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Videshi Women – An interview with Jacqueline de Graaf

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Jacqueline de GraafJacqueline de Graaf is from Amsterdam in The Netherlands and has been in India for over six years.

I’m much richer and wiser than the person who left Amsterdam in 2009.

What brought you to India?

One of my greatest abiding passions has been travel. Each year, I’d spend six weeks getting under the skin and into the heart of a foreign culture, a city or country. In 2008, I went on a wonderful walking Buddhist pilgrimage through Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It was serendipity when my company (ING, Amsterdam) then posted me here for a while. Back in Amsterdam, I realised I was hooked on this chaotic, friendly, welcoming place. I quit my job, packed my bags and returned. I hadn’t just fallen in love with India though. I married my Indian husband in 2010 and we now have two children.

What do you love most about being here?

The weather, the food, the landscape, the diversity of the people; life can be hectic and stressful but people here are more generous with their time for friends and family.

Are there any great moments that particularly stand out for you?

So many wonderful moments but the best are universal: the births of my children.

What have been your greatest integration challenges?

Marriage to an Indian meant a very familial, warm integration. However, in the Netherlands, there is no obvious social hierarchy. In India, all relationships, with family, neighbours, even with your grocer, are ‘positioned’. It can be difficult for someone not inculcated in these cultural subtleties to decipher. But you learn in India, the differences are huge: it truly has the best and the worst of everything in the world.

I can guide you beyond that, into a deep, complex, fascinating vision of India – her history, her future, her obvious flaws and beauty and her hidden secrets. This is my future – helping visitors take back a little bit of India with them.

Have there been any individuals or organisations who particularly helped with your move and integration?

My husband and my friends.

Have you joined any networking groups?

It’s easy to make connections here. We have a large circle of friends and family. Work provided me with excellent professional contacts. I’ve also joined the Dutch/Belgium network.

Do you have any practical tips for ex-pats moving to India about how to integrate or deal with cultural differences?

Talk to people (they appreciate your interest), ask questions, read, but most importantly, keep an open mind. I’d observe myself, my reactions. I found myself constantly questioning my own norms, examining context. I’m much richer and wiser than the person who left Amsterdam in 2009.

What does the future hold for you?

My love of travel brought me to India and love keeps me here. I learned that having friends in a new place makes everything from a short trip to a permanent migration easier and much more rewarding. I want to pay it forward, be that ‘Friend in India’. This is my new venture. As a European, I understand the challenges of ‘scary, disconcerting India’. But as an Indian (yes, this is how I feel), I can guide you beyond that, into a deep, complex, fascinating vision of India – her history, her future, her obvious flaws and beauty and her hidden secrets. This is my future – helping visitors take back a little bit of India with them.

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