5 Things I Learnt While Working Abroad

Posted: August 1, 2011

Reading Aparna’s article on Indian women working abroad, I thought of sharing a few lessons I learnt while working abroad, more from a personal angle. Having worked in a handful of countries, I must say that on the whole I enjoyed the experience. But being a single woman in an alien country does come with its own set of challenges.

1. Accommodation: My first work assignment abroad, was in a small, out-of-the-way town. While I loved the beauty and serenity, a disadvantage was that there was no other Indian woman around! I had 3 choices. The first, staying with people from other countries could be a hit or miss, depending on your luck. It could be really fun living with someone from a totally different culture but sometimes you might just end up with a clash of interests, simply because your backgrounds are too different. Therefore I was not particularly interested.

This left 2 options – staying with the guys or staying by myself. Since the former scenario could have possibly brought about uncomfortable situations, I opted for the latter. This meant I needed a house in a safe area. Investing in good, sturdy locks, changing the earlier lock and making new keys were also good ideas. You might think that I am paranoid, but reading of attacks on solitary women, I shudder. When abroad initially, we constantly convert the local currency into rupees and everything appears expensive. A decent neighbourhood implies higher rents but don’t fret about that. Your safety is more important.

2. Be Independent: Although it is great to have a support network for emergencies, try and be as independent as possible. I was a person who wouldn’t even go for a coffee by myself. This meant, initially, I depended too much on one of my colleagues – which unfortunately led the person to become far too interested in me.He refused to see sense and having someone constantly stalking me began to stress me out. Things came to a head when everyone started noticing his odd behaviour and I was even asked to file harassment charges.

No one needs such complications especially when alone abroad. Additionally, since there was no other Indian woman to keep me company, I often felt alienated, unable to join in with the “boys” for a smoke or a drink. Gradually I learnt to be my own woman. I began having working lunches, running errands, shopping, paying bills, sight-seeing and eating out by myself. At times it did get lonely, but there was also a growing confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

3. Learn Driving:  Unlike in India, not many people chose to walk around (Although there are exceptions). Often, while walking to work, I was pretty much alone. In fact, we were advised that if anyone approached us and demanded money, we’d better hand it over or run the risk of getting shot!

Further many of the residential areas are in the suburbs of a city, away from the commercial hubs where your office might be. This means you might have to hitch a ride with someone and your schedule would depend on theirs. Plus, going shopping or sight-seeing can be a real pain and one doesn’t want to be wasting hard-earned money on taxis. Do yourself a favour and start driving.

4. Stay Occupied: Living by yourself abroad can be very isolating. Colleagues might be busy with their families and more importantly – do you want to see the same faces on weekends too?! You need your fun!

Don’t let loneliness affect you, a major problem that many face. Stay connected with family and friends. ISD calls are expensive but the internet isn’t. This is an ideal time to pick up new hobbies or spend more time developing older ones. Back home, work timings are rather long and commuting to work saps most of your energy. I learnt knitting, oil painting and even cooking while I was abroad. Hobby classes are a great way to meet and network with new people having common interests. Also many public libraries stock books and videos which are free or relatively inexpensive to rent. Companies like Netflix in the US deliver movies to your doorstep. Clear up that backlog of unread books and movies! Feed your wanderlust and check out interesting places. Photography enthusiast? Click away! Better still – volunteer at a charity and earn yourself some brownie points!

5. An Open Mind:  I’d like to end with a personal angst. Once, I was speaking with a colleague who had gone abroad recently. She confided that although she would have liked to stay by herself, some people had advised her against it, citing me as an example, commenting, “Staying by herself and having male friends visiting her, she spoilt her name”! I was hurt and disappointed. Here was a young woman, who had travelled half-way across the world, lived, worked and managed by herself in a strange country and all you could possibly say is “She spoilt her name?!” I absolutely agree that my achievements are hardly headline-grabbing. I’m sure there are thousands of other people who have doubtless done the same. I am not asking to be placed on a pedestal and revered but at the very least, don’t I deserve not to be gossiped about in such a demeaning manner? Just because I stayed by myself and had male visitors, people simply assumed that I was sleeping around? And frankly, who I invite over or who I do sleep with is absolutely none of anybody’s business.

Many people turn instantly into “foreigners” the minute they set foot on foreign soil, completely forgetting their roots. On the other hand, there are also many who fail to go with an open mind and instead spend their time criticizing everything. A healthy balance is needed to truly appreciate and enjoy the flavours of a new country. If only we could open our minds, we could see so much more!

The Girl Next Door, our newest Guest Blogger. as the name implies, is just another ordinary girl with ordinary dreams and ordinary desires – but she likes to imagine that she leads an extraordinary life, in her own way!

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