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The Student Immigrant Journey

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Guest Post: Fighting the FOMO on Life Abroad

By Divya Gangadar

Photo by Beata Ratuszniak

I left India as a newbie aunt, returned with some stained shirts and lots of perspective!

We are all most acquainted with the international student. There were many from both my school and college, who chose the United States and other countries such as Spain, England, and Italy for higher education.

Having completed my Master’s degree in Bangalore with flying colours, I did not feel the need for a foreign education. Studying abroad seemed to involve an intimidating load of work from the multiple exam requirements to the financial aspects.

However, I was raised in an environment where success was defined by an MBA or MS from an international institution.

Respect and admiration in my household were gained only through the fulfilment of three criteria – you either study, work or get married – all in a foreign country. I did not fall into any of the criteria. A Master of Arts from India thus was not something that earned me bragging rights. This indoctrination led to heavy contemplation over all the decisions I made, with respect to my education and career. I began to think my life was empty and depressing owing to the comparisons I drew with others of my age who voyaged abroad. 

What was I missing out by not taking this leap to go study abroad?

I suspected that a lack of foreign education was not the culprit, but it was my humdrum existence. Perhaps, I was yearning to break the monotony. I had visited various states in India. However, international travel left me more self-aware, put things of my own life into perspective, and reminded me that a whole, much bigger world was out there.  My first journey out of India was to Thailand with my best friend. My fear of succumbing to a sedentary lifestyle disappeared thanks to the trip. We took delight in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s street shopping, relaxed on the beaches of Pattaya and found tranquillity in Buddhist temples.

Half Tourist, Full-Time Babysitter

In 2016, I finally went to the United States on a tourist visa to visit my older sister. She left India soon after getting married, six years ago.

It is no shocker that the nanny phenomenon is highly prevalent in most households that have children living abroad. This is a situation where parents of the married couple abroad are invited on ‘vacation to spend time with your children and grandkids’.

The old couple fuelled by sentimentality braves 24 hour flights. Upon arrival, it slowly becomes evident that this timely vacation was more of an arrangement to ‘share responsibility’, the ethics of which can constitute a whole other subject. The two times that my mother visited the United States for each of her grandchildren, she babysat, cooked and worked around the house too. According to her, to term her visit as a menial ‘nanny service’ would be sacrilege. Everything she did was out of love and love alone. She had the liberty to kick back and relax. Having said that, my mother admitted that she was infuriated with parenting styles that were in conflict with her own daughter’s. More on that later for another article. 

Do not get me wrong - I love my niece and nephew to bits but babysitting is what I was left with for a majority of my time, while on a tourist visa. By no means was it a waste of a trip. I did get to explore New Jersey, the casinos and the beach at Atlantic City, went to the Global Citizen Festival and saw the Rockettes perform live in New York City. I experienced for the first time, the seasons of fall and snowfall too. I loved, lived, laughed, during that time, soaking up the abundance of love, my precious niece and nephew showered upon me. Best of all, the discovery that I was really good at being an aunt!

Exploring NYC by foot.

The Flip Side

At the same time, I learnt how life in a foreign country can be challenging. You can find yourself helpless as there are no relatives or neighbours readily available to rescue you from a problem or lend a helping hand. Photographs of nature and the seasonal changes can be stunning, but the catch is that such extreme high and low temperatures can be brutal. Every individual keeps herself/himself busy, as opposed to huge amounts of idle population I was accustomed to back home. I learnt that you have to send out an invitation a month prior to a party you want to host just so that people can clear up their busy schedules as opposed to a bunch of people who would queue up in front of my house, minutes after I mention the word party!

You can also find yourself lonely most of the time - that is at least what I witnessed living in the suburbs. Life and time can pass you by without having a single soul check up on you.

Realization dawned on me that life abroad is not always picturesque and perfect as it is seen and heard. My impression was heavily influenced by my friends’ online documenting through posts that included tagging of airports - both at the departure and arrival points and pictures from short trips undertaken over the weekend.

There is no balance wherein individuals shed light on the real picture, to the point where it made me feel like only those who ventured out of the country were regarded as being satisfied with their lives.

Social media made me believe that every day passed that is not worthy of boasting online is deemed to be a miserable life.

Making my mark!

The Big Takeaways

My first-hand experience of staying in a foreign country burst the perfect bubble of life abroad that people around me had created. I began to have more self-respect and started to believe in the journey of my own life.

The feeling that I was missing out on the thrill and experience of travel was holding me back on living my life in India and fully expressing myself.

After travelling and keeping busy, the need for instant gratification has partially lessened, and not completely because I’m only twenty-six years old! Very rarely does one share details of the struggle to get admission in a foreign university, the financial challenges they faced or the familial issues they had to deal with before embarking on their journey. Because in this evidently competitive world, we have criteria for success. Travel moments become quantifiable with the number of likes, and therefore judged for popularity. Thriving in success means depictions through social media that consists of happy and successful times alone.

I made a conscious decision to divert myself from the feeling of FOMO and to do away with the immobility of my life in India. I learnt that I needed to be more proactive, to engage in networking, to get out of the house more often and to always remember to try out new things, irrespective of the place I was at. It is true that travelling opens up our mind and broadens our perspective. However, travelling to distant geographical locations alone, does not make a difference to one’s life. Any small attempt to modify the routine can work wonders for a mundane existence, bringing fresh perspective.


The views and opinions expressed on this article are solely those of the original author. 
Divya Gangadar currently works as a teacher in Bangalore.

You can Follow her on the gram, Medium or her good ol' wordpress blog.