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Interview with Katia - an expat living in India

Updated 18 Mar 2010

Katia Novet is a writer and translator from France and Haiti, now living in Hyderabad, India. She has written the well-received children's book Amadi's Snowman, "the story of a Nigerian boy, a book, and the opening of worlds." 

Read more expat experiences of India.

About Katia

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Our family has roots in France, Spain, the US, and Haiti.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Hyderabad, India.

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A: 5 years.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A: Yes, spouse and children (at the time, 4 years old, and 6 weeks old.)

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: Husband’s new assignment as UN staff.

About Hyderabad, India

Q: What do you enjoy most about Hyderabad, how’s the quality of life?

A: Quite good. People are friendly, and as a big IT hub, the city has literally exploded in the past 5 years, with flyovers and malls sprouting out everywhere.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: It is not always easy to do fun and diverse things with the children, on weekends, for instance. Apart from hanging out at the luxury hotels, using the swimming pool, the choice is very limited. Home is no longer a fixed notion for me, as I have been an expat life for half my life, so it’s hard to answer that question, but I would say nice parks with children’s playgrounds, and cultural activities (although this is getting a little better).

Q: Is the city safe?

A: Yes. There have been a couple of terrorist attacks in busy, popular areas, but I have honestly never felt threatened. The separatist Telangana issue is pending, and school was cancelled a number of times over November and December, but again, I never felt threatened.

About living in India

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Hyderabad as an expat?

A: When we arrived, it was definitely Banjara Hills, and Jubilee Hills. Now, gated communities have sprang out in Gachibowli. If we arrived now, we’d move there - gated communities are really great with children.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in India?

A: Quite good for expats. Enormous houses - lots of wasted space, and not enough green space though.

Q: What’s the cost of living in India compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: Housing prices have doubled in five years, so it’s not cheap. Exported items are not cheap either. But local produces like fruits and vegetables are very cheap, and so is househelp.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: The locals are very nice, but it’s not easy to really mingle with them. They are busy living their lives, and as the family is very important in the Indian culture, they tend to have many obligations and things to attend to on week-ends. But there are lots of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) who are Indians who grew up or studied or lived and worked in the US or the UK for some years and are now returning home, and they create a category between the locals and the expats.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: Yes, relatively. There is an expat association called TEA, with gatherings on Fridays, some events, parties, etc. Mostly, though, people with children tend to make friends with other parents.

About working in India

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: My husband has a diplomatic status, so this was all taken care by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’ve heard people complain about having to dedicate quite a bit of time to these administrative procedures. Work visas are not easy to get, I hear.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Hyderabad, is there plenty of work?

A: Pretty good. A whole area of the city is called High Tech City, and Microsoft, Google, Deloite, HSBC and other big companies have invested massively. Lots of call centers, etc.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: I work at home, so I’m not the best indicated to answer that, but from what I gather, people in the work environment have a very hard time making decisions. They’d rather have someone else do it for them. Days tend to begin late, with people not showing up before 10 or 11 am unless the company requests them to come earlier.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A: It always takes a little time to adjust, but overall, it wasn’t bad. You must be prepared for the plumber or the electrician saying they will come at a certain hour, and maybe they do, but a week or two later. So, a good sense of humor is an asset.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?

A: The 4-year-old had no trouble at all, and the younger one was a few weeks old. No issues.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A: When we first arrived, the only school for expats was ISH, the International School of Hyderabad. Our older daughter spent 5 years there, and our little one, 3 years, starting with Toddler group. We had many issues with the way the school was run, the rigid attitude of the principal (not something easily noticeable at first), and the quality of the teaching. They built a high school outside of town, on the ICRISAT campus, and it’s quite nice. But the primary school was set up in totally inadequate appartements, and they’ve been building a new one for ages it seems.

As of now, the primary school is still in those flats. It was a heartbreak (when you keep moving around, you don’t want to have to move schools during the time that you’re posted in one country) but a new school opened a year ago, called Indus International School, and we shifted our children there. It’s also outside of town, but the commute is only 5 mns more than ISH, the campus is beautiful, the academic standards much higher, their teachers of foreign languages are native speakers, and they have lots of extra-curricular activities (danse, yoga, drama, music, clay pottery, tennis, next year they should have horse-riding, swimming pool, etc.) It’s also an IB school, all the way through, and their teachers are constantly attending IB training workshops.

Again, it was not an easy decision, but we’re happy we made it, and we’re not the only ones. There are other schools that call themselves international, but they usually follow the Indian curriculum, on top of the British one, so enormous workload for the children.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in India?

A: It can be excellent, and it can be appalling. Depends on whether you get a good doctor or not. There are some first rate facilities, though (Apollo hospital, Lotus Hospital, etc)

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Bring a humidifier if you suffer from asthma or allergies. The air gets incredibly dry during the summer season (from march until the beginning of the monsoon, in June) with temperatures reaching 47 degrees C. And, as with any other assignement, don’t forget your sense of humor. India is a fascinating country, with so much to see and experience it’s quite impossible to embrace it all. But it’s certainly worth trying. I know I will miss it when I leave.

~ interviewed April 2010

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