Sheena Strahm from Switzerland moved to Delhi in October 2016 after having made several visits to India as a tourist.
“I wanted to visit India since I was a teenager. I first came here on a three-week visit in 2014. I was on a four-month sabbatical at the time. After visiting India, I traveled to Thailand and had also planned to visit Indonesia, which I cancelled later because I wanted to come back to India. I fell in love with the country and its people,” Strahm tells Little India.
The 24-year-old team assistant at an international organization in Delhi was, however, scared to make the move initially, as she did not have a support system in India. She decided to stay in Switzerland for another year and save some more money. But as fate would have it, she met her partner Abhay Khanna during one of her visits to India and eventually found the courage to move here.
Strahm talks about her love for Indian food, train journeys and various experiences that she has had in India so far:
Life in Delhi
When I moved here, I worked as a German teacher in a private language school for about six months. I quit the job as it was exhausting and not really my area of interest. I then applied for my current job, and got it.
It was very difficult to adjust to life here in the beginning. It’s harder for a woman because you have to be really cautious. Guys staring at you can be really annoying.
I started to cook Indian food, which I really love and enjoy. If I don’t have it for a week, I really miss it. It is interesting to see how diverse the country is and how friendly people residing in the villages are. They welcome you with open arms and are very helpful.
The biggest challenge is that it takes a lot of time to get things done here. For example, it’s weird how long people take to scan things at the cash counter. This mentality of “I don’t care if there are 20 people in the queue. I am just going to do my work as slow as possible,” is annoying at times. I am a very impatient person, so it was very hard for me to get used to it.
The dust and the dirt everywhere was difficult to adjust to as well. I don’t think I will ever get used to the pollution here.
I dislike the fact that Delhi tries to be very modern, but people are orthodox. There are rich people here who pretend to be very open but, at the core, are very conservative. I hate the fake attitude of people in Delhi.
Train to Rajasthan
I will never forget this particular train journey I took to Rajasthan on my first visit to India. I came across this really cute gypsy girl in the train. She would just look at me and then hide. Eventually, she came towards me and I gave her my notebook and some crayons. She just kept drawing in that notebook and felt happy as it was a luxury for her.
She also started to talk to me a little bit. Before getting off the train, she gave me her bracelet and said, “I will miss you. Keep this bracelet and come for my wedding when I get married.” I never saw that girl again. I don’t have her number or anything. After she got off the train, she asked her mother to lift her up and stood next to my window till the train left. It was a beautiful experience.
Delhi Vs Switzerland
It’s funny how people here are always stressed, late and in a rush to get to work all the time. In Switzerland, it’s the same thing minus the punctuality issues. When Swiss people leave their homes to go to work, they are in this work mode where they just sit and don’t smile and can also be rude.
The mountains and lakes in Himachal Pradesh look a lot like Switzerland. I haven’t been able to visit Kashmir yet, but I have heard that it’s beautiful.
I miss good cheese and proper bread here. I miss the fresh air of Switzerland, and how fast I can reach somewhere. If I travel for 12 hours here, I will reach the mountains. But if I do the same in Switzerland, I would have crossed three different countries and reached Spain. I miss how easy it is to get things. I miss drinking beer in public here.
That’s What Europeans Do!
I was once in my hotel room in Darjeeling when, suddenly, I heard a knock on the door. When I asked who it was, the man at the door said that he was my neighbor and asked me to open the door. I refused, obviously, as I didn’t know him. He continued knocking so I kept the locker chain and then opened the door.
The guy just stood there and said that he saw me around at the hotel and wanted to befriend me. I told him I was busy and didn’t want to talk. He kept on insisting and I asked him to leave. However, I was shocked when he asked me to give him a goodbye kiss because, apparently, that’s what we Europeans do!
It was a creepy experience. I reported the incident to the hotel authorities, who, in turn, asked me what should be done!
Taboo Around Menstruation
People in India still don’t talk about menstruation with their children. I have seen many incidents where the child does not know why she is bleeding because her mother cannot talk to her about it. Being called dirty and not being allowed to enter the kitchen can be traumatizing. I think girls and women should be valued more at this time.
I value things more now. In India, you have to work harder to get what you want. I became more appreciative of the comfortable life back in Switzerland. No one has to suffer or live on the streets if they don’t want to because there is a social system in place.
I have learnt to be thankful for what I have since I moved here. There have been ups and downs, but I have enjoyed my journey here so far.
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.