A non-profit organization in Mumbai, the American Women’s Club (AWC) is a prominent forum for expat women that aims to provide support and assistance to their members, as well as assist the wider expat community (Non- American, but foreign passport holders) in Mumbai, through social, cultural and philanthropic activities. It was created in 1983 and has been going strong ever since then.
This morning I attended a “coffee morning” that is hosted on every other Wednesday at AWC, where I spoke to about 25 women on how to cope with cultural transition. I was invited, as a psychologist, to educate and equip members with some of the tools required to go through the acculturation process in a smooth and healthy manner. The women I spoke to come from many walks of life: most of them are spouses of husbands who work in huge multinational companies and are temporarily based in Mumbai, some of the women are involved in charitable organizations that they have either founded on their own or have collaborated with existing organizations, while other women are employed themselves by national and international companies in India.
This morning I arrived at the host’s house at about 10:30 am, which was in Bandra West, and I thought I was in heaven (I usually think I am in heaven when I go to my expat friends’/ colleagues’ homes because of the sheer size of their homes). The house was palatial, with Italian marble tiles all over (including the 4 bathrooms), and there were huge cup cakes and Oreo cookies and ginger-carrot bread that were served (and that I stayed away from) . It was certainly a spread that was familiar to the ones I have seen in the USA. While the spread was not a feast for my palate, it certainly was a feast for my eyes! It was also a pleasure to meet and talk to several expat women who came from all parts of the world such as the USA, Canada, Australia, England, etc.
Around 11:15 am, everyone gathered their coffee and eats and we all took our places for the talk to begin. I had prepared a few points to share with the audience, but threw it all out the window when I began to talk. I spoke from my heart and not from my head, and it ended up being a lively, interactive session, one that involved my audience who began sharing their experiences as well. But what was intriguing for me was listening to myself as I spoke about the process of “acculturation” and “assimilation”, where an individual adjusts into the dominant culture where customs and attitudes are acquired through contact and communication. As I heard myself talk, I felt like I was dissociating and there was a part of me hovering above me, listening intently to what I was saying.
The dissociated Rochelle heard herself say things like:
1. You have to learn to stop complaining; if you can’t beat them, join them.
2. Have compassion on yourself and be kind to yourself.
3. Do not feel like you have to go through all this by yourself, and reach out to people who you feel can support you.
4. Know what triggers you about life in India so you know how to prepare for that particular situation.
5. It is all about your attitude and the way you look at things.
On some level, I know that I practice and believe in the above statements to a great extent. On another level, it was empowering to hear myself say these things to other women who were going through similar struggles, empowering them to roll with the punches and to enjoy the process as much as possible. The acculturation process, in any country, can be really hard and challenging, but at the same time can pose great opportunities to re-discover yourself, your strengths, and your weakness, as well as opportunities to realize that there can be different and creative approaches to cultural challenges, and life in general.
It was a great and heartwarming experience for me to talk to the women of AWC and it was lovely to hear that they enjoyed my talk and were able to take a few gems from them.