Settling in a new country, getting adjusted to its different ways of life and building a social life from scratch is as daunting as it is exciting. I first moved abroad in 2010 and made some lovely friends from all over the world. Still, I longed to have Indian friends just to have a sense of familiarity in an unknown country.
Fast forward to 2015. I have discovered Facebook groups targeted at migrant Indian women living in the UK that allow womenfolk from different walks and stages of life to connect with each other and seek advice on everyday matters.
Indian Women in London, a closed group on Facebook with more than 3000 members, is one such platform where discussions range from the best place to find a specific Indian grocery item in a London suburb to more serious domestic issues such as finding help with childcare. Picture this. You have recently moved to London and are keen to find out if anyone from your home town lives in your local area. Unfortunately, Google can't help in this case. On the Indian Women in London group, however, you are likely to meet someone from at least your region if not town.
"These groups have gone beyond providing a platform to find Indian friends to providing solutions and fixes to expat life issues."
Deepti Belwal, the founder of Indian Women in London and a mother of two young children, formed the group last year. "I could closely relate to those isolated women who migrate from their homeland, sacrificing every wish of theirs for the sake of their husband's career. The realisation that I sacrificed my social life to an extent and had no friends when I needed them drove me to create this group," Belwal said.
Sharing similar interests, many have extended their friendships offline by regularly meeting for Bollywood-themed dance parties or for cultural events such as learning to drape the sari in different ways. Members also help each other send small things for family in India or bring items from there. This sets the group apart from popular online forums where discussions largely remain virtual.
A different group targeting Indian mothers, named Indian Mums in UK, has emerged as the one-stop online destination for parenting queries for more than 3500 women. Traditional home remedies for children's illnesses, travel and vaccination advice before visiting India or experiences of raising kids in a multicultural environment are all regularly discussed on this forum.
We were looking for a primary school for our daughter and my husband spent hours switching between rankings, browsing school websites and reading online reviews. I, on the other hand, simply browsed through the Indian Mums in UK group where this topic has been discussed several times. An hour later, I could compile a more relevant list of decent primary schools in and around my area, recommended personally by other mothers.
These groups also provide opportunities for migrant entrepreneurs to reach out to a relevant demographic and develop friendships along the way. "I wanted to help fellow mums through the journey of motherhood, sharing our experiences and also to provide mum entrepreneurs a platform for their business," says Mini Yadav, the founder of Indian Mums in UK.
These groups have gone beyond providing a platform to find Indian friends to providing solutions and fixes to expat life issues.
To my mind, these groups are the digital avatars of local mohallas where women can freely share their migrant experiences, thereby empowering each other.