While supporting expats with integration and languages, these interviews reveal personal stories, tips and advice. Arriving in a new country is a big change and how to feel ‘at Home’ can be a challenge. [Or not?]
Interview with Sagar from India to Belgium
Original country: India
Expat countries: The Netherlands
Current country: Belgium
Your story in a nutshell
Indian born Dutch national, Sagar Singamsetty, pursued his under-graduate legal studies in Hyderabad, India. In 2004, Sagar was awarded a Huygens Scholarship by the Netherlands government to pursue graduate studies (LL.M) in air and space law at University of Leiden, NL.
After that, he joined multinational company as a counsel in aviation/transport sector.
Sagar enjoys travelling and currently resides with his family in Belgium. He stayed in Leiden 10 years and then relocated to Brussels, Belgium in 2015.
Is it a right decision to go to the Netherlands was the biggest question I had. Upon landing, the Netherlands is one country where as an expat you will feel comfortable because most of them speak English and most of the Dutch are helpful.
People often asked if have experienced any culture shock? NO.
What about the food and weather in the Netherlands?
The food choices are quite good (as to Belgium – it is a challenge to resist good food, beer and chocolates). Coming to weather, you could not help but to carry your jacket despite the sun shining; it is part of life if you can look at it in a positive way rather than as a challenge.
Moving to a new country is always a big challenge and it takes a while to adjust and to adapt to the local situation. The biggest challenge for me has been language and improving Dutch language is an ongoing project.
On overcoming fear
As a foreigner in any country is not easy. One needs to overcome the fear of adapting to the local situation, which can be hard and a very tiring process. If moving to a new country is in itself a challenge then language, new social relationships, food, weather, and most importantly, health care and education for the family members become far more fearsome queries to answer. It is not easy even for the Europeans because the culture, habits and the environment is totally different compared to their home country.
One suggestion for an expat is, stay with the locals as one tends to learn more about the country or it helps in enriching your own experience of living abroad in comparison to those who prefer to stay with their own compatriots.
Working practices and benefits in your adopted country
‘Life balance’ is a common topic. Sorry but this is something an individual has to decide and it has nothing to do with the country or region of this world you are working in. It is this simple – a workplace or a country you choose to live does not provide this balance. YOU have to decide on your priorities in your life. Once you make your own preferences, this work and life balance will be an issue of the past. Most companies based in Europe certainly help their employees lead a better life compared to other parts of the world. Certainly, the standard of living in the Benelux region is above many other developed countries, which in itself is a huge benefit despite the high taxes.
Did you integrate and adjust smoothly? What went well and what was hard?
Frankly, no one can integrate 100% into any system. Being objective is key here – in a globalized world, we are inter-dependent on the strengths to realize the potential. Living here in Europe for over 10 years, it is still not clear as to what integration means – can language alone determine that you have integrated? Paying taxes and investing in buying a home can be considered as being part of integration as it is helping the economy? Being a lawyer, I have to say that we are bound by the laws of the country we are living and we have to adhere and respect those laws. This should be the guiding principle to every expat, and automatically, your stay in the country gets smoother. Personally, have not had any major difficulties in adjusting (except for the language barrier, which can be a real pain) but we do hear the difficulties people are facing on a day to day basis, e.g., racial profiling, discrimination etc. It is just sad given that we are living in a developed country where we are taught about freedom and liberty!
Where you find inspiration from?
The inspiration comes to do better for your family, your country and for yourself. You are already away from home and sky is the limit to do your best and that inspiration is sufficient to anyone to excel. My colleagues at work and my compatriots add fuel to the inspiration, which I am thankful.
What is your current job?
My role as a regulatory lawyer is to advice the company management of the regulatory developments affecting or potentially affecting the operations of our business from a legal/regulatory/policy standpoint. This includes: international aviation regulations; export control laws and trade sanctions; and transport and environment. Having moved to Brussels, I also enjoy my engagement with European institutions in developing meaningful policies for our sector.
Was it difficult to start your job in a foreign country?
Hasn’t been a cake walk…after a several 100 of job applications, I got an internship opportunity as a student of Leiden University, which later turned into a job in their Contracts team.My experience working in the Netherlands and Belgium is that employees are given a free hand in their job, so that the employee can perform better. At the same time, every assignment is time bound and it is really important to get the work done within the timelines. It is a cultural thing to be on time and it shows that you respect others time and your professional approach.
How do you stay motivated?
Well…when market is not doing well and job opportunities are scarce, the motivation to do well will be there. I personally believe one is always motivated if there is a focus on the goal one wishes to achieve for themselves. I know it is a philosophical answer but I cannot compare always with others achievement as that will undermine what I have achieved for myself. So, compete against yourself – the best way to keep you motivated and to reach higher goals.
Useful TIPS for expats
Talk to the locals, talk to your own compatriots, talk to other expats, visit the local city hall for information. Also, every country has an expat center and loads of bulletins/newspapers that provide information.
What are your words of Wisdom?
For any expat, I believe these 2 qualities will come very handy to build their career or social network:
1/ Honesty and integrity in what you do or even say; and 2/ Communication skills.
What is the worst that happened to you as an expat?
I would not say there has been anything as the ‘worst experience’. Having said that, someone telling me that I have stolen someones job by working in the country as an expat did make me think if it is still good to be an expat or not? As these sentiments are growing in recent times, it is important for expats to remain positive as they bring lot of experience and diversity into the community; and for the expat, it is equally important that they pay respect/attention to the local customs and traditions.
What is a misunderstanding that happened to you as an expat?
The Dutch are stingy and their food habits always make me laugh – one cookie rule; or questions from Dutch friends, how hungry are you or how much rice you want to eat? Or when someone invites you to a drink or dinner, at their home, it is expected they pay as well… Initially, I wasn’t sure if I understood the question or such conversations…but now, it might be possible that I turned Dutch as well. Belgians can be cold at first but with a beer you can start making a conversation…funny thing is that most of the Belgians have very dry humor, like their art, and I find it difficult yet times if I should be laughing or not! It could be the same thing for expats in India, when we shake our head in every direction and it is not only confusing but amusing to most foreigners.
Your Plans for the future
We made Belgium our new home. For the time being, want to spend our time here; and my focus will be on my family and work. I enjoy counseling and teaching – hopefully, will enrich someone’s life as the year’s progress!
Final words or anything else you wish to share
1) Every country in the world has something good to offer, so do not be naive in your expectations as disappointment could be around the corner.
2) Every expat continues to be in that intuition that they are going to go back home one day as ‘home will remain home’. The hard reality is that majority of the expats remain to stay abroad for most years of their life and it is not a bad thing per se. Enjoy your stay abroad and share your worldly knowledge to the younger generation.
Please tell us yourimportant TIP(s) when moving to a new country
Always know for what reason you are moving to a particular country? For instance, in my case, I moved to Belgium with my family as the education and health care sectors are one of the best in the world. There is so much choice around us and it should be the case that you are happy with your decision in the long term.
“Great interview Sagar. Your inspiring words are useful for both new or experienced expats. Staying motivated and positive is important, which is what you do and share. Being an expat is an amazing opportunity I can recommend to everyone. However, it’s crucial to keep certain key points in mind.
This is why I’m writing my next book to prepare ANY move abroad in such way that you can ENJOY your journey to the fullest.”
Thank you very much!
Picture taken at Sint-Michel, France