January Interview

This month we chose to interview a young Indian woman who just graduated in European studies.

Deepika (pseudonym) chose to learn European languages at a very young age. She already spoke English and two Indian languages, and started learning French early on, at the Aliance Française. She then turned to other European languages like Spanish and Italian, and of course their cultures.

Deepika just finished her end-of-studies internship in France, for a company specializing in intercultural training for future expats.

Hi! Could you explain to us your experience with interculturality, as a student and as a professional?

I first experienced interculturality for real when I studied in Europe. After that, even if I didn’t have a degree in interculturality I got an intership in a company that trains future expats in Asia so that they can expatriate easily.

What does intercultural communication mean to you?

Intercultural communication means understanding someone who has a different culture without resorting to stereotypes or comparisons to one’s own culture. It is not easy to communicate with someone who reacts differently to a situation than what you culturally expect. But the most important thing is to open a dialogue without being judgmental, and to accept cultural differences.

Could you tell us an anecdote to illustrate this?

I am Indian, so people ask me a lot of cliché questions about my country. The questions demonstrate their curiosity for my country, but often they cannot understand how we view arranged marriages in India. For them, if it’s not a love match it’s a forced marriage. I tried time and time again to explain it, but I can’t explain it well enough.

Do you have any personal thoughts on Indian/French communication?

I think that some French don’t really understand Indian culture even after they’ve lived in India. They try to generalize on the whole country according to the few Indians they met, and they also try to speak with other French people when there’re here so that they don’t feel lost. India is huge and it’s almost useless to try and generalize given the diversity of people and cultures. It is easy to generalise but difficult to understand diversity.

For example, you often hear Europeans who lived in a part of the country -say, the capital city- explain that Hindu marriages last for three days. It’s not always true. In the West, they last all morning, in the South they start at midnight, depending on the family.  We are all Hindus, but we speak different languages and our customs are very different.

What would you recommend to French people, to make expatriation easier?

I think that it’s very difficult to live in India, and I understand perfectly the need to meet French people in order to feel less lost. However, it is always a good idea to speak the local language, even if only a little, to be able to communicate with people and make friends.

Are there people who find it easier than others to adapt to/integrate in India?

To adapt, certainly. I am not really comfortable with the idea of integration, though. It’s a continuous process, which can take years, so it’s difficult to feel “integrated” when you’re in India for a short stay. I noted that people who speak English find it easier to get by.

What made the biggest impression on you the first time you came to Europe? Is there something you still can’t get used to even after all this time?

European people are really autonomous. Everything needs to be done alone –from finding your way in the city by following street signs, to almost everything in adult life. Sometimes, this autonomy leads to a kind of individualism that you don’t see in India because we are really attached to the notion of family.

What is for you the biggest difference between France and India in the professional world?

There are almost no internships offered, and the notion of unpaid internships is very rare. We start working as soon as we finish our studies, so it isn’t really an option. However, there are some “apprenticeships” in technical fields.