Previous posts on this blog and countless others have touched upon aspects of living and travelling alone, especially as a foreigner in new places. And every time I have read pieces touching upon this subject, I have felt this little nod inside my head that said, “You’re good, you can totally survive alone”, even though I’ve never really had to live alone until this year. Last year, even though I had a room to myself, I practically lived with two very close friends who were also my flatmates (miss them everyday!). Similarly, while I had done some solo travel previously, it was only a month or so ago that I did my first truly solo trip, lasting 2 whole days. And while it was definitely fun, it also made me acutely aware of something I have always suspected – it’s great to have time to yourself but living/travelling alone isn’t really my thing and THAT’S OKAY!
After a long hiatus featuring fieldwork across India in the blistering heat, my first ever visit to New York (!) and the wedding of one of my dearest friends, I am finally back in the Oxbox and ready to get back to my expat life. Or whatever remains of it 😛
For the entire time that I was away, I was running from one thing to another, which left me with little time to think. And while going back to India was obviously fun, it was my trip to the US that really gave me some fodder, despite the busy schedule.
However, in the interests of relevance, I decided to write this month about something that I have actually been meaning to write about for a while. It’s a happy coincidence that it will come into sharp focus in about a week’s time. And if that and the title weren’t dead giveaways, let me spell it out for you – it’s the UK General Elections coming up on 8th June! Well that’s not exactly what this is about. It’s really more about voting and being involved in the political life of whichever place you live in as an expat.
As you can see, I’m late with this post, which was technically meant for last month. That’s largely because I have been caught up with work but also because I didn’t really have anything much to write about. I have been wracking my brains but sadly, came up with nothing. And then it hit me – I don’t have to use words!
So, SO much of my experience living abroad has been captured in photographs – countless moments that were happy, sad, funny, stupid and crazy! So for this post, I thought I’d do a collection of pictures that capture some of the most memorable of these moments and reflect briefly on why each of them were significant to my expat life. Here goes 🙂
From matriculation to getting trashed, Oxford has weird traditions. Don’t question them, best to just go with it. Fun can come from unexpected sources.
We all have different conceptions of home and last week, Erin wrote about what home means when you’ve moved your physical location at regular intervals. It got me thinking about what home really meant to me, someone who has had fairly constant physical locations (18 years at my birthplace, followed by 5 years in college and now 2 in Oxford).
And I realised that while home is obviously multi-dimensional, what it really boils down to for me, is that warm, fuzzy feeling of having a solid support system, of knowing that irrespective of whatever may happen, there are people who will stand by me, love me and care for me. This is not to say that all the people who make up my support system make me feel exactly the same way, they don’t. They all contribute differently but together, their love allows me to grow and prosper. But despite the fact that this feeling is not dependent on the physical location of individuals, living away from this very support system is tough.
So, I got to thinking about the ways in which I have tried to connect with home away from home and here’s what I came up with (aside from actually communicating with friends and family over video/voice calls, of course!).
In a few months’ time, my life will be at one of its most important turning points – the transition from a student to a professional, from someone pretending to be an adult and living in fear of being discovered (trust me) to a real person with a real life (whatever that means). And I’m very, very excited about it. But somewhere, a little part of me is sad that this adventure will come to an end.
Growing up, we are taught to value confidence and certainty. We are taught to plan ahead in life, in the short term and the long term. Above all, we are taught to treat the absence of these things as less than ideal, if not as a complete negative. While it can hardly be denied that those are important values to inculcate, my experiences and interactions over the last year and a half have made me realise that it’s equally important to be able to see the value in the opposite.
I’ve been struggling for some time now, with ideas of what this last post for the year should be about. It’s been a truly eventful year after all. For me, for this blog, for my country and for the world at large.
I completed my master’s in law, travelled to 8 new countries (seems like so long ago!) and finally saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (big moment, that). This blog got off to a terrific start and saw us hitting some great numbers (go ladies!). India went through some historic events – the wave of free speech struggles at JNU and other universities, some stellar performances at the Olympics and Paralympics and suffering the aftermath of de-monetisation, to name just a few. And then the world. Well, the world went through Brexit and Trump. Not to mention everything that did and continues to happen in Syria, Turkey and Palestine, among several other conflict zones. Continue reading
This is going to be unlike any other Christmas post you’ve read, because I know almost nothing about Christmas. Or definitely knew very little until last year, when I actually celebrated Christmas for the first time. People celebrate Christmas in different ways, have different traditions, eat different foods. But Christmas in Delhi (and probably in several parts of India) is viewed as a holiday and a day off from work, more than anything else. In short, it just isn’t as big a deal as it is in other parts of the world. So experiencing real Christmas, in the UK, for the very first time, was a very exciting prospect for me! Add to it the peculiarity that is trademark-Oxford and you have an unbeatable combination.
Mansi: Moving abroad, leaving behind things that you are comfortable and familiar with, is always tough. As if juggling your life wasn’t hard enough by itself, you must also now worry about maintaining all your relationships back home, while forging new ones simultaneously. What do you do then?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have tons of friends, but may not always be as good at keeping in touch with them as you’d like to be. Especially for the strugglers out there, the first thing that I have personally found helpful is to do some mental weeding. It does sound harsh but the unfortunate truth of the matter is that everyone has a limited amount of time, energy and space in their lives. When you move to a new place, you will need to spend more than the regular amount of all of these things on adjusting, forging new friendships, figuring stuff out. Therefore, it is important to have your priorities, both in terms of people and tasks clear in your head.
Once you’ve identified the people you do want to devote time to, even with your new life, try to be aware of and respectful of their needs as well. Some need to talk to you every day, some you can talk to twice in a year and still be great friends with. Judging what they need from you can go a long way in making everyone involved much happier, even if the give and take doesn’t always match. The same goes for family. Identifying needs and trying to align them to the best of your abilities is what makes the difference. The effort counts.
At the end of the day, at least for me, juggling expectations is all about a desire to maintain your relationships and an understanding that involves some give and take. Things won’t be perfect, they rarely are. But if you try hard enough, you’ll likely reach some percentage of the way above fifty, at the very least. And in most cases, the people involved will appreciate your efforts and make some on their own, so together you’ll get there.
Question: What are the key things to help one juggle expectations of loved ones at home with life abroad?
Cristina, “I was only 20 years old when I moved abroad and to be honest I didn’t feel that my parents had expectations. They just wanted me to be happy I think. And I was. They supported me in everything I did. Sixteen years later and as a parent myself, I think that they probably missed me a lot and wanted to see me more often, but they never made me feel that I should do things in a different way.”
Nicola, “I think as you get older and if you add children into the equation, there comes a point where you realise that family back home also need to manage THEIR expectations, rather than you always managing theirs. You generally move abroad because you think it is a good thing to do either emotionally/financially/career wise etc. Of course, it’s hard, but you have your own freewill and your own life and as your children get older your focus shifts to what your children need and what works for you as a family.”
Vanessa, “We personally have had very little difficulty with this because my family had low expectations in the first place. I found that family talked to us more when we lived long distance (first in the US) than when we lived forty minutes down the road. I’m also the third child in my family to live long distance, and our extended family has always been far from us. There is a desire that we stay in touch through Facebook and schedule times to catch up on Skype, and I’ve gotten three of my family members on WeChat, but my parents, siblings, and relatives understand life can get busy. My husband’s mom has had a bit more trouble connecting due to technology difficulties and her work schedule, but they both continue to make an effort to catch up. Just recently, my editorial staff covered this in our latest magazine issue, and the tips recorded were useful to me even, especially in making a regular time with specific guidelines for the sake of my children.”
Lisa, “We keep in contact with family and friends via FaceTime on a regular basis. We also keep them in the loop when it comes to birthday parties and we will FaceTime while our kids open cards or presents so they can feel more connected. My kids see their grandparents three to four times a year and they have a close relationship.”
I know what you’re thinking.
“Oh god, another one of these posts about how some ‘lost’ girl had a life changing experience and “found” herself.”
But no. This isn’t about that. This isn’t about how I found my true calling or had an intense, life-altering experience through some formula. This is simply about becoming aware. Of discovering parts of myself that I hadn’t quite come across before and that surprised me, in ways good and bad.
How did it start, you ask? Well, actually, it started a few weeks ago when I told my mum that there was a screening last night. “A screening for what?”, she asked. “Some movie?”. A little taken aback but nevertheless patient, I said, “No ma, the election!”. She nodded her head and said, “Oh, right. But why would you stay up to watch that”. It wasn’t really a question as much as a comment, something that was sort of obvious. And the obviousness of it is what got me thinking.
Before I moved abroad, I would probably have had the same response as her. It simply didn’t make sense for a random person in India to actually make the effort of staying up to watch an election in a country half-way across the world. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have cared at all or wouldn’t have read about it (though there are enough of those people too). It’s just that my gathering of information or news about such an event would have been from the perspective of a curious observer at best. Not from that of a person who felt engaged and involved in the process, and certainly not one who necessarily actively participated in discussions and debates about it.
Before coming to Oxford for my post-graduate degree, I had never cooked. And when I say never, I mean never, ever, EVER. Yes, I occasionally helped out with some minor tasks at home and loved to bake, but I had never actually made anything non-sweet that was meant to be eaten by the human sort of beings.
This was driven largely by the fact that even after I moved out of home for college, food was available in the dining hall or ‘mess’ as it’s usually called in India. Obviously, it wasn’t greaaat food and we constantly complained about it. But that is just something that college students are wont to do – as normal as gossiping and sleeping in class. The fact of the matter was that the food served was by and large of an edible quality and some dishes could even be classified as good (imagine that!). It wasn’t the home-cooked food, made with love and care that we ate at home, but it was definitely better than average and most definitely better than what some of our counterparts at other law schools were eating (I speak from personal experience).
What all this led to was my complete lack of cooking abilities when it came to real food, the kind that one usually likes to eat for meals, rather than afterwards as a dessert. Continue reading