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 I learned while living in India.

So if you’re thinking of moving and wondering what is life in India like, keep reading. 

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 living 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, in India or elsewhere, 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 and see and what is it like to live in India 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 a 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.

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

delhi travel guide

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 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 read 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 is completely different compared to actually living in India. 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, Indian independence day

Indian independence day

Indian independence day

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.

Indian independence day

Indian independence day

Indian independence dayHowever, some of the Indians of today 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 detail 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 when it comes to racism everywhere where there are minorities.

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

delhi travel guide

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 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 ex-pats).

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 in 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 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 bookings 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.

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

  1. 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
  2. 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!

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  3. 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?

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  4. 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

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  5. 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.

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    • 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
  6. 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.

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  7. 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

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