At the college where I’m currently teaching we have 4 terms a year, with officially 1 week inbetween. Some of my colleagues went off for a week or 10 days in Hawai’i or Thailand or North India, and they’ve come back fresh-faced, relaxed and obviously well-rested.

Being new to the job I haven’t accrued much holiday entitlement yet and was thinking to save it up for later in the year, so I headed to Pondicherry for 3 days, and didn’t really manage to chill out until a couple of hours before I left! I’m beginning to realise this was probably a missed opportunity.

It’s 120 days since I moved to India, and it feels like I’m maybe hitting some kind of psychological wall just now. Some days I come out of the house to head to work and think to myself “Oh, I’m still in India!”, almost as if it was a dream or something that should have faded away by now. Yuri Gagarin has been back in the news recently, and sometimes I feel the kind of claustrophobia that I imagine you’d feel if you were up in space — you can’t just start walking and go somewhere else.

But ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to live and work abroad. At various times in recent years it looked like it might have ended up being Germany, Belgium, Hong Kong or even Denmark but somehow I’ve landed here in India — somewhere I’d always wanted to visit, but had never considered might be my home for 2 years or more.

The longest I’ve lived outside the UK previously was for 3 months in Berlin. I have some very happy memories of that visit, but it was also difficult in several ways. Back home my grandad became ill and died without me being able to go back and visit or even make it to the funeral. I was also studying on a really intensive German language course at the time, and that was very tiring, as was trying to negotiate the ups and downs of living with Berliners and their notoriously direct ways. Ultimately I think it made me a bit depressed staying there, but then again it might just have been my first proper experience of culture shock.

You can read about Culture Shock in plenty of places, but I’ve never read anything about the psychology of being an expat and how that unfolds over time. Perhaps the time is ripe for some research…

Many people I’ve met — and myself included — have subscribed to a romantic notion of going somewhere and “falling in love” with the country or the culture and deciding to settle there. An almost direct analogue of the (arguably socially-constructed) notion of romantic love itself. I’m starting to see the flaws in this idea… not that there’s anything wrong with romantic ideals per se, but waiting for something to happen to you makes you somewhat powerless compared to the alternative of actively seeking it.

Actually, going back and reading the wikipedia entry on Culture Shock again makes me realise I’m probably still passing through one of the several phases of that. I’m generally OK with most aspects of Indian life by now I think, and I was well-warned and prepared that I’d need to be more patient here. It can wear you down after a while though, especially if you just want to get something done.

I’ve certainly not been sleeping too well, mainly as it’s so warm at night — 20-24 degrees currently. I’m still experimenting with combinations of bedding, ceiling fans, leaving the a.c. on (or not) even though it’s very noisy, etc. Coming from the Scottish climate where you’re used to feeling cold most of the year, to a place where it’s probably not going to be less than 15 degrees even in the middle of the night in “winter”, has been more of a challenge than I was expecting.

Before I came out here friends were telling me what an adventure it would be. Shortly after arriving I was wondering what this might really mean in practice, and looked up a dictionary definition of adventure, which included:

“daring and exciting activity calling for enterprise and enthusiasm”

In other words, an adventure is something you have to make and participate in, rather than something that just happens to you. Probably in the same way you can’t expect to suddenly “fall in love” with a country, but you have to actively get to know and love it.

I’m just thinking out loud here. On this blog I can easily ramble on about the weather (and usually do!), or include some pictures of things that look interesting to a western eye, but ultimately what I’m really interested in is recording the psychological processes and experiences of moving to a different place and culture.


  1. Tom

    12 May, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Very interesting, Chris. I find living somewhere else is not just an interaction with a new culture but a freedom from the old. I think poets and other artists are people who manage to avoid parroting the “sayings of the tribe” and can read between the lines instead. I think being out of the culture into which one was socialized gives some access to some kind of similar space.

  2. Jem

    16 August, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Interesting stuff Chris. Although I was only in Holland I remember the feeling of “I’m still here”. And also the relative freedom of being away from my home culture, if just a short distance. I can imagine it’s quite a bit to be getting your head around, especially the climate. Do you feel you’ve adapted yet?

    You’ll not want to leave when the time comes though, or will be sad at the prospect I’m sure.

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