The Overseas Residents' Club, Trivandrum, is a social networking group for expatriates who have made the city their home

They could be mistaken for any other bunch of tourists who've made a stopover in the city, having a good time dining out and nodding their heads to peppy Western music. But it's the ease with which they seem to meld with their surroundings and the smattering of Malayalam that they seem to know that give them away. We've just come across the monthly meeting of the Overseas Residents Club (ORC), Trivandrum, a social networking group of expatriates and Indians too who have made the city their home.

“ORC is a non-profit, social networking organisation whose main function is to provide the expatriates residing in the city with an enjoyable and varied social life, something that cannot always be found here in the city,” says Len Quilliam, a former banker from the United Kingdom who founded the club in October 2001 and who is now the life president of the club.

Starting a club

“When I came here 16 years ago, there were no social networking possibilities for expats in the city, despite there being quite a number of them living here. And if indeed there were any get-togethers, it was far too few and nothing whatsoever in an organised way. That's why I decided to start the club seven years ago,” adds Quilliam. According to him, he hung around the Spencers' supermarket at Statue for three weeks hoping to catch foreigners coming to the store to buy toilet rolls to join the club! “Only expats who are staying here permanently will buy toilet rolls by the dozen,” explains Quilliam with a laugh.

Even he was surprised at how quickly the club caught on among the expatriates. Currently there are about a 100 people of about 14 nationalities on the club's roster, ranging from retired people, most of whom who live in Kovalam, to young software engineers working in Technopark and even a college student. A few of them are ‘revolving members,' primarily engaged in business and thus here in the city only for a couple of years. The club members regularly meet on the last Saturday of every month, at one venue or the other in the city to “try and have a jolly good time.”

Chance to intermingle

However, the ORC is not only about socialising. “It's a proper no-profit club with a constitution, bylaws and a governing body. The club provides an opportunity for its members to mingle with one another and with the local community on a social level. It arranges trips for its members to explore Kerala and even holds raffles to raise money for charity,” says Gary Fear, who along with his wife, Jane, has been part of the club since 2004 and who is the present chairman of the club. In addition, the club also has a newsletter and a website and lends a helping hand to new arrivals by giving them all kinds of basic information regarding the city and helping them get in touch with real estate agents, lawyers, travel agents, discount shops and the like.

“As much as we all love living here, Kerala is not an easy society for Westerners to adjust to. There are correct modes of behaviour, dress codes and a myriad other similar things. Not only does the ORC provide a network of support, it also provides us with a means to escape back into our culture for a little while at least,” says Paulne Jarvis, an Australian, who has been here for five years.

ORC also has a sizeable number of locals – doctors, dentists, techies and so on – among its members. In fact, one of them – Rajiv Udayabhanu – is a founding member. “Local residents are the best possible sources of information for the expats. Besides, it's very important for us to interact with them so as to integrate with them and promote international understanding, goodwill, and peace through fellowship,” he says.

ORC also has an spin-off group called TGIF (an acronym for Thank God Its Friday), who meet up (no prizes for guessing) on Friday nights to socialise and have a drink. “That one is purely for fun to compensate for hanging out at the pub back home,” says Ian Childers, who works out of Technopark.