How to start a new life in a foreign culture

27.07.2016 | Photo Toto Nandy
Antje Pfahl in New-Delhi
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Communications consultant Antje Pfahl gives advice on how to build a new life in a foreign country.

For those dreaming of leaving their job, taking a one-way ticket to New Delhi, and building a new life and business there, look no further for inspiration than Antje Pfahl. Despite a successful job in PR, Pfahl packed her things and went forth into the heart of the world to begin living the life she had always dreamed of. Like any major relocation, her adaptation process was full of difficulties, but it ultimately paid off. Now she happily runs her own rapidly-expanding design studio, The Create Labs, out of her apartment. She has built a social circle of amazing friends who support her ongoing journey and most importantly, she has found home. Here Antje Pfahl shares her wisdom about what it takes to not only survive a move to a new culture, but to flourish.

Antje Pfahl in an typical indian car

Follow your instincts

“I always felt there was something more ‘out there’”, Antje reminisces. Believing adventure is not what happens to us but what we make happen, she didn’t think twice to take the leap and go to India, and her success proves the power of instinct.

Antje Pfahl in New-Delhi

Prepare to start from scratch

Education and work experience in Europe helped Antje get her foot in the door for interviews – but potential employers saw her lack of experience working in India as a liability. “It felt unjust and took me a lot of gumption and self-motivation to overcome the situation, especially to establish close business contacts like the ones I had built in Germany.” During that time, Antje learned the importance of persistence and of never giving up, and was able to work her way up again.


Embrace the cultural gap

Used to structured functioning in Germany, Antje soon learned that most of the time, things don’t happen the way you would expect them to in India. “The secret for India is to take into account a realistic amount of time for delays and discussions. Attitudes and values are different and you should never underestimate the bureaucratic hurdles.” But once you’ve engaged with the unfamiliar processes you will actually start to enjoy them. 'India allows you to experiment in many ways and that’s what I love about it.”


Be curious about everyone

“Don’t stay in the expat ‘bubble’ and only connect with people who moved recently to the city. Attend local fairs, gatherings, explore your neighbourhood. Be curious about everyone around you regardless of their age, economic status, or ethnic background.” Antje experienced that everyone has an interesting story and taking the initiative to hear as many stories as possible is the first step in building new circles.


Take time for yourself

While on the path of building her professional life, Pfahl often lost sight of herself. “I forgot to nurture my soul and my body far too many times. India is very hectic and your social calendar can quickly fill up so it’s important to sometimes take time off to reflect.” Through prioritising herself, she was able to draw forth new energy and actively enjoy the beauty of her new environment.

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