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Life of a Global Nomad: Lost & Found in translation

Global Digital Nomad

Born in 1987, my earliest memories are from the lush landscapes of Kerala, India, often referred to as “God’s Own Country.” Those first seven years in Kottayam and Cochin shaped my early experiences as a non-Malayalam-speaking child, leading me to develop English fluency at a young age. This helped me in my global digital nomad journey.

While my birthplace, Bangalore (India’s Tech Capital), is known for its tech talent, Kerala seems to nurture a different kind of expertise. Many prominent English-speaking economists hail from this region, including Gita Gopinath and even Aathira, my former colleague and boss at the Dubai International Financial Center.

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A Life on the Move:

My childhood journey continued from Kerala to Hyderabad, Delhi, Dubai, and even Milan, Italy. Each location provided unique experiences and perspectives. This nomadic upbringing ultimately made Dubai, a vibrant city teeming with expats, feel surprisingly familiar. Here, everyone has a story, and I’m excited to share mine, starting from my earliest recollections. it might provide food for thought to other wannabe digital nomads.

Early Explorations in “God’s Own Country”: A Childhood in Kerala

My earliest memories are steeped in the lush beauty of Kerala, India, aptly nicknamed “God’s Own Country.” While school presented a playful challenge – navigating compulsory Malayalam while excelling in English and Math – I embraced the opportunity to delve deeper into the local culture. Kerala is also known as the “land of spices” because it is the largest producer of pepper in India.

Embracing a New Language:

To bridge the language gap, I embarked on a daily two-hour Malayalam tuition adventure at a neighbor’s house, a popular spot for local students. This meant sacrificing precious playtime and television, but it became my first step toward understanding the vibrant local culture.

Living in Two Worlds:

Life within our well-integrated national housing colony in Cochin revolved around English and Hindi, offering a familiar comfort zone. However, venturing out for Malayalam lessons in a different part of the vast government quarters exposed me to a new world. Here, amidst apartments buzzing with local life, I made many friends and built a newfound confidence.

Farewell to Appam & Hello to Biryani:

These cherished experiences enriched my childhood, laying the foundation for future cultural understanding. As bittersweet goodbyes approached, I swapped the delicious appam and egg curries for the aromatic Hyderabadi biryani of my next destination.

From Language Barrier to Prize Winner: My Nomadic Childhood in Kerala

Growing up in Kerala, a state renowned for its high literacy rate, I initially struggled with Malayalam, the local language. While my classmates mastered it effortlessly, I fumbled with basic communication. Determined to improve, I embarked on a daily two-hour journey beyond my English-speaking social circle.

Embracing a New World:

This adventure led me to the Tuition Lady’s house, a local hub for students of all ages. Here, I found myself surrounded by young children and teenagers, all diligently pursuing academic success. Unlike them, I was there solely for Malayalam. It was a sacrifice: two hours carved out of my playtime, dedicated to mastering a new language and culture.

The Power of Hard Work:

While my friends were surprised by my improving Malayalam grades (despite my limited spoken fluency), they didn’t see the extra effort behind the scenes. My father, a strong believer in hard work, encouraged me in my pursuit. It wasn’t easy – nobody relishes extra classes after school. But I understood the importance of dedication.

Beyond Language:

These formative years in Kerala were filled with more than academic challenges. The bounty of fresh fish, the delicious appam and egg curry, and the thrill of swimming classes painted my childhood with vibrant colors. I explored the bustling port, kayaked through the serene backwaters of Alleppey, and even interacted with majestic elephants in Thekkady.

A Strong Foundation:

Surrounded by friends passionate about English and self-improvement, I thrived in my academic environment. At Chinmaya Vidyalaya, my brother and I collaborated on a winning science project. Our magnetic needle compass, a testament to our learning, secured the coveted first prize.

Farewells and New Beginnings:

After conquering Malayalam, improving my grades, learning to swim, winning the science competition, and forging lasting friendships, my family relocated to Hyderabad for my father’s job. While bittersweet, this experience in Kerala laid a strong foundation for my academic journey and instilled in me the value of dedication, cultural immersion, and the power of hard work.

Hyderabad: A Bustling New Chapter

Hyderabad, the “City of Pearls,” offered a vibrant contrast to my idyllic life in Kerala. Biryani became my new culinary obsession, and everywhere I looked, engineers seemed to be the rockstars of this bustling metropolis.

A Teacher Who Sparked a Flame:

The initial transition to Bhawans Hyderabad in 5th grade was daunting. However, my worries were quickly dispelled by our phenomenal class teacher. Her dedication and passion for learning reminded me of characters like Dumbledore, a wise and inspiring mentor (perhaps J.K. Rowling had met her in a past life?). A great teacher, as I believe, does not simply impart knowledge but ignites a lifelong love for learning, and this remarkable teacher did just that.

Balancing Act of a Nomad Child:

Life in Hyderabad pulsated with a different energy. The sheer abundance of delicious food was a constant temptation. Our housing colony dwarfed the one in Kerala, offering a vast playground for exploration. However, the allure of the digital world proved irresistible. My carefully cultivated study habits were challenged by the arrival of a second-hand home computer, leading to late nights spent navigating computer games. Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon also vied for my attention while I juggled various sports – tennis, cricket, table tennis, and gym – all available within our lively community in Road No. 12, Banjara Hills.

Hyderabad: A City of Contrasts and Connections

Hyderabad unfolded like a story with multiple chapters. The historic core, once ruled by the Nizams, stood in stark contrast to the British cantonment area of Secunderabad, separated by the shimmering Hussain Sagar lake. This city, once home to the world’s richest man, now nurtured a new breed of leaders – tech CEOs shaping the future in Cyberabad, the city’s designated IT hub.

Embracing the Digital Age:

By the age of 12, two years after our move to Hyderabad, I finally joined the digital world. Looking back, it took a surprisingly long 16 years to build my own website! But as they say, some ideas take time to blossom.

Hyderabad: A Cultural Melting Pot:

Hyderabad offered a unique cultural experience. My Hindi language skills flourished with native teachers, and I quickly developed a close circle of friends. The iconic Walden Bookstore became a monthly ritual, where I devoured stories about English countryside adventures, inspired by the Famous Five series.

Learning from Many Sources:

The well-stocked school library complemented my home library’s World Book Encyclopedia collection, fueling my insatiable curiosity. Within a few years, I found myself leading over 350 students as a house prefect, guiding them to victory in inter-school competitions.

Leadership Lessons:

My leadership style wasn’t about currying favor. Like Manmohan Singh, I believed in quiet efficiency and getting things done with minimal disruption. Given the chance today, I might adopt a more assertive approach like Narendra Modi, but ultimately, I’m drawn to the innovative spirit of Arvind Kejriwal.

Hyderabad’s Allure for the Global Nomad:

Living in Hyderabad exposes you to a vibrant mix of American influences and Nizami heritage. This is a city where tech giants like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon all have a presence. Hyderabad, with its complexities and undeniable charm, continues to surprise and delight those who give it a chance.

Hyderabad: A City Steeped in History and Flavors

A vibrant cultural melting pot, Hyderabad is home to Telugu people from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The aroma of delicious food fills the air, wafting from bustling street vendors to the grand kitchens of the old city. The city’s affluent residents often converse in a unique blend of Hyderabadi Hindi, Urdu, and Telugu, sprinkled with English. This fascinating language mix reflects the city’s rich tapestry of influences.

Echoes of a Bygone Era:

The legacy of the Nizams, once the world’s wealthiest rulers, lives on in the city’s architecture and traditions. Their love for exquisite living continues to inspire some residents, who enjoy a life of affordable luxury, from housing to food and services.

A City of Gems and Lights:

Hyderabad boasts the stunning Hussain Sagar Lake, a shimmering jewel adorned with a majestic Buddha statue. The illuminated necklace of lights along the lakefront adds to the city’s dazzling charm. No visit to the “City of Pearls” is complete without experiencing the vibrant jewelry markets of the old city. For a truly unique souvenir, consider getting a custom-made piece.

Balancing Studies and the City’s Delights:

As a nomad child in Hyderabad, I faced a unique challenge: balancing the academic pressure of competitive exams with the city’s many attractions. Like many students, I found myself caught in a demanding “rat race.” However, movies like Karate Kid and Rocky instilled in me the determination to persevere.

The Coaching Center Maze:

Class 10 marked the beginning of a complex educational journey. Weekend classes at Evans Coaching Center provided a foundation in math, physics, and chemistry, preparing me for the entrance exam to Ramiah Coaching. This prestigious institute promised a two-year intensive program geared towards the highly competitive IIT JEE entrance exam.

The Legacy of Rigorous Education:

The rigorous program at Ramiah was undoubtedly beneficial. It instilled discipline and the dedication required to wake up at 3:30 am for a 4:30 am class. However, I often yearned for a more self-paced learning style, with less emphasis on in-person lectures and more flexibility. While video lessons might offer a solution, dedication remains a crucial factor for success.

Ramiah’s impact extended beyond academics. It instilled discipline, but perhaps at the expense of developing a well-rounded personality. The true value of this demanding system would only become clear upon reaching IIT Delhi.

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New Delhi: A Nomad Finds His Footing in the Capital

New Delhi beckoned with the promise of academic pursuits, increased independence, and a taste of North Indian life. The sprawling IIT Delhi campus became my new home, a haven of greenery, sports fields, and budget-friendly cafes. Beyond the campus, Delhi unfurled its vibrant shopping scene. From bustling markets like Saket and Connaught Place to the modern malls of Gurgaon and Dwarka, Delhi offered endless exploration opportunities, especially with the newly built metro lines making far-flung corners more accessible. Borrowed motorbikes became our trusty steeds, allowing us to delve deeper into the city’s majestic heart.

Embracing New Flavors:

While the initial absence of Hyderabadi cuisine was a pang, I soon discovered the joys of North Indian fare. Butter chicken with naan became a staple, and spicy paneer dishes with fresh onions added a welcome kick. The camaraderie with my friends, many of whom were vegetarian, led to countless explorations of vegetarian delights.

Building a Support System:

Life at IIT Delhi was a journey of self-discovery and friendship. We formed close-knit groups, relying on each other for support and companionship. Back then, the metro was less crowded, making city exploration a breeze. The internet was still in its nascent stages, dial-up connections painstakingly slow. Acquiring new laptops felt like a technological leap, though browsing speeds were a far cry from today’s instant gratification. University life without constant internet access seems almost quaint now!

The Dawning of the Digital Age:

When internet bandwidth finally expanded in my final years, Orkut, Facebook, and Gtalk became the new frontiers of social connection. Living as a self-sufficient gang, navigating the challenges and freedoms of independence, was a formative experience that undoubtedly instilled resilience.

From Stranger to Local:

As with any city you call home for four years, Delhi gradually seeped into my soul. I began to understand and appreciate the local culture, just like my later experience in Milan, where I eventually conducted sales in Italian after five years of immersion. By the time I left Delhi, the city had transformed from a new experience to a place filled with cherished memories. Frequenting the Italian embassy while crashing with friends at IIT Delhi, I savored the bittersweetness of my final days in this city that had become a familiar haven for the global nomad within me.

A Brush with Crime in Delhi

Delhi’s reputation for petty theft preceded me. Unfortunately, I learned this firsthand when my expensive mobile phone was stolen. Determined to recover it, I joined my friend whose wallet had also been taken. Together, we embarked on a detective adventure.

Following the Trail:

A crucial piece of evidence emerged: CCTV footage from a nearby music store capturing the thief using my friend’s stolen credit card. The store owner generously provided the footage and the thief’s phone number gleaned from the transaction. Although the video wasn’t clear enough for facial recognition, we decided to confront the suspect we spotted on campus a month later.

A Stroke of Luck:

Hesitant to accuse him solely based on the grainy video, we were about to give up when I requested his phone number “to discuss later.” As he recited the digits, I compared them to the number from the shop receipt. A single digit difference – that was all it took. Suddenly, doubt turned into certainty.

Justice Served:

This revelation, like an epiphany from a crime drama, confirmed our suspicions. We promptly reported him to the authorities. While the outcome wasn’t pleasant for the young thief, it underscored the importance of perseverance.

Beyond the Incident:

Despite this experience, Delhi offered me a wealth of positive experiences. I formed strong friendships with fellow students from various regions, and the city’s diverse culinary scene delighted my palate. Just like missing Kerala’s cuisine in Hyderabad, Delhi’s unique flavors left a lasting impression.

Dubai: A Glittering Interlude

Dubai, the “City of Dreams,” lived up to its name during my three-month winter internship. After a year in Milan, Dubai felt like a luxurious oasis. Living in the heart of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) during the day and exploring the city like a “Sheik” by night made for a truly unforgettable experience.

A Culinary Paradise:

Dubai’s food scene was a delightful fusion of familiar and exotic flavors. From Kerala and Hyderabadi specialties to North Indian favorites, there was something to satisfy every craving. The city also offered a vast array of global cuisine, ensuring there was always something new to discover. Beyond the abundance of restaurants, the convenience of cheap food delivery options along Sheikh Zayed Road made every meal a breeze.

Living Large in a City of Excess:

High-rise buildings with rooftop gyms and swimming pools were a common sight in Dubai, reflecting the city’s focus on luxury living. Shopping malls provided endless entertainment, with food courts offering everything from Mexican tacos and Norwegian fish to Iranian and Filipino delicacies. For those seeking a more upscale experience, steakhouses were a popular option, although vegetarian and pescatarian options were plentiful as well.

Exploring the City:

While alcohol wasn’t readily available in supermarkets, a vibrant nightlife scene existed within high-end hotels. Dubai’s dance bars offered a unique blend of culture and entertainment. Taxis were a convenient and affordable way to navigate the city, often leading to interesting conversations with local drivers. One memorable encounter involved an Indian FX trader who, after experiencing financial setbacks in Switzerland, found himself rebuilding his life as a Dubai taxi driver. This chance encounter highlights the transient nature of Dubai’s population, where everyone seems to have a unique story to tell.

A Global Hub with an Indian Heart:

Many Indians find Dubai appealing, seeing it as a glimpse into the potential future of their own cities. The prevalence of English and the diverse demographics create a welcoming environment for expats. Gyms, a common social space, provided opportunities to connect with friendly locals and fellow expats.

A City of Contradictions:

Despite its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Dubai can feel oddly familiar to Indians. The high male-to-female ratio and focus on work and leisure mirrored aspects of Indian life. However, the ease of earning and meeting new people made Dubai an attractive proposition for many Indians. The city’s focus on luxury and consumerism contrasted sharply with the entrepreneurial spirit I craved and would later rediscover in Italy.

Dubai: A Stepping Stone on My Global Journey:

While Dubai offered a fantastic opportunity to earn, save, and enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, it wasn’t the place to cultivate a deep understanding of local culture and language. The constant lure of after-work activities further limited my ability to connect with the Emirati way of life. Dubai provided a memorable chapter in my nomadic journey, one that fueled my desire to return to Italy, the land of artistic and entrepreneurial inspiration, to complete my studies and embark on a new career adventure.

Milan: From Dolce Vita to Career Gladiator

Milan captivated me from the start. The city exuded a genuine European charm, a stark contrast to my previous experiences. While initial interactions seemed steeped in politeness, I later learned that cultural nuances shaped communication styles. However, the camaraderie of friends ensured a positive and exciting first semester.

University Life: A Springboard for Exploration

University life in Milan was a whirlwind of academic pursuits, social connections, and self-discovery. My understanding of business deepened dramatically, and mock interviews prepared me for the real-world job market. The summer break presented the perfect opportunity for an unforgettable backpacking trip to Salento, a testament to the incredible travel opportunities Milan offered.

From Student to Working Expat:

Graduation marked a pivotal point. The carefree student life transitioned into a career-driven existence. My priorities shifted from maximizing travel experiences to financial stability and professional growth. Milan’s central location in Europe offered endless travel possibilities, as evidenced by my flatmate’s spontaneous trip to Romania for a mere 5 euros.

Building a Life Abroad:

With my initial work experience in Dubai under my belt, I tackled the Italian job market. While language proficiency was an initial hurdle, I persevered and thrived. There were inevitable ups and downs, but the unwavering support from family, friends, and a special someone (“from the land of baguettes”) kept me motivated.

A Global Nomad’s Journey Continues:

My nomadic experiences instilled the adaptability that facilitated seamless transitions to new environments. While I strive to become fluent in German to connect with my brother and French to converse with my girlfriend, the prospect of another grand adventure excites me. With each new language I learn, the world feels a little smaller and the possibilities even vaster. Stay tuned for the next chapter in the life of a global nomad!

Conclusion: Reflections on My Nomadic Journey

My journey as a global nomad has been a tapestry woven with diverse experiences, from the beaches and backwaters of Kerala, to the bustling streets of Hyderabad, the historical grandeur of Delhi, the luxurious allure of Dubai, and the culturally rich haven of Milan. Each city presented unique challenges and opportunities, shaping me into the adaptable and resilient person I am today.

Embracing new cultures, navigating unfamiliar languages, and forging deep friendships with people from all walks of life have been the hallmarks of my nomadic adventure. The lessons learned and the connections made will forever be a part of me.

As I look towards the horizon, I’m filled with excitement for the next chapter. With each new language I conquer and every cultural barrier I bridge, the world feels a little smaller and the possibilities even greater. Stay tuned for the next adventure of a global nomad in the making!

Hi, I’m Vineeth Naik

Liberal part time Blogger and full time Researcher with a broad range of experience, professionally and personally in Austria, Italy, UAE & India. Loves Finance, Business & Technology. Cares about society.

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