I immigrated to the United States in 2003, it was a life-changing decision for me and my family. There is a strong presence of Indian community in the USA. I meet many NRIs most of them work in science and technology field as I also work in the field of science. During most of the meetings, the subject whether to go back to India or settle in the US comes more than often. Many NRIs are in dilemma for a very long time about whether to settle in the USA or go back to India. A few days back I read an article on Quora about this subject. The article is a good attempt to tackle this subject. The author tried to offer his take on this subject based on opinions of people in his friend circle and his own experience. One thing which I found missing in the article is that the author didn't compare the data gathered in the US with the data of people in similar age groups who migrated back to India, this would have given some comparative picture. The article only presents one side of the story and draws conclusions based on only one set of data. What if people in the 21-28 age group are generally happy and enthusiastic towards their work and social life, what if people who are 50-and above are generally worried about their kids future and somewhat unhappy about their surroundings? If that's the case, then one cannot say that the feelings of NRIs are only due to the geographical location, but it could be also because of their age group, irrespective of where they live.
I want to share my own experience in this area. Maybe it will add something to this debate or help some NRIs to make up their mind to resolve their own dilemma. I immigrated to the USA with an intention to get some professional experience in the area of drug discovery and earn some money. Lack of access to sufficient money even for necessary things like education was a big hurdle for my family's economic progress. It was practically impossible for me to earn enough money by doing a job in my field in India and uplift my family's economic status. Moving to some other country was the most common path taken by many researchers back then to solve this money problem and this also helped to increase their job prospects if they return back to India, and that's what I did. My initial plan was to work in the US for 3-4 years and then go back to India and work in the area of drug discovery. As per my plan, I seriously considered moving back to India in 2007, but it didn't work out. There were two main reasons why I didn't move back. First, I didn't see any benefit in doing that, and second, I fell in love with this amazing country, the USA.
I met some incredible people in the US who introduced me to great working culture and plethora of opportunities available for everyone. I also met my mentor and a great human being, Dr. Devraj Singh during my initial stay in New Jersey and it was another turning point in my life. I not only found a very good mentor, but also a caring elder brother who advised me on various aspects of life and introduced me to some great books and encouraged me to take new challenges. I am eternally grateful to him for this. His guidance helped me to smoothly transition into the US life. I wish every immigrant meet with some mentor like him in this country who can introduce them to most of the good things this country has to offer to every immigrant. I also consider myself extremely lucky to work with some great people in my area of research, my all bosses in academia as well as in Industry are extremely talented and wonderful people. They all contributed something meaningful in my life and taught me something which helped me a lot to become a better person.
Apart from all these my personal experiences, my wife and kids got incredible opportunities which were impossible for them in India. This is especially true in my case due to my social and familial background. I understand that this may not be the case with everyone, but in my case, this was a huge plus factor for me. The kind of evolution I witnessed in my wife's personality and the way my kids enjoyed their schooling in the US education system made me love this country even more. So far my stay in the USA is an extremely enjoyable journey. As far as relatives in India are concerned, this is a big concern for most NRIs. This is one factor which makes most of NRIs to worry as they feel that the geographical separation and lack of their presence in India might affect and weaken most of their relations with their relatives in India. This concern is not unwarranted, this is a very genuine concern. I consider myself an introvert person, but even I also went through this worry. But for me, this geographical separation helped to strengthen my bond with my parents. I was born and brought up in a very conservative and patriarchal environment. There was no culture of having any meaningful conversations with parents. Parent-child relationship was very formal, there was a lot of fear (they label it as a respect), and gratitude because of all the hard work parents did. But, there was no frankness in that relationship. There used to be very minimal and only necessary conversation between parents and kids in the society where I grew-up. But now, I am in regular touch with my parents in India. I must mention that our relationship has become more strong and deeper than ever. I talk with them regularly on various subjects. Subjects ranging from women's rights (what we call feminism), politics, superstitions, casteism in India, many family issues, as well as their own personal issues. I don't know how much my moving to the US contributed in this, but this happened only in last 10-12 years. No matter how busy I am with my work or studies, I make it a point to find some time to call them or video chat with them multiple times in a week. This is a snapshot of my own story.
The subject of moving back to India is a big dilemma for many NRIs. It is regularly discussed in Indian gatherings and I also participated in many such discussions. My own observation is that people want to have all the comfort and advantages which the life in the US offers them, and at the same time, they also crave for so-called Indian culture and geographical proximity of their relatives. Many NRIs also believe that India today is the same India which they left several years back. They willfully ignore all the socio-economic changes India has gone through during all those years since they moved out of India. The main reason why many NRIs don't want to move back is the same laundry list of problems like corruption, lack of opportunities for their kids, pollution, lack of discipline in social and public life, and many other day to day hassles of life in India. They complain about these things as if these things originated only after they moved out and hence India has become inhabitable for them, so they can't go back even if they want to. This reasoning doesn't make any sense to me. All these problems were present more or less when each one of us left India for better opportunities, maybe the intensity of some of the problems might have increased or decreased over the years since we left, but these problems were still there when I was contemplating to move back to India, but they were not the deal breakers for me. So, I can't cite these as a reason for my decision not to move back to India. Another reason is many NRIs keep on worrying about the effect of the US culture on their kids without even understanding what is the US culture. The US is extremely successful today because of its culture, not in spite of it. The freedom, individual rights, protection of a law, and opportunities which it offers to every individual is not available in other parts of the world (definitely not in India). Calling the US culture materialistic and Indian culture spiritual is plain foolish, Indian society is as materialistic as the US society and there is nothing wrong with being materialistic. This unnecessary fear of invasion of the US culture adds unwarranted tension in lives of many NRI's. The irony is that they fear to move back to India and they also worry about the consequences of moving back to India, it seems many of them feel like that they have two worst options to chose from.
Many NRIs waste so much time in contemplating what to do that by the time they reach any conclusion it is too late, and they feel trapped. They feel trapped due to their kids, or career, or some other reason. This feeling of entrapment brings sadness, but this can happen even in India as well. You don't have to be outside India in fall in this trap. My parents moved from one part of India to another (from UP to Maharashtra), and they faced the same dilemma. Many people in India live away from their families because of their jobs and face same anxieties. I love the freedom which the life in the US offers to me. I am involved with my work, I am interested in politics as well as social and cultural life of the US. This is why I don't miss India as much as I used to during my initial days in the USA. This doesn't mean that I don't care about India or I have forgotten everything about it. I just can't because it's my birthplace and I have spent a significant part of my life there. It is always in my thoughts and will remain forever. But, the big change is that I love the USA as much as I love India.
I have a simple advice for all NRIs who are trapped in this dilemma, first, decide what are your priorities (caution: this is not a simple task as it sounds), and then decide which country fits best to achieve those priorities. Everyone's needs and problems are different. There is no guarantee that what we plan will work for sure, but without working on that plan we will never know, so just work on it with full confidence. For some NRIs, India might be the best place to live and excel in professional life, and for others, it might be some other country. There is no universal solution which can work for everyone to resolve this dilemma, each individual needs to decide what is best for his/her family and act accordingly. One last thing, Steve Jobs said, "It's easy to connect the dots backward," learn from mistakes and move forward, don't worry too much about the past, look at the future as that's the only thing we can possibly change.
Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.