Born in India and spent the majority of my life years in my home country, I am deeply rooted in my culture, traditions, and values. In 2014, I became an expat by moving to Sweden with my family. I feel blessed as I enjoy the richness of my culture while I celebrate the unique Swedish customs like Midsommer, Kanelbullen Dag to name a few.
We, Indians, are emotionally connected to our culture through food, festival, religion, language, and values. While each of them has its significance, food takes precedence in binding us together- the aroma of spices, the beauty of colours, and the essence of flavours are soulfully palatial.
An American friend residing in Sweden once asked, “what is it that Indian’s who travel outside India prefer to eat Indian food and search for Indian restaurants?”
I can understand her dilemma. It is hard for many people to understand the comfort and emotional connection we have with our Indianness. The aroma of spices provides gratification and a feeling of being home. Food for us is the delicate thread that weaves various states together. Within India, you get to taste regionally specific cuisines, and the defining characteristic of each Indian food is its diverse use of spices and the finesse put behind the preparation of each dish.
Take It As A Positive Challenge And Not A Punishment.
All this doesn’t mean that Indian’s only stick to their tribe. We respect people from other countries, and we associate with different cultures as much as we love to be with our friends and family. We are open to exploring new cuisines or cultures we find comfort in making others comfortable.
That’s what Swapna Sharma did when she moved to Sweden in 1984. She knew now she was in Sweden, so it’s sensible to connect with Swedish people. “When I came to Sweden in 1984, there were hardly any Indians. It is in the past 4-5 years that you meet so many people from our country. You have to accept the country and the best way to do that is through language,” said Swapna. She has a motto – acknowledge what you are getting because that will ultimately grow you more. “I feel more beautiful in Sari. But now I was in Sweden, so I have to accept this place too.”
Swapna believes in change, and she knew that she must be part of the system to make an impact, “if you do not involve yourself, nobody will know what is not working for other communities.” She became an active member of the Social Democratic Party in 2004 and is still an elected representative of Sollentuna Kommun to contribute towards the wellness of society.
She also had to switch over to a different career after moving to Sweden, but she believes that everything can be seen as a positive challenge than considering it to be a punishment.
The Child Must Feel Secure.
As a trailing partner, when we decide to follow the prime earner, a big responsibility that comes into the picture is, “how to make children feel secured?”. Transition is hard for everyone, and for children, it is the hardest. They do not have any reasonable need or a logical explanation for relocation to a different land at the cost of their friends and comfort. This sometimes makes it difficult for them to settle into a new environment. And the trailing partner, mostly the wife, takes up this significant role because of two reasons, a) she is jobless and b) she spends the majority of her time with kids.
Sometimes the challenge gets unique. As in the case of Alamjit, coming from a Sikh family was an important reason to ensure that her daughter feels confident in who she is. Differentiation can come from any part of society, and till children do not feel safe within their family and their roots or do not have a sound grounding in their culture, they find it hard to lead an expat life. “It was important for her to know who she is and be comfortable in her skin,” said Alamjit
“I took another major decision of sending her to an international school to understand the true meaning of equality in diversity. While I was teaching my daughter to respect who she is, she needed to learn to respect others,” she added. She realised that to make the transition as gentle as possible, it is better to pause her professional life.
The life of an expat is quite different, and it is easy to say that every person who plans to move out of their home country has made a conscious decision so why complaint. In other scenarios like marriage or change of career within your home country, people complain. Even though they still reside in their homeland. No, I am not trying to encourage complaining behaviour. What we need to understand is that whenever we make a decision, we mindfully measure the repercussions. Yet many things we get to experience only when we jump into the situation. It is in these situations that we have to embrace ourselves while we maintain the right expectations. End of the day, we are all humans, and we are bound to make our share of mistakes.
One can even argue that the option to return to the home country is always open. True. Yet each one of us has a valid reason to stay – financial, professional, or personal. To stand up to our commitment, we must get ready enough to face challenges, be it children, career, loneliness, friends, family or new culture. Yet, the significance of the adjustments done by the women who move with their partner doesn’t reduce. It could be either in the shape of putting breaks onto our career or rebuilding life from scratch. As it happened in the case of Swapna, who left her law career and moved into finance. Or Alamjit, who disliked being ideal at home, explored the idea of bringing laughter into the life of Indians living in Stockholm, and she started her event management company. Or me, who decided to become an author and a wellness coach for the woman to help them find mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness.
It could be children, culture or career that brings a challenge in front of an Indian expat wife, but she is intelligent to acknowledge her priorities. She has the endurance to face the challenges while she puts her and her families happiness in the utmost regard.
Indian Women on International Soil is a safe space I am creating for you to share your story of joy, love, sorrow, pain, happiness, sadness or any other emotion that you went through but couldn’t tell anyone. You felt unheard or probably alone and are looking for support. Or you know that you could be a source of inspiration for another woman and need a platform. Whichever place you are write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will definitely connect with you.