Work and volunteer in India

5 Useful tips for people looking to work, intern or volunteer in India

So you want to experience India from a different perspective? There are many opportunities to work, become part of an exchange program or volunteer in India due to the rapid economic growth and market possibilities. In this post, I want to focus on the factors that can impact significantly your experience in India, thus, in my opinion, are important to consider while choosing your program.

Read on the work culture and ethics 

India has a very hierarchical society, where status often matters more than the whole personality itself. I think the main reason is the high competition in each area of life. Take education, for example. Imagine if a person gets any less than 98 % on exams, she will not get admission to certain Universities. In some industries, there are thousands of people competing for one place. In many situations, it doesn’t really matter whether a person got his title in an honest way or not, because in both cases it was a tough journey to get there. People expect importance, authority and respect for their achievements.

No matter how “westernized” your future boss, business partner or company seems to be, India functions totally differently than the West. Be ready to expand your definition of deadlines and be flexible about the outcomes. In India things happen, however at their own pace. Final arrangements can be canceled at the last moment, papers can be delayed for weeks or even months. In most cases, things will not depend on you, so you don’t need to stress yourself about the outcomes.  There are many local specifics to consider before coming, thus, I would advise to prepare yourself to Indian work culture in advance.

Consider offers that have 2 days off

Most companies have 6 days a week working schedule in India. You might think of compromising with it for the sake of experience, though I wouldn’t advise you to do so. In reality, many people don’t have a stable work schedule, from 9.00 to 18.00 for example. Normally work starts at 9 – 10 a.m. but it can finish late evening when all the tasks are done. People in India do work a lot, however, you might find them not efficient (especially if you come from the West).

Since there is no strict border between personal and professional areas in India, office colleagues treat each other as a family. They mostly spend their lives in the office. It might encounter that people order some snacks to the workplace and chat with each other for an hour or so. They know they will not leave home till the work is done. People are fine to convert their free time into working time and vice versa, hence, 1 day off might not be enough for you. Moreover, as an expat, you would be interested to discover cultural and touristic part of the country that also requires time.

Find a stay in a happening area of the city

Living area can significantly improve your quality of life in India. Parts of the city, where travelers and expats stay tend to be more developed and habitual to foreigners. Though I strongly advise you to connect and befriend local people, there will be many situations where Indians will not understand you, since you come from a different background and reality. Being surrounded by expats you will have a chance to share and learn from each other experience. Moreover, you might get new opportunities, social life, networking events you haven’t thought about. India is a country of opportunities if you stay at the right place.

During my first year in Delhi, I didn’t know how much a living area can impact my experience. I’ve chosen to stay in a more local area of the city since it was closer to the office. I have to admit I’ve met some lifetime Indian friends who made my experience brighter despite all the troubles. At the same time I understand, if I stayed in a different area, I wouldn’t encounter most of these problems initially. Make an accommodation research in advance. Connect to locals for advice. For big cities, there is a network of Facebook groups “Flat & Flatmates”. They exist in many big cities of India and in some cities they even have sub groups for areas: e.g. Flat & Flatmates South Delhi, East Delhi, etc.  Even in posh areas you can get a nice and budget accommodation. To sum up, your living area can significantly impact your experience in India, thus, I would recommend looking into stay options in advance.

Get that FRRO registration if you are coming for a long term

If you are planning to stay more than 180 days in India, get your registration in FRRO. There comes a small benefit with it – possibility to visit tourist places and attractions for a local price. Your main goal, however, is to escape all unnecessary bureaucracy and paperwork in future. Registration is free and can be done within one day during first two weeks after your arrival in India. I had a case when I was late with registration because things got delayed. Since I was living outside the city, different rules applied to my stay. I still remember numerous queues in the heat and running through government offices and bank to collect required papers. Do everything possible to arrange for registration on time.

You can find the list of required documents on the official government website before arrival because in some cases you will have to be creative to arrange all necessary papers on time.

Don’t hurry up to “fix” India

Many people go to volunteer in India with a spirit to change the world. India faces many problems on local specific as well as national level and for sure, even an individual can contribute and make an impact. Though this help might be different than you expect. During your stay in India, you will face many situations with social injustice and illogical outcomes. Don’t hurry up with the best practices from other countries to solve these problems. Just give yourself at least 6 months to get used to local reality.

The truth is, you can’t make India a “western” country. Moreover, there is no need to do so. India functions in its own way. From outside it looks like a total chaos, however, there is a system which more than 1 billion people follow.  Just think about the numbers: India unites over 1 billion people from all major religions in the world, belonging to different social classes and casts and speaking over 1000 dialects. Do you think such a diverse society would survive if there was a chaos? India changes and develops at a rapid pace, however in its own style. You will start understanding and accepting it, once you stop creating a bubble of your local reality there.

Once you adapt to the way India works, you will be able to perform and bring maximum change there.

Hope these tips will be a good starting base for people looking to come to work, intern or volunteer in India 🙂

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