Expat Voice: Living as an ‘In-betweener’
Chennai-based Renata Cieslak talks about missing her old life in Poland and enjoying the current one with her Indian family.
Renata Cieslak came to India from Poland for the first time in 2013 as part of an internship program with AIESEC. She worked in an Indian corporation, where she was exposed to a diverse business environment, in Chennai. It was while Cieslak was on a trekking trip with the Chennai Trekking Club that she met her future husband.
Cieslak, 31, was born and raised in Łódź, Poland, but decided to explore the world, leaving behind her parents in her hometown and a twin sister, who is studying in the United States. She led a nomadic life until she came to India, and now works as a translator (Polish-English and vice-versa) and project management officer in an IT organization in Chennai.
Cieslak, who struggled with the differences between the way she grew up and her experiences in India, says that emigration helps us become better and more self-confident individuals.
Today, she cycles to work in Chennai and has two children. She tells Little India about her life in India:
I did not know how I would live in a new country, how my shyness to speak a foreign language will block or help in everyday life, whether my western background would clash with traditional and quite conservative Indian culture, how to ask for help from strangers. I had to deal with all my fears but openness and the courage to try new things made India very close to me. Even though still I do not know if it is already final home or just a place to stay for some time.
The day I stopped trying to compare, change and educate people over here to make them like me, to follow my European logic – life became much easier. The entire tension reduced, and I started living my own life without getting into other people’s businesses, lives or behaviors. Less stress made my life here somewhat pleasant.
Following the Heart
I left my family, friends, plans and dreams in Poland and followed my heart by marrying a man with whom I want to grow, share happiness, make mistakes, and get old. I started a new life and bicultural family in Chennai.
We live a happy life, discovering cultural differences, bicultural parenthood, day-to-day little things. We are learning from each other more and more to find out that the undeniable value of love is not to escape loneliness. It is in becoming a better person, rising above self-comfort and selfishness.
India on Wheels
Cycling in India is so much fun. I decided to start cycling only for my personal comfort. Overcrowded Indian local trains, tuk-tuks or buses are only good for watching, not boarding. To stay fit and be eco-friendly, I started cycling daily and I’ve experienced a lifestyle change by not only getting more fit but feeling satisfied, relaxed and less stressful.
I learned many things while cycling, including crossing my physical limits, changing the tube/ tyre or fixing the puncture. It is also very energizing, it perfectly wakes me up in the chilly winter Indian morning, which is always better than liters of coffee.
Sustainable Living in India
Organic farming is an open dream as of now: I imagine a huge bamboo (or mud) house, solar power system, composting and recycling stations, and self-sustainable life filled with organic agriculture, healthy food. This dream keeps my husband and me refreshed.
As we stay in the city, we try to make a difference by using simple solutions – reducing and managing waste at home, conserving water when possible, and using energy saving solutions. Inspiration comes from places we visit, such as Abhinav Farmers Club in Pune or the voluntary organization FSL-India’s offices.
Favorites in India
I have a special place in my heart for Chennai, Bengaluru , Pune, Andaman and Goa for every single little moment there that made me smile. I love moments more than places, like team lunches in the office cafeteria, chatting with roommates, day-dreaming with friends, random food preparation.
I experienced a variety of masala-mixed food, hence I got interested in preparing things on my own. I learn new things with an open mind and try to make the food taste as original as possible.
From acchu murrukku and bhakarwadi to chapati and rice, and even besan laddu and chicken biryani, exploring all these things keeps me pretty occupied and satisfied.
On the other hand, I feel a little lonely from time to time for the life left behind. One doesn’t have to be in someone else’s shoes to understand that moving away from your home place – whether it is for education, career, job opportunity, to the next city, country or somewhere deep down on the other side of the globe, for a week, month, year or years triggers times of loneliness.
It hits the most when one cannot be with siblings who are getting engaged, friends getting married, missing birthdays, anniversaries or even sad things like someone’s funeral. From time to time this sense of alienation takes over. I call it as being inbetweener: trying to follow what’s there with your relatives across the ocean and being present here with new culture and new surroundings.
Still, I would not replace my life with anything. Being happy with what I have, makes my life simple and happy.
The interview has been condensed and edited.
Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at email@example.com to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.