After more than a decade living in the USA, I returned home – to India – in June 2017. When my husband and I migrated in 2006, our intention was to experience a different country, travel a bit and return back home within a couple of years. Prior to that, we’d traveled intermittently to different parts of the world, for work and leisure, so we took the opportunity to live in America with enthusiasm and excitement, as young people often do.
Obviously, living in another country has its challenges as well as its charms. We all know about the great American dream. For more than 10 years, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of life in America. We were blessed with two children during the course of this journey. We traveled, had great friends, ate cuisines from all over the world, enjoyed mortal comforts and drove amazing cars. Yet, my(our) mind was never at ease. While this blog enumerates my reasons for returning home, in no way does it diminish the fact that we loved living in the USA.
If you are reading this blog and you’ve considered returning home more than once, you will understand what I am about to describe. If you are content living in America and cannot fathom why someone would return home, this blog will only add to your consternation. So proceed as you wish, but bear in mind, these are my opinions and they may not always concur with yours.
After the birth of our second child, I began what I like to call, ‘our -first-draft-discussions about R2I’. Perhaps the birth of my children drove home the point that there is nothing more important than family. Although we visited our parents annually and our parents made the occasional trip to the West, the time spent apart weighed heavily on my mind. As my love for my boys grew exponentially with each passing day, I began to realize the true meaning of parental love. Obviously, my love for my children is a mirror image of my parents’ love for me. The more I began to realize this, the stronger my sense of separation became.
Initially, we began deliberating about applying for our parents’ Green Cards. However, we knew in our hearts that it would be unfair to uproot our aging parents, from a lifetime of memories and relationships. I’d seen first hand how restless my father became within a few weeks of his visit to the US. The lack of independence, inability to drive, inability to walk to stores and do their daily chores, minimal social interactions and non-tropical weather, added to his (and my mom’s) sense of captivity. Obviously, forcing our parents to move would be selfish and impractical. In an ideal world, we’d continue living in America surrounded by our entire family, not bound by travel restrictions like visa and citizenship or by other constraints like medical insurance. Since that was not to be, the only logical choice was to return home to them.
While parents are the primary driving force for our return home, there are a few aspects that I did not enjoy. These may or may not affect other people living in America, but they certainly stand out as exceptions to my overall positive experience of life in the USA.
- Cookie cutter lives – Everyone who migrates to the US has a similar dream. After the initial few years, I realized many of our friends (like us) led the same systematic lives, week after week, year after year; weekends spent doing repetitive chores and shopping at identical stores, quarterly visits to outlet malls during major holidays and sales, pot-luck parties over weekends where conversations mostly hovered around politics and the India vs America divide, similar looking homes and almost identical vacations. The inevitability and monotony of it, began chafing after a while.
- Dinner Parties and Potluck – First and foremost, meeting friends has to be planned weeks in advance which takes the joy out of an impromptu gathering. In India, simple meals are accepted as the norm (unless you’ve invited your boss to dinner) and the quintessential camaraderie is considered more important than the food served. My US experience is completely different. Almost every hostess has to outdo herself at every party. There are more dishes than guests and the harried hosts look visibly stressed. Invariably, food is left over, which is packed in little take-away boxes for the guests to take home. I realized I was neither keen to cook up a storm, nor to accept invites from folks who’d expect me to cook in return. Subsequently, I only accepted and hosted potluck parties and pretty soon, the invitations fizzled out. A great way to filter friends through food!
- Perfect homes: We lived in a two bed-room town home which wasn’t large by American standards, but it served our purpose and ensured we weren’t constantly tripping over each other. With two young ones under the age of two and a husband who traveled constantly for work, it took every ounce of my energy to keep the house in order. Dinner parties were especially excruciating because of the endless hours of prep to ensure the house looked more like a museum than a home. Almost every couple I know hates the prep involved before a party, but seems to endure the torture never the less. Censure is also swift and pervasive if the home does not meet ‘good housekeeping’ standards on any given day! I also failed to understand why a family of four would need a house large enough to accommodate at least 10 families.
- The myth about perfect lives: Consider the fact that there is no outside help and we have to manage careers, homes and kids on our own, while also maintaining perfect figures and coiffed hairdo’s, I think its easy to say, ‘everything that glitters is not gold’. I have seen husbands and wives constantly argue about the division of labor at home, the helplessness during weekends when piled up chores leave little time for anything else and the incessant need to keep ahead and abreast of our schedules. Without parents and extended families to lean on for support and guidance, we hire nannies and baby-sitters, have to make explicit date-night plans to spend time with our own spouses and schedule quality time with kids on a regular basis.
- Children: While I don’t mean to generalize, I do believe that we try to live vicariously through our children. We compel them to aspire to constant excellence, take AP courses and berate them if they do not make it to the gifted and talented program. We extol them to perform well at school, push them to join as many extra-curricular activities as there are hours in a day and constantly vocalize the need to get into good colleges. Apart from that, we vigorously pursue every cultural event and hold onto our ‘Indian Ethos’ through Diwali parties, community get-together’s etc. Born as Americans, raised as Indians and exhorted as individuals, our children learn to code before they can decipher right from wrong. Theirs is a constant battle to keep parents happy while integrating with the greater American system. Bonding with grandparents is restricted to three-week visits to India and weekly Skype calls. Call me old fashioned, but I do want my children to understand that families have every right to be involved in each other’s lives. The concept of ‘personal space’ is good as long as it is restricted to acquaintances and professional friends.
- Access to Excess: Dining out, clothes and other extravagances are comparatively cheaper in the US than in other parts of the world. Our initial euphoria about shopping and eating out lasted merely a year or so. There is something to be said about buying new clothes for a wedding or during Diwali, as we did growing up. The joy in awaiting a special occasion is only heightened by the goodies that accompany the event. In the USA, we realized soon enough that easy access to every comfort does not necessarily mean we derive pleasure from it. I also observed how easily my boys would discard or replace toys and hobbies. I purchased more clothes than necessary, bought and (sometimes) wasted food in bulk, and succumbed to easy pleasures without a thought. While that may seem like a satisfactory position to achieve in life, I felt jaded and ostentatious.
- Middle-Age Regret: Countless times, older relatives and acquaintances who’d migrated and settled in America for a better part of their lives, have evinced regret about not returning to India when they had a chance. With children and grandchildren, all settled in the USA, they obviously have no choice, but many have professed remorse that they did not take care of their own parents, did not keep in touch with extended families and did not visit India often enough. Now, I am a firm believer that one should never look back in regret. I also believe it is easier to return to the US at any time and we may well do so, if our boys ever move back there as adults. The thought of growing old without family, waiting for our children to visit during Thanksgiving and Christmas is also quite a deterrent. Community set-up and support is much stronger in India than in America and I have experienced it first-hand on many occasions.
- Kids need the bigger picture: Each of my parents have multiple siblings so I grew up with a large number of aunts, uncles and 17 first cousins. Summer vacations were loud, noisy and memorable. Although I have only one sibling of my own, I am extremely close to my cousins and some of them are my closest confidantes. Since my children have only my husband and I to rely upon, their world revolves around us, at least for now. When they become adults and face life’s challenges, I hope they will have many people to lean on. Of course they have each other and us, but having extended family to depend upon, in times of difficulties or distress, is extremely important. As families shrink and become increasingly nuclear, children need to have more than just their parents as an anchor. Friends will come and go, but family is forever!
- Ability to Adapt: One of the greatest strengths that immigrants have is their ability to take risks and start life afresh in distant lands. There is a thirst, a desire to prove our mettle and be recognized for our skills and hard work. While most immigrants have straddled two worlds and understood the best and worst about them both, they have an innate strength that is derived from the presumption that opportunities are everywhere if one is willing to look for them. However, I have met many second generation immigrants as well as other Americans in my personal and professional capacity, who have explicitly refused to consider life/work opportunities away from America. Economies shift and so does the power balance in the world. No one can predict with certainty that jobs of the future will flow from the USA. I constantly tell my children, “Be aware and be prepared for whatever life throws at you.” My husband and I believe fervently, if you can survive and succeed in India, you can survive and succeed anywhere in the world.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list and is much smaller than the list of things that I loved about life in the USA. While we were deliberating moving back, I pored over countless blogs and articles written by people who’ve returned home. Some of them were discouraging but some content encouraged and helped us tremendously.
There is never a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision in matters involving the heart. The success of any decision depends on the driving force behind making a choice. Our desire to return for our parents has been our anchor and it has helped us wade through many uncertainties. I hope this blog helps someone make a better, informed choice.
I have been in India for more than six months and I’ve had many great experiences and a few not so enjoyable moments. For those considering a move to India, trust your instincts and do what’s best for you and your family. There are many reasons to consider returning home and just as many reasons that may compel you not to. While comparisons between the two places is inevitable, the sensible method is to consider your reasons to come home. Also consider which option will give you greater satisfaction over a prolonged period of time. I will write another post about my experiences after returning to India.
Do I miss my life in America? Sure I do. I’d be lying if I say otherwise. While America gave me the best, most productive decade of my life, I think my years in India will be more gratifying from a personal perspective.
“Life takes you unexpected places, love brings you home.”