Kevin: "I'm always struck by how green Delhi is"

Expat interviews
  • Kevin in Delhi
Published on 2013-08-22 at 02:00 by team
Kevin is from the United States. He moved to Delhi almost 2 years ago where he works as Communications Director for a design research firm. He is quite busy with work but outside the office he is an avid runner and traveller and he enjoys travelling through India.

Why did you decide to move to New Delhi?

I moved to Delhi in February 2012 ostensibly for a job, but also generally just to get back overseas. I had moved back to the U.S. after a year living and working in Cambodia and was eager for another experience abroad.
That said, the job really was the hook that sealed the move here for me. I head up communications for social innovation and development projects for an Indian design research firm based in Delhi and Bangalore. The project I was initially hired to work on involves redesigning and building sanitation facilities (read: toilets) in India's urban slums, beginning with the cities of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
I was told during the interview process that a critical component of the job was to spend a great deal of time within the communities receiving these facilities, documenting their lives along with the developments of the project. I'd never visited a slum before and this sounded like an incredible opportunity and challenge. One that proved too irresistible to pass up, anyways.
Interestingly enough, I happened across this job online as I was preparing to move to South Korea and take a job teaching English, which is what I had done in Cambodia. I wasn't passionate about teaching per se, it just seems to be the easiest occupation to find overseas. That and schools in South Korea pay well and provide housing and flights home.
My plan was to teach in order to make money, but then pursue volunteer opportunities in some development field in order to gain practical experience in the sector for pursuing a future career in such. Teaching was just the means to an end. The paperwork required to teach in South Korea is extensive, though, and took months to gather. It was while I waited for the final required document, an FBI background check, that I found my current job.

How was the moving process?

Prior to moving to Cambodia, I sold or gave away nearly all my possessions, keeping only what I could fit in two bags. It was not only a very cathartic and enlightening experience, but also one that makes moving very easy. My employer arranged and booked my flights and hired a consultant to prepare the requisite documents for my employment visa. All I had to do was show up, really.
However, one clear and universally experienced hassle came after arriving. All foreigners staying longer than a few months have to register at their local Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) within two weeks of arriving. I won't go into detail about just how horrifying this experience was, only say that my company finally hired a consultant to facilitate this after my 7th failed attempt (each of which lasted at least 4 hours). Trust me, whatever the price, hire someone to help you if you ever have to do this. It took no more than 15-minutes when I went in with this guy.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country?

Other than the nightmare of the FRRO, it wasn't all that challenging adapting to India when I first arrived. I'd visited Delhi before moving here so I was somewhat prepared for it. Also, living in Cambodia and traveling a lot throughout Asia helped. Don't get me wrong, Delhi is overwhelming, always; it's very chaotic, hot, loud, and dirty. The combination of these when experienced daily for months on end can wear on you a bit. Most people speak English so language isn't much of a barrier and there are a lot of western conveniences and stores. These factors alone make it, not easy, but easier for a foreigner, especially when first arriving here.

Is it easy to meet new people in Delhi? What are your tips to meet people in the city?

It's not as easy to meet people in Delhi vis-à-vis other cities I've visited and lived in. There's not much of a mingling culture here. People tend to hang out with colleagues, friends from university, and that sort of thing. Again, I'm lucky enough to work for an Indian company, so I was immediately plugged into a rather large social circle. It's more common for friends to hang out around someone's house than it is to go out as there's not really a nightlife scene aside from nightclubs that are exceedingly, prohibitively expensive. It's cool though. I prefer hanging out in this fashion as it gives me a glimpse into daily life that being a tourist would not afford.

What surprised you the most in New Delhi?

Even after being here for a year-and-a-half, I'm always struck by how green Delhi is. There are so many parks and trees it's amazing. Central Delhi is especially beautiful, with wide, tree-lined boulevards and less traffic and chaos then other parts of the city. Lodi Gardens is a must-visit for anyone visiting the city. You won't believe you're in Delhi in that park.

A common belief about New Delhi or India which wasn't right...

I think people have this general sense that India is the magical, mystical place of peace and tranquility. While this is by and large true of parts of India, it can also be a very dangerous place, especially for women particularly if they are traveling alone. Violent assaults are not uncommon and the police are not overly helpful. It's important to use common sense in any situation, of course, but it's important to approach India, especially Delhi, with an understanding that it can be unsafe.

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

I think what I miss the most from the U.S., aside from the obvious (friends, family, loved ones), is live music. I used to live outside New York and was really spoiled with the variety and frequency of concerts. Live music in Delhi tends to revolve around DJs at clubs, which isn't really my scene. Concert going is chief amongst the to-do list for my upcoming trip home.

How often do you go back home?

I've been fortunate in regards to going back to the U.S. I was in Seattle last summer for a conference and then an outrageously good, and generous, friend flew me home to New York to surprise my family at Christmas. I'm going back for a few weeks this summer as well.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live and work in Delhi?

The most important thing to do if planning on moving to Delhi is to let go of whatever preconceived notions of personal space you may have! There are over 14 million people in this city and everyone's competing for space. Foreigners are also spectacles to many locals; you'll be stared at unabashedly and constantly. At times, it can be very frustrating but there's no use getting angry over it (though, truth be told, I still can't help doing so) as it won't make any difference. The times that I just smile and brush off any violations of "my" space go much easier than the times I get upset. It's a great country to take up yoga, and practicing it can certainly help keep you calm!

What are your plans for the future: staying in Delhi, going back to the US or exploring another country?

I'm not sure what the future holds. Even after a year-and-a-half of traveling around India, I feel like I've barely seen any of it. There's a lot more exploring needed. Despite this, though, I am eager to move on to a new challenge in a new place, even if it is back in the States. There's just too much of the world to see and experience to spend it all in one spot!

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