Written by Pranav Singhania
Having spent close to 2 years working in the United States, this is the most frequent question I get when I share my story. Why leave the life everyone dreams of? Initially, I was quite certain that I wanted to continue my life in the US because that’s what everyone does. That’s what professional and personal growth meant, right? Most of my peers were doing masters for the same reason, so why should I be left behind? I still remember how I was “congratulated” while leaving India like I had achieved something that others couldn’t. Yes, during the 90s, THIS was the way to achieve your financial goals, and professional goals, lead a better life and most importantly get an uplifted status in the eyes of society. Over the years, the template had been perfected; year on year students opting for masters and then settling in the country. The growth of the IT sector aggravated this exodus even further. But does it REALLY make as much sense anymore? Or have we just been following this blindly like a doctrine, generation after generation, without really recalibrating?
I’m not going to lie, but it was tough to cut through this external noise and pre-existing notions. I’m glad I was able to take the decision keeping my context in mind. And by no means would the below apply to everyone, but I don’t think many have put forth this point of view. Hence, here are my reasons to come back:
1. Pay Disparity Not As Significant
The US for decades has been the way to make a lot of money (in INR terms) and live a luxurious life in India (if you actually end up returning). But if you’re into tech currently, the difference is really not as significant anymore, considering both in absolute and adjusted for purchasing power parity terms. Of course, if you’re making $250K+ in the US, that’s still unmatchable in India but that’s not the norm. Yes, tech salaries are currently inflated due to a massive supply-demand mismatch, but the gap is pretty wide and it’s not going to go away overnight. The industry is going to continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
2. Ego & Buying Back Time
Though I feel this wasn’t significant enough, it probably was lurking at the back of my mind. It felt better to be in the top 1% while in India rather than being in the top 10% of the US from both pay and lifestyle perspectives. As humans we are always optimizing, only the metric differs. In India, you can still pay for help/services and buy back time for yourself without having to be REALLY affluent, which isn’t the case in the US. I know I come from a place of privilege (yes, people do acknowledge it these days), but let’s be honest, no one is giving up their privilege. All of us are happy to take more.
3. Seclusion & Support System
Making deep friendships is harder with age. Hence if you’re going to live in a new place, you’ll have to restart your life, make new friends or live a rather private life (for which the US is great by the way). I didn’t want to give up on my existing friendships nor put too much effort into forcing/creating new ones. A lot of relationships/friendships you create there are more transactional or superficial, felt it was a bit harder to establish genuine connections with American folks, not impossible though, potentially stemming from a completely disparate cultural upbringing. Without that comfort, you wouldn’t call an acquaintance at 3 AM.
4. A Renewed Appreciation For Family
COVID was a great perspective reset. Fundamentally important elements were more vivid. I wanted to be around my family, or at least not be > 24 hours away. Watching parents grow old is painful, but being miles away and not being there for them felt even worse. The constant fear of an emergency and being helpless in the situation. Wondering how they are probably managing the seemingly small tasks at home without having the option to reach out to you for help. I didn’t want to live with this constant niggle at the back of my mind.
5. At The Mercy Of Luck
The US visa system is painful, applying, getting picked in the lottery, having 60 days to find employment in case you get laid off, having to re-imagine life back in India/Canada/another country in case you’re the unlucky one to never get picked in the lottery, renewing every x years. You are sort of constantly reminded you’re an outsider. The US also officially refers to any non-US citizen as an alien. I don’t mind uncertainty in certain aspects of life but this wasn’t one of them. Moving countries and replanning life is no breeze.
6. Entrepreneurial Ambitions
When you’re on a visa from another country it also comes along with certain restrictions. My mid to long-term ambitions were to get into entrepreneurship and there was no legal way for me to dabble with something on the side until I got my green card. I wanted to rather start laying my foundations, building my network, and getting deeper into the ecosystem within India.
I used to think of this to be a rather trivial reason. I generally love to explore different cuisines, tried everything the US had to offer, but at the end of the day, I really craved some south Indian/street food, both a rarity in most parts and you just can’t cook everything. In the west, the definition of Indian food is mostly butter chicken and naan. Certain parts of the country like New York, and California definitely have a ton of good Indian spreads, but the US is much larger hence the density of good Indian food isn’t great. After all the exploration you want the comfort of your home.
It had nothing to do with patriotism in all honesty. Looking at the shiny life of a lot of my peers back in the US, I look back and ground myself with the above. A year later, still happy with my decision, because it made sense in my context, and ABSOLUTELY have no regrets.
I don’t mean to convey that one shouldn’t consider living abroad. I highly recommend everyone to stay abroad for at least a year and get a wider perspective of the contrasting ways of life. You might absolutely like living in another country, and that’s completely okay. Everyone just needs to break away from the herd mindset and take decisions in their own context, because if you don’t, who will?
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