The Authentic Journey of Brijesh and Deepa: Life Full Circle Between India and USA
Part 1 of 3: Lessons on Maintaining Identity Away From One’s Native Culture and Country
Welcome Brijesh Nair and Deepa Menon to Alaivani. I am pleased they have decided to share their Authentic Journeys with us here. I hope their stories and experiences are as inspiring to you as they are to me!
Thank you so much Brijesh and Deepa!
Brijesh and Deepa originally from Trivandrum (Kerala) and Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), India moved back to India earlier this year (2010). This three part interview will highlight some of their story.
Brijesh and Deepa, how long were you outside India and what was your reason to come to USA?
I originally came to US for studying my Master’s degree. I was in US for 11 years. Deepa joined me after marriage. She was in US for 5 years.
Brijesh and I got married in Jan 2005 and that’s when I moved to Phoenix. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of my stay there. Brijesh was a PhD student then and we had no responsibilities! Then, I went on to get my Masters in Biomedical Informatics from ASU. I had a fun time in school too. In 2009 it was time to have a baby, since we were married for 4 years already, which is considered a long time in India. We had concerned suggestions to even see a doctor! Then Gayathri came along (on Oct 3, 2009) and we had decided to move back to India. Well, it was our pre marital agreement to come back sometime. J
One of the things I have noticed here in US.. is some desis have told me "I can be more desi in US than India." I never really understood why so many people told me this. Maybe there are different reasons for different people- but one reason strikes me that I'd like to share and get your feedback. IN US there are Indian associations and sometimes they are general (if the community is small) or specific (like Malayalee, Tamil, Gujarati, etc) if the community is large and can be segmented). Anyhow based on these details, people may participate in their Indian associations - singing songs, doing skits, dances, play instruments or some kind of stage talent. People actually take more effort to find and participate in these things. I have noticed this happens even more once people have kids because they want to pass down the culture. But, some people who take part of these things would never do it in India but feel the need to do it in US to keep connected to the culture. People may feel if they live in India - they will just come to know because it's 'everywhere'. What do you think about this? And, do you think that a person can be more well-rounded if living in the US and they feel compelled to do these artistic things? What I mean to say in another way, is Indian parents here (in US) carve out time to assure their kids participate in these things, possibly taking time away from academic studies. Would this happen so frequently in India itself? Or would parents be more apt to send their kids to tuitions instead of dance class? Has the view points on this changed from the time you grew up in India til now?
"I can be more desi in US than India." – I believe it is a wrong concept.
Jennifer – You celebrate Thanksgiving in November, right? If you are in US you need to take minimal effort to celebrate thanksgiving. About 99.99% of the Americans are celebrating it, shops will be full of stuff you need for thanksgiving, the programs in TV are those which creates the mood for thanksgiving etc… you just have to go with the flow. Even without you putting lots of effort you can celebrate Thanksgiving
Now assume you are in Kerala and want to celebrate Thanksgiving. Now the day Thanksgiving is being celebrated, you won’t have a holiday…so you know your family and friends in US are making thanksgiving dinner and you are at work…now if you have to make thanksgiving dinner you need to take lot of pain. May be there is only one shop that sells turkey and that may 50 miles away. Now to celebrate it you take extra effort to go there to buy the turkey. Since it is not an holiday you need to take some extra effort to make thanksgiving dinner… at the end of the day, you may have had thanksgiving dinner but after putting say 200% effort than you use to do in US… now you may think “ I am more an American in Indian than US”.
Jennifer’s feedback: Thanks for challenging my mind! I really appreciate the way you explained this, and especially the last sentence really sums it up well. You’re right. Maybe this is why some desis in US have told me that. When we have to take even more effort for the same outcome we may feel ‘even more attached to it’ as we would if we hadn’t. It’s really a very interesting viewpoint and I am really glad I asked this question.
Today it is Navarathri.. Any where you go there is a festive mood. I don’t have to take that extra effort to do all functions (related to Navarathri) in my house to let my daughter know about the significance of that festival. She will see around what is happening and will learn it. But if I was in US, if I want to teach my daughter about the significance of Navarathri (and thus about India and Indian culture) I need to do all those in my house. Again if I now want to teach my daughter about the significance of Thanksgiving sitting in India I had to do all that we do in America for Thanksgiving and explain it to her.
I am sure if Gayathri grew up in Phoenix, I would have taken that extra effort to take her to dance and music classes, as you said, to get her acquainted to our culture. The difference being, I would love for her to still learn music and dance here! I totally agree that extra/ co curricular activities are really important for over all development, but not sure about the demands of the present education system here, I heard few mother’s telling me that things are changing in India too and kids are taught dance, music and sports in school.
Do you think there is a difference in adjusting to a new culture (or even back to your native culture- India) depending on for the reasons one shifts (back)?
Initially to adjust to US culture –a little bit; while going back there was no difficulty in adjusting – since we have lived in India for over 20 years we knew very well what to expect. We were mentally prepared to go back to the Indian way of living as soon as we landed in India. Also, we always wanted to come back to India and for that reason I always tried my best not to forget the past. For example, one of the common problems people coming back for good from US face is driving. It is impossible for most of them to drive in Indian roads once they are accustomed to driving in US roads. I made it a point to drive the car that my parents own in Trivandrum every time I came to India so that I won’t have any issues with driving in Indian conditions when I decide to come back to India. I brought a car three weeks after coming back from US and I never found any difficulty driving that in Indian roads. Like this we were mentally prepared in every aspect to come back.. so there was no shock as such when we came back.
End Part 1 of 3. Thank you for sharing, Deepa and Brijesh.
Part 1: Lessons on Maintaining Identity Away From One’s Native Culture and Country
Part 2: Process of Moving Back and Re-Integration into ‘A More Familiar Place’
Part 3:College Culture in India
The previous interview in this series:
The Authentic Journey of Sanjay and Julie (Part 1 of 3) - Two People Living Their Best Life Possible Above and Beyond Culture and Appearances
The Authentic Journey of Sanjay and Julie: The Languages of Love (Part 2 of 3)
The Authentic Journey of Sanjay and Julie: Yes, UK and USA are Different Countries! (Part 3 of 3)
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Would you like to participate in the cross-cultural interviews here on Alaivani!? We'd be honored to showcase your life story here.
synopsis: Learning to stay connected to one's culture and identity can be a challenge when living in another country as an international student, foreigner or expat. Have you faced that? Brijesh and Deepa share some of their lessons on maintaining their identity away from their native culture and country of India while they stayed in U.S.A.