Things that matter while settling abroad
Sometimes you are required to travel to other parts of the world as its part of your job and sometimes it's your personal decision to seek opportunities elsewhere in the world. Apart from the general perceptions, it’s also very important to think about these moves in more holistic manner and their long term impact. Things like, the cultural differences, your perceptions, the things that you seek from your move and effect on other members of your family resulting from this move. Here is an attempt to touch upon some of these aspects.
Which is your dream country?
Getting a nod from the family
This might sound redundant, especially for a bachelor boy, but it matters a lot if you are married and even more if you have kids. It also holds true for a single girl. The span of your stay in the foreign country also plays an important part and your current situation as well. Although this subject itself is quite subjective and can have lot of personal, cultural and historical influence, there are few important aspect to take care of. It’s important to do some fact finding and not go by tell-tell stories.
Most of the time the option is discarded with the fear of adjusting to the culture, but honestly culture can add lot of experience and help you become a better person.
A myth that the foreign culture is too open and can affect kids adversely
Well there are good and bad people in all parts of the world and it would be part of your own efforts to make your kids sensitive to the cultures and absorb really the good part of any culture and shield yourself from the aspects that do not help you become a better person. This is true in any culture and being a responsible parent, it’s our duty to provide guidance for our kids to absorb things those fit into your value system and are helpful in long run
People are more money oriented and more affluent and so you would lose the touch with your roots
Over a period of time, I have started to believe that you make more attempts to get closer to your culture and rejuvenate every aspect of it, when you are away from it. This is because there is an increased need to showcase the important aspects of everything that you grew up with and related with. This can be festivals, food, art, music and myriad of such aspects
It is also important to look at the aspects like aging parents, their old age requirements, whether or not they are willing to visit abroad. It does help to make them aware of your reasons to go abroad
There is no more fun than to cook your own food the way you want and adjust the taste to your taste buds. But it requires effort. The bottom line is, if you are typical lazy kind loving to lie on couch and have ready cooked food, then you won't get my point. But for me cooking is one of the life skills under any circumstances.
Secondly it’s also important to be a little adventurous in trying different cuisines and it helps in understanding the culture. I know many Indian youths being pampered by multitude of Indian cuisines and homemade food. And then they get really scared with the thought of staying in a place that does not provide lot of food options and are not very thoughtful in their own cooking skills. Nevertheless food is directly related to your health and can be a very important point to be considered
Become part of the culture
It does not matter if you are visiting for a week, month or few years or even planning to settle down, this can take away most of your inhibitions. The core values always remain the same. It's really important how open you are, to different perspectives. It gives you an opportunity to look at life from different angle. It can also help you to come out of few prejudices and thrash few myths. It's a question of choice and looking for new possibilities.
So make sure you are not confining yourself to your own community, but also making friends. Just like in Mumbai people from all the states, having very different cultures, language and food habits stay together, in USA people coming from different nationalities and having roots in faraway cultures stay and work together. Embracing the differences and finding and enjoying the similarities is the key to become part of the culture
Secondly you get to act as an ambassador of your own culture and that's a huge responsibility in itself. Because people start relating your country, your culture by you and how you present yourself. It’s a great opportunity to present the best in your culture and promote it. It’s not a secret that the world has embraced Yoga, but India as a country has deep rooted treasures in terms of food, heritage, and medicines and so on. It’s always a great pleasure to showcase these aspects of your culture and also relate to similar aspects of other cultures.
Weather plays an important part in a way a particular culture evolves and it’s better to be mindful of this fact. As someone has rightly said, there is nothing like bad weather, it’s always bad clothing. So as long as you adopt to the right clothing, weather should not be a big issue. Weather can influence local food, drinks, festivals and sometimes even the behavior of the people.
You would really be put off with the harshness of few parts of the world like say, London, especially in winter, if you do not get used to how to handle it. The wind can be severe and the chill can stop you from getting outdoors. Sometimes even the cloths might not be enough and it might take some time to get used to the weather. All in all, it is important to be mindful of these aspects and tune your schedule, food habit, outdoor and indoor activities accordingly.
These can differ substantially irrespective of being western or eastern culture. Geographies, Countries, States, Cities tend to develop their own mannerisms and some of them might be very different than what you have seen earlier.
While in India you might not pay attention to passerby, it would be quite rude, not to smile at fellow travelers or say "How you doing" in most part of US. Now this might sometimes be very mechanical and would not contain the real warmth, but still it’s really very important.
In London on the other hand, there is no such tradition and you would not find people giving you smile or greeting as you travel in tube or come face to face across the street.
If you are visiting a very small town like Leysin in Switzerland, you might be greeted with a very warm "Bonjour" and people might stop and enquire about you and might treat you almost like their old friend.
Apart from the local culture, the affluence of the city culture or the humbleness of the countryside can also play part in these interactions. The key is not to be judgmental.
This is a very important factor depending on which part of the world you are in. In most parts of US, you just really can't survive without a car, as the public transport is not so well developed and the country was developed around CAR as major means of transport. So honing your driving skills and understanding the traffic rules is a must.
If you are coming from India and especially Mumbai, it would take a while to get used to the streamlined traffic, lane culture, speed limits, honoring the signals as those things are still quite immature in India. The good news is you would be on-boarded to this traffic rules starting from a written knowledge test to a well-designed driving test, to test all your understanding and skills with respect to driving.
You would be amazed at kind of money spent on cars in US. No wonder car has become integral part of their culture.This is partly because of the vast availability of land and also the mindset to widely spread population across the landmass (which is very peculiar to US), rather than staying in ghettos or communities. The distances are generally quite high here.
On the other hand in Europe especially in UK you would be pampered with numerous public transport options. The underground tube system, the long distance trains, the massive bus network, convenient bike pickup and drop-off locations can preempt the need for a car. An oyster card, although a bit expensive at first look, can take care of all your transport needs in one go and it’s flexible enough to make sure you select the zones of your interest.
I was equally charmed by the network and timeliness of Swiss transport system. These places are equally enjoyable on feet and you would in fact enjoy using public transport and a walk around these cute cities of Europe. Having said that they also have very good high speed highway network and one can enjoy the scenic ride on these highways as well
Most of the part of US the culture is towards individualism. People tend to stay alone and you would hardly see a big family concept like Asia or few parts of Europe. Kids tend to become either career oriented or fun oriented and generally the parent-child bonding seem to be missing. The trend is towards getting a job, making good money, having fun, getting into relationships with a much casual approach at times and no real long terms plan as such, as far as family is concerned.
Again this can be a perception or generalization and might not represent the complete picture. I have seen examples of couples happily married for last thirty to forty years and having two to four kids and a decent happy life.
In my opinion most of the family culture related issues are generalizations and no matter which place on the earth you are placed, you would have to take control on the things related to your family life. The way you treat your family, the values you stand by and also would want to see in your kids. It all starts from yourself and one can always focus on better values, better examples, which are always available in every culture
The education system is also one of the important aspects to pay attention to during your move. Getting enough information about the local education system can help you become mentally prepared and would not be a surprise for your kids, in case if the education system is very different.
Also for practicing professionals like Doctors, the home degrees might not be sufficient and you would want to get certificates in a local school to be able to be recognized by the organizations in respective country.
Few specific differences between India and USA
- There are text books and predefined subjects in India while in USA you do not have text books and curriculum is more practical or project oriented, where kids study by doing things themselves, exploring resources rather than going through a set of text books and preparing for the exam
- The education in USA is divided into Preschool, Elementary, Middle School, High School and University and each level is termed as graduation. While in India kids graduate only once when they finish their Bachelors’ degree.
- The High School has IB (International Baccalaureate) and AP (Advanced Placement) programs which are designed with specific needs. IB is more geared towards international level education based on research, thesis and practical experiences and is a stepping stone for the University level education. AP is good for somebody who has decided which direction he/she wants to go and so the curriculum is more specific and helps to move towards a desired career quickly. Again each school might have its own flavor and so a bit of home work can help.
Why you should study abroad ?
It is very important to get the right kind of visa and also understand all the minute details related to your visa. For example in US, one needs to have H1B or L1 to work. While you can use B1 visa for a short business trip or conference.
It’s very important to understand the aspects of switching your employer, filing for labor, I140, EAD and eventually green card. Also since your spouse is on H4 as a dependent of H1b she is not allowed to work in US, this aspect should also be considered. It’s important to know the pros and cons of full time versus contracting job as well, which can have some bearing on things like settling in one place, buying a house, planning for kids etc.
In case of UK there are Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas. With a Tier 1 ICT (Inter Company Transfer) visa earlier it was possible to convert it to ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain) and eventually a citizenship. But according to recent changes it's not easy to get a permanent residence to UK. For ILR one must have a Tier 1 General visa, which means a job with a local company, who are ready to sponsor your work permit.
The challenge over there is, one must get an offer, while he is in his/her parent country through a telephonic interview or an onsite interview, been paid through your own pocket. Although not impossible, it’s not an easy thing and might need lot of patience.
Getting a student visa to study in countries like US or Germany are also much sought after options and apart from a high quality education, it gives a good platform to evaluate your options and finally decide to settle down. The scholarship combined with student loan can make this affordable in US while few European countries like Germany provides free college education and has been attracting many students. One of the aspects to be considered here is also stability of career and opportunities available in these countries
Having pets is customary across the cultures and countries. But then you might find a good percentage of people having at least one pet in US and the owners take great pride in taking care of their pets or talking about them. They are part of the family and sometimes they even replace children. It’s good to be mindful of this fact.
Although most of the etiquette can be generalized, few minutes differences can create huge difference.
- One would say "Hello" or "How are you doing" as you pass across any stranger in USA
- It is very customary to hold the door open when you find somebody right behind you while entering or exiting
- Weather, sports, weekends are the best topics to start your conversation with and always restrict yourself from getting too personal, which might seem quite ok in Asian culture, but not in the western cultures
- Talking about religion, cast, creed, color, roots and related things might be considered racial in most parts of US and be really careful on those conversations
- The personal space might be reflected in every aspect of life in western culture and so keep proper distance when you are standing in a queue/line
- It would be quite rude to stare at others while in train or a bus or on the road, which again might be quite acceptable in Asian culture
Few things that would catch your attention in US are
- There are hardly any people on the streets. If you are in big cities like New York then things might be a bit different as those are some of the heavily populated cities.
- You would not see fence around houses in most parts of US and typically they would come with nicely maintained lawns in front yard and a play area in back yard.
- Most cities or parts of US, although geographically and sometimes even culturally different, they still wear a similar look and feel and it kind of gives a homogeneity to the country. People would be flocking around Walmart’s, Costco’s, CVS pharmacies, Banking with Wells Fargo and Bank of America, celebrating a Thanks Giving and Christmas with huge sells and shopping, playing and watching American football and enjoying the pancakes, hamburgers and pizzas.
- You would notice Deer’s, Rabbits, and Raccoons roaming around your community. Do enjoy their company. Do not scare them.
- The apartments mostly would come with a gas cooker, air conditioner and heater, gym and swimming pool, refrigerator and sometimes even a microwave oven.
- Most of the utilities like gas and electricity can be setup with a phone call. You won't be required to walk into most of these offices as they can be set up over phone and the bills can be paid over internet
- You would be required to self-serve at petrol pumps (Gas Stations) and the convenient instructions on the screen will guide you through the gas filling process
- Automation has removed the human factor in most of the walks of life, which is good and bad. For example you would be able to do most of your shopping, bill payments, tax and government related activities online and avoid lines. But then since you are not talking to a real person, it would miss that personal touch in any of these services
- Ready to eat food is a way to go. Average American do not spend lot of time in cooking or preparing meals. Options like canned food, microwaveable food, packed sandwiches, ready to eat pasta noodles, salad boxes or eating in restaurant seem to be preferred options
- Most of the household stuff needs to be handled by yourself as labor is very expensive and so you would find people painting their homes, driving a rented truck while shifting homes, moaning their lawns, ironing cloths, washing dishes etc.
- In general you find yourself responsible for most of the aspects of life and won’t have traffic, weather, government and people to blame for. It leaves you lot of space to think about career, hobbies and also pay more attention to health, family, friends and fun