Homecoming: A Big Change for the Young Ones
The voices of NRI children who return to India often go unheard during conversations about relocating to the country.
In the conversation around overseas Indians returning to their home country, the narrative of the children who are uprooted from the place they have grown up in is often a forgotten tale. For many of these youngsters, their arrival in India is as much of an uprooting as the departure perhaps was for the parents.
Sandeep Jayendran, the chief technical officer of Bengaluru-based startup 21Dojo, grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). He later went to the United States for higher education. Jayendran notes that since he returned to Bengaluru when he was in Class 9, he took longer to adjust than his sister who was only nine years old when his family returned to India from Dubai.
For many of these children who return from other countries while they are in their teens and join an Indian school, it marks the first time they are exposed to the education system in the country and the prevailing competition. During these vulnerable years, they feel they are left to cope with a new culture, one they were distantly acquainted with, and it sometimes takes them years to adjust to the new surroundings.
Jayendran recollects that he found the competition fierce and shocking, as he lived a sheltered life in the Middle East — a sentiment that is reiterated by many returned Non-Resident Indian children.
The challenges were similar for 26-year-old Jerin Kurian. “I felt that the kids brought up in the Middle East knew very little about the ‘real world’,” he tells Little India. Kurian studied in Indian School in Oman until Class 10, after which he returned to his homeland, Kerala. After completing his bachelor’s from Tamil Nadu, like Jayendran, he headed abroad for a master’s degree, and earned it in Melbourne in October 2017.
Kurian came back to India to pursue studies in India while his parents stayed back in Oman. “I remember the first few months giving me real hard times, especially since I had never stayed away from home. It made me homesick. I lost almost 18 kg due to emotional, mental and physical stress,” Kurian recalls. Like Jayendran, he felt that the competition was “intense,” and as if his skills were “shrinking” as compared to the talents of the Indian students.
However, not all agree with the fact that they found it difficult adjusting in India upon their return. For Hyacinth Mascarenhas, 27, who currently lives in Bengaluru, returning to India to work was like homecoming. She lived in Kuwait for 20 years and completed her masters from the George Washington University in Washington DC in the United States. She stresses that she did not face any challenges, maybe because she returned at a much later stage in life than the others.
“I have always felt more comfortable saying I’m from India than Kuwait all my life, particularly when I was asked about my background in college. I have no ties to that country other than us living there. No passport, no permanent residency or such. Mumbai was always home for me,” she tells Little India. Mascarenhas frequented Mumbai, where she was born, for three months every summer until she was in Class 12.
She studied in Indian English Academy School, a CBSE- institution in Kuwait, a country that has many Indian schools. “The level of competition is very similar to how it is in school in India. I carried those values and skills with me when I went to college, so I was usually the competitive one. I would never take no for an answer in university,” she says.
Many of these individuals who return to India from different backgrounds and countries at a young age say that it is important to understand factors like the country they grew up in, its culture, lifestyle and laws — all that comes to define them as young adults.
Jayendran recounts that when he came to India he realized how closed the media in UAE was. Only after leaving the country did he learn of the human rights violations, building fires, and other incidents that were taking place around him. The life of those in UAE are full of “luxuries,” he says, adding that after coming to India he came to dislike the way of living in Dubai.
Kurian reiterates, saying, “I felt that kids in the Middle East lacked exposure to a lot of things.”
Challenges presented themselves to these children not only in their social sphere, but also while they were studying. Mathangi Narayanan, a 26-year-old entrepreneur in Chennai, faced problems with the academic system in India after returning from Al Ain, UAE. She took over a year to adjust in Chennai.
“Here, they would see the way you look and put you in a sport, while abroad I could choose which sport to play,” she told Little India. Kurian also notes that schools in the Middle East encourage students in co-curricular activities more as compared to India where students are pushed towards academics.
She recollects how in Al Ain a parent would always be present to pick up and drop children whether it was school or other activities, but in Chennai she had to learn to do everything on her own. Narayanan later went to New York to pursue post-graduation, but had to return due to visa restrictions.
Some like Kurian feel that staying abroad has its perks. He prefers Melbourne due to climatic conditions, daily life struggles and “unstable governing authorities” in India. Others like Mascarenhas and Jayendran have made India their home after working abroad for a few years. Narayanan would love to live abroad, given the chance, due to the multicultural experiences she had during her years spent in different countries.
The stories of these children are similar in many ways, including the fact that their experience in India has shaped them in some manner or the other. Also, the jarring experience of being uprooted has made them appreciate much about India, their homeland.
A common thread that runs in their experiences is the love for travel. Being exposed to a diverse environment and people, their quest to explore the world lingers on.