Living Abroad in India and Studying Buddhism: Meet Klara!
12 min read Along with providing online therapy to individuals around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this…
12 min read
Along with providing online therapy to individuals around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global citizens throughout the world who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe or are transitioning to life back at home.
This week´s interview features Klara who is currently living abroad in India. Originally from the Czech Republic, Klara lived in Italy, France, and New Zealand before she went to Ladakh, India, as an ESL volunteer teacher. Three years ago she relocated to Dharamshala where she’s still living at the foot of the Himalayas (with her two adopted street dogs). She’s currently studying Buddhism and Tibetan language. To support herself financially, she has been working as an online English teacher and blogger.
When was the first time you left your home country and what was your life like before that?
I’ve always wanted to live abroad. When I was 11, I told my mom that one day I’d live in the US (as English was my favorite subject in school). I started playing volleyball at the age of 15 and I even made it on the national team. I was offered scholarships for various colleges in the US, but… instead I made the biggest decision of my life, quit playing volleyball and took a year off to figure out what I actually wanted to do in my life (I was 19). I started traveling a bit (South Africa was the farthest place I had visited back then). A year later I started teaching English in the Czech Republic. I moved to Italy to work as a model for some months but that wasn’t my cup of tea at all (I lived in an apartment with other models so I didn’t really have to worry about accommodation, bills or anything. That’s why I don’t really consider this experience as “leaving my country¨). I came back and continued teaching for a year. Meanwhile, I got my TEFL as well as translation diploma. I decided to move with my boyfriend that I had back then to France. We bought a car, packed our stuff (and our tortoise J ) and left for Nantes. That would be the first time I truly left my country.
What motivated you to leave your home?
We left because we wanted some adventure and challenge. I wanted to improve my French. My boyfriend had lived in Corsica before and he really missed the French culture, food, and language. We chose France because we already knew many people there; one family invited us over to their house close to Nantes to help us out with our new beginning. We stayed with them for about a month. During that period we found our own apartment, jobs, etc.
After nearly three years, we needed a change (meanwhile I graduated from college in Rennes – I got my bachelor´s degree in English civilizations and literature). We also had a strong desire to travel. We were lucky and got working holiday visas for New Zealand. We truly had a backpacker’s life there – we lived in a van, worked at random farms when we needed some money… Actually, to be honest, I had the best time of my life in stunning New Zealand – having such freedom and minimal possessions made me truly happy.
Initially, our plan was to settle down in NZ, but once we got there, we decided not to. Even though the Kiwis are amazing people with huge hearts, we didn’t really see ourselves settling down there. We went on a trip around SE Asia before my boyfriend left for Canada and I for India. I was supposed to volunteer for a month in the Himalayas but I got so inspired and was touched by the locals and HH the Dalai Lama who gave over 100,000 people (including me) the Kalachakra empowerment that I decided to relocate to Dharamshala and seriously study Buddhism and Tibetan language (my boyfriend and I unfortunately had to break up because of the distance).
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country? How do you overcome these difficulties?
Each country I lived in has been different; hence the difficulties were different, too. In France, even though I spoke French fluently, people tended to make me repeat things many times and pretended that they didn’t understand (also, I only had this problem only in the western part of France, never in Paris, for example). It was annoying and made me feel like I was less than them just because I wasn’t born French.
However, the biggest challenge for me – so far – is my life in India. First of all, it’s a Third World country; people are very poor, the facilities are nowhere near those we are used to in Europe, frequent power cuts don’t allow you to work properly online… To put it in a nutshell, you can’t rely on anything or anyone in the country which is very frustrating. The Indians lie all the time about when something will be done or when they can come fix things at your place. Lying is simply a part of their culture. I live in an area with many Westerners and we all feel the same way – it’s extremely challenging and disturbing for our mental health to feel insecure all the time. We get annoyed or angry a lot here because, for example, your landlord tells you out of the blue to move out. Since there are no contracts or anything, you just have to go through a lot of hassle – finding a new place, packing all your stuff, finding a truck and coolies who would transport your things…(it’s happened to me twice already). Everyone tries to suck money out of you because they think that being a Westerner equals a rich person. Count in all the heat, chaos, traffic and if you don’t adapt, you’ll soon become a nut case. Meditation helps a lot but not entirely.
To overcome the difficulties – let go off of whatever you’re used to. Try to accept other culture, the way that people think and behave. If you keep being stubborn and expect others to start thinking “the western way”, than you might as well go back where you came from. One will never be happy if he or she rigidly clings to own ideas about the world. Assimilate, adapt, let go off whatever you’re used to and you will learn a lot (and feel happy).
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
Getting to know new cultures and people. It’s fascinating to see how people from foreign countries think, how different their values and priorities are from yours, and how much you can learn from them! I also like to try new food, step out of my comfort zone, overcome my fears, and be a better person with every new step on my journey.
When living abroad, one has to assimilate and adapt otherwise you might as well come back to your mommy… Traveling solo, backpacking with a bunch of strangers, or trying to settle down in a foreign country definitely shapes your character: one becomes more open-minded, thoughtful, friendly, and even compassionate.
What have you experienced abroad that you want everyone to know about?
Europeans are not very generous. We work hard, we earn some money, and we want to enjoy the money. We always think that we don’t have enough and that’s why we hesitate to share. Nevertheless, during my travels in Asia, I was invited by the poorest of the poorest to their homes, offered the most delicious food they had been keeping for very special occasions (not that I am any special but they just wanted to make me happy) and so we sat on the ground, smiled at each other and enjoyed the feast. I’ve seen Asians give their possessions to strangers just because they needed them more. These acts always touch my heart and I wish we – Westerners – were more generous, too.
Also, I must admit, I was absolutely blown away by the mentality of people in New Zealand. They are kind, extremely helpful, even give you their home so that you have a place to sleep. They take a day off in order to show you around… On the South Island, many farms have their stalls/shops along the road. Sometimes, there are no shop keepers. All the produce has a price tag on and you’re supposed to throw money in an honesty box placed on the counter when you purchase something! There’s also some change for you in case you don’t have the exact amount! No one I talked with would even think about not paying or even stealing money from there! I wish that kind of pure-hearted people were seen more in the Western world.
I always feel extremely blessed when I meet with HH the Dalai Lama. That’s one of the perks of living in Dharamshala. He’s such a wonderful person that it makes you cry. Last time we spoke he shook my hand and told me that he and one of our former presidents, Mr. Václav Havel, were good friends. We took a picture, too.
What has living outside of your home country taught you about life, romantic relationships, or professional ambitions?
Life – no matter how hard you plan it out, it’ll never turn out the way you want it to be. So just accept it and everything will be perfect.
Relationships – if someone really wants to get to know their partner, start traveling together. The more challenging situations a couple gets into, the more of one’s character will be shown. It may sound like a real acid test but if you’re planning on spending the rest of your life with someone, you’d better know the person well.
Professional ambitions – my family thinks I’m a bit crazy and they still don’t understand why the heck I chose filthy stinky India to live in. Sometimes, I ask myself the same thing 😀 But the truth is that if I don’t let the problems of India get to me, I am very happy here – people are extremely nice, there’s no hassle or stress, you have plenty of time to pursue what you like, and if you can have western payroll, you don’t have to work more than 2 hours per day – you can have a very decent life here and even save a lot of money for future travels! I like my life to be simple, I’m tired of the way the society is headed nowadays – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… no one really interacts anymore, people get fatter and spend more time working than enjoying the time with their families and friends. We all think that we will do things ONE DAY, we all think that we’re impermanent but that’s not true. I am reminded of these things every single day here in India and I live my life accordingly.
What are 3 things on your bucket list? These can be travel destinations, career ambitions, etc.
- Walk across South America
- Publish a cookbook
- Be able to help people as much as I can
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
If someone thinks about traveling and relocating and feel excited about it, then they should stop hesitating, pick a destination and just do it!
But don’t get me wrong, it is very important to do your research first, too. Not every country is safe, not every place is accessible all year round. You might need a visa or special permits in order to get to certain places.
However, if you do know all these things already and the only thing that stops you is your fear then try to overcome it! Life is too short to keep dreaming and not doing things. If you’re afraid to travel alone, find a friend to share the journey with! There are so many groups on social media where you can find travel buddies. And if you don’t find anyone, don’t worry – you will meet tons of solo travelers on the road! Have some gumption! The time will never be right so make a firm decision, take a leap and the life will truly surprise you and show you some sides you will marvel at. It´s absolutely worth it.
Do you have a favorite quote you´d like to share with us?
¨Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.¨HH the Dalai Lama
When are you planning on going back “home”?
Believe it or not, but my home is in India. I’m renting a house, I have adopted two stray dogs, I have friends here… Home does not necessarily have to refer to your hometown where your family usually lives. Home can be anywhere where you feel comfortable.
Do you ever feel alone?
Oh, this Western way of thinking… You’re single so you must be unhappy! What a piece of …. Look how many people are in couple and they’re so miserable! First, one needs to find a way how to be happy on their own. If you can’t spend a day alone with yourself and you need distractions in a form of other people then you’re a coward and you’re afraid of discovering who you really are. If you’re not honest to yourself, how can you be honest with your partner and have a nice healthy relationship?
Also, there’s no such a thing that we need a partner (or a baby) in order to feel complete. Yes, it is easier to have someone by your side but that person is not essential. Life has taught me that there is nothing I couldn’t do on my own – if that applies to me, a normal girl who’s been trying to figure out who she is – then it has to apply to everyone.
Is it easy to make friends when you travel or when settling down in a new place?
Yes. I smile a lot at people and I really mean it. I’m genuinely friendly and a happy person (even though there are many things I could be miserable about) and other people can feel it. Life is short so why should I waste my time by being grumpy? I always try to think in this way – if you were looking for a friend, what qualities would you like him/her to have? And then I try to generate these qualities in me. Also, I wouldn’t do anything to anyone that I wouldn’t like myself.
And if someone doesn’t like me? Well, too bad, we can’t make everyone like us! 😀
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
I would tell myself to be more present in each moment. Sometimes I get carried away and think about the destinations that I will visit in the (near) future that I forget to enjoy the present! Those moments will never come back…
What do you hope people say about you on your 70th birthday?
I would be happy if people remembered me as a person who always had a smile on her face, who never got discouraged, fought hard for what she wanted, was kind and tried to help other people as much as she could and somehow inspired others at least a bit.
Thank you so much Klara for giving us a glimpse of your past travel adventures and your current ones living abroad in India. I´m sure your story will provide many readers with inspiration to move abroad themselves! If you’d like to learn more about Klara and her adventures, you can check out her blog, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. I know I´ll be following along to see what stories and words of wisdom you have to share!
If you’re living outside of your home country or are an avid traveler and want to be featured in a future interview, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
About the author of Intentional Expat: Melissa Parks moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid in 2009 to spend what was supposed to be just a year abroad working as an English teacher. Over 7 years later she’s still in Europe and recently relocated to Amsterdam. She currently works as a psychologist providing online therapy for people living outside of their home country and her favorite hobbies include travel, meditation, yoga, SUP, dance, and writing.