What is life like in India: Here are 9 important life lessons I learned as an expat living in india

I spent one year in India, mostly living in Delhi, but I also traveled around a lot. And traveling is the world’s greatest teacher. Following the premise ‘the best life-changing decisions are made without overthinking, I booked my flight after passing the job interview and I was on my way. I spent a year of my life in India, in a completely different environment from anything I ever saw before. I went through thick and thin and I grew a lot as a person. India turned out to be a great teacher and this article is about the 9 important life lessons India taught me.

Embrace the chaos and find the beauty in that

It’s very hard to adjust to India in the beginning, especially if you are visiting for the first time. For the first few weeks, you’ll probably think that life in India consists only of overcrowded smelly streets filled with garbage, too many people, terrible traffic, and unbearable noise. And no, that’s not because you are looking at the wrong places. That’s because you are looking with a wrong set of eyes and a locked mind.

It was only after completely opening my mind and starting to adopt pieces of the Indian way of perceiving things, that I realized that the problem was me. India was the first country in Asia that I visited and my mind was just used to the western way of thinking and doing things. After completely opening my mind, I had a real revelation as I was walking the crowded streets of Old Delhi. I’ve been traveling the world searching for the beautiful but never until this moment I realized that if you don’t carry the beauty within yourself, you will never find it.

delhi streets

It’s moments like these that make us take a deeper look at ourselves while also finding beauty in the lessons learned from the depths of disarray. If you look hard enough, you will get to understand that there is a purpose in all of our experiences, no matter whether they are good or bad.

 Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it

Spending a year in India, I got the chance to spend some time in the slums; the poorest parts of the country you often see in the movies. As I walked around the slums in Mumbai, I could see people, thrash, dirt, and poorly constructed houses where bricks and cement are a rare sight. The kids playing on the streets were wearing old and worn out clothes and I couldn’t spot a toy anywhere, not even a ball.

But still, I could see a lot of happy faces. I could see kids enjoying their innocent games on the streets with joy on their faces. These kids showed me that no matter how much you struggle or go through a rough time, you can’t allow yourself to forget about peace and joy. Without these things life becomes meaningless.

Life in India

Discover a new dimension of patience

 

As I said, you probably won’t love India right away. It takes some time to start loving the country and the Indian way of doing things. So if you’re planning to make a quick visit, I wouldn’t recommend that. Take the time and travel as slowly as you can. And while traveling, your best companions should be your open mind and your patience. You should immerse yourself in the local life instead of just seeing the main tourist sights in India and leave right away.

Don’t count on finishing anything quickly in India. There’s this thing called India-time which basically means no one is going to show up on time when you make plans. Instead, they will come after they finish the thing that they were doing before that. And this happens everywhere; in public transport, in the corporate world, in the bank, and even when meeting with friends. It’s something every tourist/expat is annoyed by at first, but if you look at it in a vacuum and forget about your western rules, it can be quite refreshing.

There’s a Jugaad for everything

Imagine that you need something or you have some problem. And there’s a machine that can fix that problem and make your life easier. But why would you pay for the machine when you can improvise a solution and make a jugaad by yourself. Jugaad is basically a home-made substitution for practically everything. Most Indians have this hidden engineering part of their brain that can fix anything with a Jugaad.

One example is the ‘coffee machine’ of this street vendor.

indian jugaad

I also started applying this principle to my life after some time. It was the summer and the temperatures were in the upper 40s’. It was my last month in that flat so I couldn’t find an AC to rent just for a month. All of the offers I could find were for the entire season. So instead, I always used to put cold water bottles and ice cubes on the fan and the cold drops circulating around the room really made a difference.

 Action rather than words

It was difficult in the beginning. Indians don’t really use the words please and thank you. My friends told me I’m being too formal several times in the beginning. ‘Formalities aren’t necessary’, they said. It’s even completely common to get silence as a response to offering your seat to an elderly person on a crowded train or even doing a favor to someone. Those kinds of things would be considered rude where I come from.

But once you have close Indian friends, you get to understand that they will always be there for you, no matter what. And they wouldn’t expect a “thank you” or “please”. They see helping you as their duty. If you get rid of the formalities, life can be much easier. Just show your appreciation for someone with your gestures, rather than your words. Just think about it: which action would show more appreciation? Saying thank you to your mom for preparing a wonderful meal or waiting for her to sit down so you can all enjoy the meal together?

You can’t control everything and life should be spontaneous

Seeing all the problems in the Indian society, in the beginning, I was extremely critical. I was even starting to be judgmental. ‘We could have sold these problems in such a simple way in my country’, I used to think. Besides all the jugaads, I was getting frustrated by the lack of societal solutions. I was even starting to think less about Indians and was wondering if I am actually becoming a bad person.

After some time, my curiosity lead me to reading some ancient Indian books when I had another revelation. It was more than 2000 years ago when Buddha was teaching his pupils about the nature of existence. ‘Everything is constantly changing, eternally, in a flux’ he used to say. Then it hit me: he’s right, but we Westerners have put so much effort into trying to create a society that brings stability, certainty, and control. Although that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can turn you into a control freak. You need to learn to let go. Chaos is the truth of reality. You need to let go and learn how to dance with chaos. If we want to survive in this century of constant change, we must learn how to embrace chaos and live with it.

Related: 15 most unusual festivals in India

Life in India

 Living in India vs traveling in India

Traveling around India is completely different compared to actually living there. Most travelers coming from the west travel with first class AC trains or with private chauffeurs. And if you are one of them, you are losing a lot. You can’t get any idea about the way Indian society works, nor about their social problems, traditions, norms, and customs. India has much more to offer than sight-seeing. There’s much more to see than the Taj Mahal or the ghats in Varanasi.

That’s why even if you’re staying for a couple of weeks, mingle with local people, eat street food, do things the Indian way, try to make a jugaad, and embrace life in India. Don’t just search for the easy way out. The streets of India are filled with adventure, revelation and life lessons if you only step out of the box and find the beauty in the chaos.

Indian independence day

 Racism is everywhere

Now I know some of my friends might get mad at me for this one, but racism is present in India. Not in an extreme form maybe, but it’s still there. It’s true that India is one of the few countries in the world that had a lot of different ethnic groups without any major inner wars historically. And they managed to preserve this big land filled with all these different people because of their tolerance and respect towards others.

However, some of the today’s Indians seem to forget that. I’ve witnessed several instances of racism, especially towards people from the Northeast (Asian appearance), South Indians (darker skin), and even dark-skinned tourists. Here’s a very interesting article that talks in more details about whether India is racist towards black people. There’s even positive racial discrimination towards white people who, unfortunately, are still perceived as superior and rich. I guess not even the most tolerant countries are an exception of racism everywhere where there are minorities.

 All is well in the End. If not, it’s not the end

The turn of fate is an important concept in Hinduism. Hindus believe that anything is possible and hope and faith can always change things for the better. India is a patience test, and the first months certainly weren’t easy. Believe me when I say, India will bring out your biggest personal flaws out on the surface and will make you confront them. I’m pretty sure my roommates would agree with this (they were also expats).

During the time of my life I spent in India, I did everything, from washing clothes with my hands to cooking on my own jugaad, through traveling in the cheapest trains and buses, getting my phone stolen, but also going to fancy parties and events, and even dining with an actual maharaja descendant. To put it simply, I learned that there’s a jugaad for everything. And that no matter how rough things get, all will turn out in the end. Just don’t rush and let things take its course. I always kept in mind the legendary quote from one of India’s most successful blockbusters, Three Idiots; ‘All iz well’. And I’m going to finish this article with my favorite quote from this movie:
“Life is a race”. – “I don’t think so. Girls, buses, trains, and even exams and jobs – all come back after some time, so there’s no point of running after them”.

Useful resources for visiting India

When I fly to India, I always choose Air France. Not just because I’m their affiliate but also because their Discover the World at a low price program gets me the cheapest flights. If you’re a student, you can save big on all flights with this STA Travel special offer.

If you want to take a tour in India, I recommend GetYourGuide’s tours for the main tourist attractions and Intrepid for learning as much as possible about Indian culture. My two favorite tours are Incredible India and Denver’s foodie tour.

To get some great accommodation deals in India, use this link and save 15% on all accommodation bookins in India.

For the best travel insurance deals for traveling to India, check out World Nomads.

Last but certainly not least, get an Indian visa. I visited India more than 10 times and the best visa intermediary I came across is definitely IVisa. Their price is almost the same as getting a visa on your own, except their team will do all of their work for you.

Did you like this post? Would you spend some time of your life in India? Let me know in the comments.

Like it? Pin it.

life in india
life in india expat
Share it with your friends!
  • 125
    Shares
  • 125
    Shares

61 thoughts on “What is life like in India: Here are 9 important life lessons I learned as an expat living in india”

  1. I agree with you that Racism is everywhere but that is the beauty of discrimination. If you are hated by one than loved by another. I had been to South India, there is discrimination on the basis of region yet few meet with utter happiness.

    Reply
    • Hi Rahul, that’s one way of looking at things, but I don’t really agree with it like I mentioned in the article. I know it’s a long stretch but why should someone be loved just by one group of people? People are people and if it wasn’t for politics or religion, people wouldn’t even feel close to what is called “their own kind”.
      Cheers 🙂

      Reply
  2. Loved your write up. I admire you for living in India it’s something I plan to do and there are not many people who can say they would. I can relate to everything you said! Keep travelling and inspiring others it’s a passion that most seek but don’t follow.

    Reply
    • Hi Lisa, thank you for your nice words. I’m glad you’re liking the content. And congratulations for deciding to live in India! If you need some tips, feel free to e-mail me. Cheers! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Oh man. You are simply great. From what I gauge, you have an attitude to look towards positive side of things… And everything you said, sadly, even we Indians aren’t experiencing. All the present generation (especially upper middle class kids) have a tendency to despise anything Indian… Just few experiences myself which are inexplicable…
    Loved reading your article
    Why were you in India though??

    Reply
    • Hi Aman, thank you for your comment.
      Well, yes: it’s true, I do have an attitude of looking towards the positive side of things.
      You are right, unfortunately, I have met a lot of Indians that despise anything related to India but there are also some great young people that love and are proud of their country. And they have absolutely every right to do so.
      I initially went to India on a student internship but I found a job and stayed much longer than planned.

      Reply
  4. Oh my, I should write a post with the same topic. But my experience in India wasn’t positive at all, I wasn’t able to adapt and embrace the chaos. I see the beauty of India now, after years.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the comment, Anita. Many people actually share your experience and sure there are many things I don’t like about India either. But there are even more things that I love 🙂

      Reply
  5. India’s organised chaos is a thing to behold. Shame about the racism though, I guess it will always be present unfortunately. Would love to visit one day, thanks for the insight

    Reply
  6. I liked your post and I understand the need to come in with an open mind when you land in India. It is a very different country and harbors 1.2 billion people. The diversity is endless, even in the most basic thought processes. Everyone in India applies their minds to everything which is why nothing gets done here. 🙂 I feel India is a wild animal still waiting to get reined in. And it is important to understand its background before traveling to India or to any place for that matter.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment, Soumya- I really appreciate it. I agree with you about diversity being endless and why things don’t get done but these are some of the things that make India what it is and that’s why I love it 🙂

      Reply
  7. I guess your tips are also applicable in any countriee in Asia. Asia is very different than the West, and many needs total adjustments.

    Reply
  8. Such a beautiful perspective of looking at a country like India – a country where chaos is very much a part of life as is the existence of peace and harmony. I loved reading each and every point of yours and it goes to show not only your love for the country and its people but also how you, yourself have changed ever since you landed up here. Travel transforms us in ways we can never imagine. The coffee jugaad machine made me smile. All the best for your journey!

    Reply
  9. Written very well. It reflects how well you understood the people and embraced the indian culture which is really difficult for someone from the west. Glad that you chose to see things differently and infact picked up good things to write about. Wish you all the best in your journey of exploring new places and keep sharing your wisdom?

    Reply
  10. What an engaging piece of writing. I can totally understand your struggles and eventually overcoming. Clear thought process makes you see positives in all the chaos. Good luck and lots of love. preety

    Reply
  11. This is a very insightful writeup with a lot of food for thought. Each lesson you highlighted comes with a sea of wisdom to reflect on.

    Reply
    • Sure it is, Stella. It’s also one of the seven wonders of our world and I devoted a whole post to it. Do check it out 🙂

      Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your great experience. I am William Mutua from Africa (Kenya). I hear about caste system in India. Did you experience it? How does it work? I also hear about harassment of women by men through catcalling especially in public transport media. Kindly confirm these allegations. Thanks

      Reply
  12. Thanks for sharing this article. I agree with your point that there is Racism, but not everywhere. Words are less when it comes to explaining India. India is a vibrant country enriched with culture. Cleanliness is also a concern in Metropolitan Cities due to overpopulation. However, greater awareness has been spread among people through a campaign like “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan/Clean India Mission,” and people also have shown greater respect for cleanliness and hygiene. India changed a lot, and there is a lot to learn in India. I am proud to be an Indian.

    Reply
  13. Thank you for writing this. I read it to have some insight in what my friend is going home to. He was in the US on a student visa, and is on his way home to India today. I’m heartbroken.

    Reply
  14. Great website!
    we have so much things in common.
    I’m also from former Yugoslavia.
    I love to read this stuff .
    I wonder how would India perceive me as a black guy from Europe.
    most of them don’t believe I from there.

    Reply
    • that’s awesome! Even I’m surprised to hear about a black guy from former Yugoslavia but keep rocking, man 🙂 TBH at least from my experience, Indians aren’t as hospital towards black people as they are to white people but India is still definitely worth visiting

      Reply
  15. I totally loved your second principle – “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” and couldn’t get that out of my mind. Being an Indian I am leading my life spontaneous which I felt is my personal style of functioning but now I realize there are many people like me.Man you are a great observer, keep traveling and writing.

    Reply
  16. Embracing the chaos is a perfect way to put it. We went to India a few years ago and the first week was really a massive culture shock compared to our wide open and quiet spaces in Canada. It was SO loud! But we embraced it after a while and then realized how vibrant the energy was. India is a special place. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  17. I am so grateful for this article you’ve provided here. I have really been looking for a good traveler’s blog as good as yours. I must say, you’ve really made my day and I would definitely be revisiting your site for valuable information. I also think you should see an article i wrote about zamob and give me some feedback.

    Reply

Leave a Comment