My Expat Story: One Year In Bangalore, India – The Work Stuff
In April, 2012 I completed one year in India. Welcome to #1 in a series of articles recounting how life has really been for me in Bangalore. Article #1 is all about my employment situation. Article #2 is all about the relationship stuff.
Last year I reconnected with an old high school friend who heard I was living in Spain off and on for the past 18 years. In our first round of FB messages, he reminded me that in high school I used to claim that one day I would live in Spain and congratulated me on actually doing it. I had forgotten about that but I did have such a strong fascination with the Spanish language and culture that when I was 21 years old I first moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for a summer…experiencing my first taste of true freedom travelling around in my Jeep Wrangler. The next year I did indeed move to Spain. I was 22 years old.
However, I never could have envisioned that 19 years later I would be living with my 16 year old daughter in Bangalore. Visiting or doing business here, YES! But actually living in a country that in so many ways is the polar opposite to the liberal lifestyle of southern California would have been impossible for me to predict as a school girl like I’d done with Spain.
Yet here I am. And I love it. Even if I could, I wouldn’t move back to Barcelona now because the unemployment rate is still hovering at 21%. My native California holds no current appeal for me either. I suppose in part because I speak the language so-to-speak but also because, after living in Barcelona off and on for the past 19 years, I am much more European now and chances are that I wouldn’t be happy in California anymore. In all honesty, I hope to have the opportunity to start a brand new adventure in an unfamiliar foreign land if and when my time in India ends.
Reflecting on the past one year has been interesting business for me and this article is taking me ages to write because I’m simply not sure how honest I want to be about some parts of how life has really been for me here. There have been so many moments, so many memories, and so many unbelievable situations – both good and bad – that I’m not really sure where to start. So I’ve been struggling with writing this.
I moved to India to work as the only non-Indian worker in India’s 2nd largest translation company one year ago. A “services” company was a huge departure off my resume that consisted almost entirely of high-tech start-ups for the past 16 years. But the CEO who hired me seemed like a dream to work for and I loved the idea of the challenge they presented to me of launching the company into 14 new markets in two years. Then the company did the bate-and-switch with the CEO, the MAIN reason for me actually accepting the job in the first place. Three weeks after my arrival, a new American CEO came on board and the great guy who hired me stepped out. The new CEO was cold and did not engender himself to any of us, although from what I understand he was great at whipping a company into shape. He was one of those guys who sadly treated their drivers with complete disrespect and would yell at them and appeared to think that at 58 years old and American that he was king.
At the start of my 7th week of work, I returned one day from lunch and the CEO called me into his office and fired me (and later the rest of the international expansion team). Honestly, I DO NOT blame his rationale for letting me go because after a brief analysis and investigation into the company, he felt they needed a year to improve processes and truly prepare the company for the step into global services. But the way he did it was horrific. Without a human resources manager present, he called me into his office and dismissed me as if I had embezzled money from the company or mistreated a staff member, eventually raising his voice to me in a threatening tone and denying me the opportunity to pass off my files and brief my newly formed team on the status of our projects, etc. He even tried to force me to sign my exit paperwork without allowing me 24 hours to run it by an attorney. He sent me packing with the equivalent of two weeks cash in my pocket and refused to finalise my relocation, including one of the key aspects of relocation which was bringing my daughter to India few weeks later when her school term ended in Barcelona. I was a Chief Marketing Officer for the company but in that moment I was not even remotely treated like a member of executive team…Seriously, it was quite the experience.
As I stood in the street, waiting for my driver Shiva to come and collect me, the gravity of the situation hit me. I was in a foreign country, with almost no money, no way to bring my daughter over or finalise my relocation expenses and more. I’m pretty good about brushing off feelings of reality and doom but even I stood there and felt the weight of it. I was screwed. And at Director or VP level, jobs aren’t just picked off of a tree so finding one takes a damn long time typically.
I started to call a friend to meet me for a drink so I could talk this through when my phone rang. And although I did end up with a cosmopolitan in my hand at the Taj on MG Road (a 5 star hotel), it was a much different scene than what I imagined when I thought about happy hour that day. In the same moment that one door shut on me, fate stepped in and opened another. Not the kind of fate that rains down cash but the kind of fate that delivers future opportunity and fun times. A friend of a friend needed help with his cricket team, the Bijapur Bulls, which is a franchise within the state-level Karnataka Premier League (KPL). That afternoon cosmopolitan kick-started my launch into the world of cricket public relations, marketing and communication. Although today the next league dates are still not set, I know that everyone is hoping for this to be remedied within the next few weeks because it is an excellent platform to launch talented local players into mainstream cricket and help prepare them for the big league and their future career.
Anyway, I had a great time last summer learning all about cricket. I bought a four inch thick book all about the game and read all the weekly and monthly cricket publications diligently. In fact, after only a few weeks of always buying the same titles every visit, the husband and wife team at my news stand would quickly pull together all the cricket mags and sports papers for me the moment they saw me in queue. It was all new and good fun.
One of my favourite moments was when I was the only woman at a power meeting and breakfast at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Imagine this…I showed up in a white knee-length dress with black flowers embroidered on it, a sweet white cardigan, black headband holding back my hair, black high heeled shoes and carrying my laptop. All of the KPL owners and the gentlemen who run the KSCA grouped together to talk about next steps with the KPL. I introduced myself to everyone at breakfast but didn’t talk too much until one of the heated discussions in the meeting. I spoke up in disagreement to an agenda item, articulated my two cents, and then smiled. I don’t think they expected me to speak so it was quite funny to see a couple of the surprised expressions and one or two of them trying to figure out if they should argue with me or not. It was a great morning and certainly a meeting that I will never forget.
Unfortunately, during this time the company I had moved here for sent a letter to the FRRO (this is the office that takes care of registering foreigners and keeping us in check) and informed them that I was no longer working for them and therefore my visa was invalid. I honestly didn’t know that my residency permit was invalidated if I lost or changed jobs. In Spain it doesn’t work that way so it never really occurred to me. I thought I was fine and could just get a new job and employment contract without any problem. Well, silly me! Two gentlemen in hats and uniforms came to the flat and served me deportation papers. HOLY COW! I was being deported, felt VERY strange. I didn’t want to leave India and was working hard to find a new job and income to support us but needed more time. But the FRRO doesn’t give more time ‘just because’ so I needed to move fast. I had seven days to secure a new job and self-fund my departure from the country in order to be able to safely return again with a new visa. I had already paid my daughter’s school fees at Canadian International School, our two cats from Spain had been successfully exported and were living with me in Bangalore and all of our belongings had just arrived the week before from Barcelona. There was no option for failure.
Once again, good karma was at work for me. And thank goodness! Through introductions the month before by a good friend of mine from Chennai, I was able to secure my current part-time role heading up a new first-ever marketing and communications department with a leading BPO company. Again I was set to be the first non-Indian hired to work in India for the new company, which I really like.
So I traveled back to Barcelona, fixed my visa, found a way to fly my daughter over and pay for her visa … and back I came with my little angel in tow (okay, she’s 16 but she’s still my little angel)! I’d like to note that none of this was doable without the help of my little brother and friends back home, all of whom made it possible for me to return to India. I adore them for everything they did, without thinking twice. (Thanks T, P, I, N, M and P).
Upon my return I started being a weekly contributor to the national newspaper DNA (in the Bangalore edition). They let me publish more or less what I wish and it is a super experience. I also started writing for other websites, but to be honest, I lost my taste for contributing to a couple of them based on the very negative comments left on one particular website. I love writing for my blog and find that more rewarding, even though it’s just for me.
I’m having lots of fun where I work and really love the company. I have a great team of guys that work for me. Sadly, no females are on the team yet but I hope to remedy that very soon. We’ve initiated social media communication campaigns in seven different industries, are about to launch a very sexy new website (sexy because of all the cool functionality and enhanced usability) and launch the fruits of our rebranding efforts to the global market. All very fun stuff!
This is the first time in my professional career that I have worked part-time but I have to say a part of me likes it. Our financial situation is NOT good and I must remedy this within the next two months or I won’t be able to pay my daughter’s school fees. Obviously, this is a massive negative point. But being part time has left me open to pursue other projects, including starting to write my first book. Ideally I’d like to either get on board full-time or possibly start peddling around a few chapters of my book and see if I can receive an advance from a publisher. This would allow me to stay part-time and working where I’m at now so let’s see. Fingers crossed there!
Well, that’s been my work life in a nutshell. I’ve lived a roller coaster the past year but I don’t regret it. I still believe that I’m here for a reason and I truly treasure each of the opportunities I’ve been given and am thankful for the people who have made them possible.
© 2012 Angela Carson (do not reproduce this article without written approval from author)