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July 24, 2011

Can a Foreigner Live in India?

In moving to India, or any other country, it's important to take it one day at a time. So long you feel you can achieve something everyday, you will start feeling more comfortable there. Living in India and visiting as a foreigner are two different things. I want to share three tips on helping you get used to living in India on a day-to-day basis. If you can do any of these things, you will start feeling at home rather than a tourist.

1. Try to do at least three things every week on your own in your neighborhood.

2. Ask about the bus routes and make sure you know the etiquette for your area of India.

  • Learn the lay of the land- look at a map or even a Google map of your area.
  • Try asking for directions in English or Malayalam (or the local language of your area).
  • Learn how addresses are given and found your area.
  • Make sure you always have change to ride the bus.
  • Always carry a mobile with phone numbers programmed in.
  • Find out about the local customs for ladies on public transport.
  • (In some areas, women have to enter/exit and sit in particular areas of the bus. However, in Mumbai, women and men exit/enter from the same doors and sit together. There is no separation in Mumbai.)
3. Try to say at least one thing in Malayalam (local language) everyday to a local person (maid, neighbor, etc.).

Just so you don't stress yourself out, you can mix it up. Included in the three things to do, you can include talking in Malayalam and going on the bus.

Other ideas of things you can do on your own that may feel overwhelming at first but were second nature in the USA are:

  • Calling up and talking on the phone (in English because there's an accent, or Malayalam).
  • Asking neighbors for help.
  • Going for a walk or bike ride on local roads (check for safety of course!).
  • Learning to drive a car (though that may take more time!).
  • Opening a bank account on your own.
  • Going to the post office and posting a letter on your own.
  • Ordering food in a restaurant on your own.
  • Making a friend with a neighbor and going shopping.
These are just a handful of ideas. You can surely come up with more.

I myself as an Indian can't imagine moving back to India after I have been in the USA for over 20 years. You guys will find your own ways to adjust. I hope some of these tips are helpful. All the best!

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Vidya Hebbar is a native of Bombay (Mumbai) and moved to US for graduate studies and now lives in upstate New York with her family.

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