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Videshi Women – An interview with Charlotte Chunawala

Charlotte ChunawalaWe catch up with Charlotte Chunawala, Global Head of Communications at Cipla Ltd.  Originally from London, UK, Charlotte has now been in India for 15 years.

What brought you to India?  

I came to New Delhi in 1998 to work with Good Relations, a public relations agency with a connection to the UK.

What do you love most about being here?

I love feeling connected to everyone around me.  Somehow I feel we have lost that in Western countries.  I love that people are always there in your life; I never feel isolated here in the way I did towards the end of my time in London.

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

The greatest moment of my life will always be the birth of my wonderful twin daughters. However, more than moments what stands out for me in India is that there is such a ‘can do’ feeling here.  You really feel everything is possible.  We have lost that in the West.

What have been your greatest integration challenges?

By far my greatest handicap in India has been that I am, by nature, extremely direct.  I have had to learn to be much more circumspect in the way I speak to colleagues, staff in my house even friends.  But I think it’s a good thing.  Its probably made me a little more appealing!

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

When I moved to India there were very few expats and the vast majority of women were ‘trailing spouses’ who were not working outside the home.  I was hired in my first job as a local so I did not have any expat network at all.  I had a wonderful friend in Mumbai called Lisajane Bridgewater who was the only other working woman I knew – she was with a market research organisation.  She was super fun and we learnt as we went through it all together.  She relocated to the UK and is an interior designer in London now.  I still miss her!

Have you joined any networking groups?  

I was with the British Business Group for some years.  When I took time out after my children were born I lost touch with them.

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

I always tell everyone just one thing; because so many Indians are English speaking, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that you are in your home country.  Just remember even if the words sound familiar they may be used in a totally different context.  You are in a completely different country and culture.  So many expats make the mistake of saying ‘it should be like this or that’.  Try to understand what the culture is and don’t keep trying to make it what you want it to be.

I found it extremely helpful to learn Hindi for instance.  My wonderful teacher, Lina Bilkha, had developed her own system for teaching time poor adults.  She showed me through the language the differences in how Indians think.  For instance, Hindi has no verb To Have.  That has a huge cultural significance – there is no possession.  Also they use the passive voice a lot so if someone says to you, ‘it happened’ rather than, ‘I did it’, it is nothing to do with not taking responsibility; it is to do with the thinking which is collective and not individual.  All these things help in all your day-to-day interactions.

But I find now the expats are embracing the local culture much more than they did ten years ago.  You find many more people now who are here by choice and really get the most out of their time here.

What does the future hold for you?  

Haha you tell me.  Mumbai is my home for sure but within that I am always a restless soul.  Plus I am having the mother and father of a mid-life crisis so let’s see how that plays out!!!

Follow Charlotte on Twitter: charlottecw65

And on Facebook: Charlotte Chunawala

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