Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Expat Bubble

Before we moved here, Ajey and I took a 1 day Cross-cultural training. The instructor brought up an interesting concept - the 'Expat Bubble'. Got me thinking - all of us, everywhere, live in our own little bubbles. Be it looking for Marathi speaking people in Chennai or Bangalore, or hanging out exclusively with other Indian students in American universities - all of us, consciously or sub-consciously, crave the familiar.

A move to a foreign country is the ideal time to push these boundaries, to break free of the bubble.  But with all the changes and upheavals, it is no surprise that, now, more than ever, the familiar is desperately sought. So on our house hunting trip to Suzhou, we looked up the Indian restaurants in the area, made sure that there was a supply of Indian groceries available, and took down phone numbers of other Indians living in Suzhou. After all, we can handle anything that life throws at us, as long as we can have a cup of Taj Mahal tea in the morning, and dal-chawal to end the day! So here it is - our Indian bubble!! Be it US, France or now, China - we are safely ensconced in this warm and comfortable bubble!!!

Beyond this is the Expat bubble. We experienced this for the first time on our assignment in Chennai. Our lifestyle there was so removed from the lifestyle of normal Indians - we were living in India, and yet, we were not. Our friends were other expats, Manasi was in an International school. We didn't have to deal with issues like water shortages, power cuts or the rising price of onions. We went on exotic vacations 3 times a year. And while Chennai wilted under the brutal summer sun, our dog had an air-conditioned room all to herself! This, then, is the Expat bubble - to live in a foreign country in a totally rarefied atmosphere, never absorbing the local flavours, never interacting with the local population.

Even before we left Peoria, I knew that breaking free of this Expat bubble was going to be my biggest challenge. We live in a complex which has a mostly expat population, Manasi is once again in an International school, the only Chinese people I interact with regularly are the driver and the maid. It is far too easy to use the crutch of our English speaking agent to communicate with the outer world. On the other hand, I also know that the only way to fully benefit from such an opportunity is to step out of my comfort zone. The key is to keep an open mind. Willingness to learn the local language is a close second. Everything else will follow!

I'd like to end this post with a quote from Confucius - "By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." So here's to all the wonderful experiences waiting for us in China! Cheers, everybody!!!


  1. Dear Gauri,

    It is so good you read you post here, I was just thinking of you today, on how and what will you do when we all will be a bit older than we are and I could only imagine you to be a most versatile and knowledgeable person, who is giving back to the society from the experience that you have gained from all these cultures.... and your article is on the same line... :) Keep us posted on more happening, would love to read more :) Hi to all at home....

    1. Thanks, Gandhali! A bit overwhelmed by your comment...not sure if I deserve all your kind words! Thank you for encouraging me to keep writing!!