adjust. It can take at least a year to get the basic stuff together, and anywhere between 2-4 years to make a real transition.
Also, America has a very different culture from India, so be prepared to have your beliefs challenged. But this questioning will also help you really understand who you are and what you believe. So, it’s important to understand that being an expat is both very challenging, and potentially very rewarding.