Moving out of India: The bigger picture

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Economic growth in India has made the question of immigrating to the US vexing for a lot of young Indians. The old attraction of more material prosperity no longer holds, you can buy everything in India. The difference between siblings in the two countries is no longer the car, the modern electronics and superior amenities. In many ways, immigrating to the US has become a more ‘experiential’ move, with terms like ‘job satisfaction’, ‘latest technologies’ being used in addition to the touting of cleaner, safer and more hip environs.

So should you, as a young Indian teen or adult seek American shores? I was in the same situation nearly two decades ago, and took the plane to the US very unthinkingly, almost like an instinct. I always wished someone would have told me what the possible implications of such a big decision would be, the doors it would open as well as close. I seek to do so for any young person interested here. This post is not going to be about details of work and life in the US versus India, but rather the big picture.

Today, the cost of moving out of India is more than the loss of family and ‘culture’. India offers opportunities of its own. It is with this context that we move forwards with our analysis.

Career: Technological Leadership in Prescribed Areas vs Flexibility in a Growing Economic Power

US leadership on the technological front is significant and enduring. America attracts smart people not only from India, but from across the world, including other developed markets. Deliberately or unwittingly, America has been marketed to the world as the place a smart person needs to be in to maximize their potential. This is somewhat like the IPL being the cricket league where a cricketer can compete with the best in the world. There is a reason why America is the only country in the world that has a Google and an Apple.

Log plot of US patent applications by various countries.

However, the last two decades have seen a sea change in India’s economic growth, technological prowess and integration with the world. Consider the number of US patents filed from India. From being four orders of magnitude lower than the US, India is now less than two orders of magnitude lower, with continuing growth. Similar trends are seen in the number of scientific papers published in elite journals, where India has moved from 1/20th of US output in 2000 to 1/3rd of US output in 2018. India today offers more opportunities than ever before.

Add to this the fact that the American work visa is exactly that, a visa. The visa is designed to bring in workers in areas where there is a shortage of Americans, so the bulk of opportunities lie in the computer software/data management sector. The flexibility and freedom to explore different career and life paths is severely constrained. You cannot easily leave your software engineering job in a global mega corporation and join a business development role in a start up. You cannot take two months off and wander away to see the world. Your US work visa needs full time employment, every second of your life.

So the trade off here is the opportunity to get a narrow but a truly world class exposure versus exposing yourself to a spectrum of career and life possibilities in India.

Life: Systems vs Services

If there was a one line summary for the difference between life in the US and India, it would be in America you can rely on systems, in India you can get a lot of services.

In America, systems work. The courts, police, municipal authorities all do their job professionally. You will not see mounds of rubble by the roadside and trash everywhere. The air will be clean, government authorities will be professional and accessible. The contrast with India is stark.

When it comes to services, lets just say this, the middle class homes of my relatives in India are a procession of cooks, drivers, maids, gardeners, electricians etc. We have a huge population whom we can now feed very well and transport cheaply around the country to markets which need them. As an example, in India, the service and variety of food on offer in a 3-star hotel buffet for 5 dollars was impressive. On the other hand, there were no Mexican options and stepping out of the hotel, you could literally smell the chemicals in the air.

Spirit: Continuity vs Renewal

Humans are not merely the work they do and the goods and services they consume, transcending our finite selves is a big part of the human experience. This is where notions of family, ethnicity, religion and nationality come into the picture. The US and India offer you contrasting pathways in this regard as well.

Being in India offers continuity and context. You can remain soaked in the arts, sports and traditions you have been familiar with since you were a child, and there is no need to separately make an effort to ‘access India’. You are the market whom the creative and talented people in the economy seek to serve.

America offers the chance for renewal and rebirth. Indeed, for the majority of its existence as a nation, America has offered the tired and beaten people of this planet a chance at reinventing themselves and starting a ‘new life’. The children of those pushed out by their home countries have achieved miracles in the American meritocracy.

So there it is, you can think about these three trade offs while making your decision. Do you want to achieve the summit of computer technology ? Or do you want to explore the world of work before diving into a committed career path ? Do you get annoyed and distressed by the dysfunction of the Indian governments ? Or do you appreciate all the services available to make your life easier ? Finally, do you feel India imprisons you and you need fresh air ? Or can you not bear to sever yourself from your gods and greats ?

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47 Replies to “Moving out of India: The bigger picture”

  1. “I was in the same situation nearly two decades ago, and took the plane to the US very unthinkingly, almost like an instinct. I always wished someone would have told me what the possible implications of such a big decision would be, the doors it would open as well as close”

    Every damn day i think about it (more so now in this WFH environment) , of how someone who has mostly no “western” interest and almost all thing desi, ended up here. And if ever, the doors i have closed, can be re-opened. 🙁

    1. Yup, I had initially planned to move back after my PhD but ended up not doing so. That actually turned out to be a good decision mainly because I later realized I wanted to be out of academia for a while.

      India does feel very different when I go there though, especially the folks below 30, but not in any kind of negative way. Just interesting to see how different the psychology is.

      1. However much India changes, whenever i go back, i have this feeling that i can always go back, notwithstanding the problems. My desi friends have different views though.

        India is always home. When things are bad, u go back home. And increasingly how much this whole living on the edge, visa, residency, green card, citizenship thing worth. That in the west you are working and staying, but are you living?

  2. Being surrounded by left wing anti-Americanism, I wish more Indian and non-Indian Americans would read your description of the US, which is refreshingly positive and I think largely on point.

    1. Thanks Hoju. If nothing else, America is the greatest market humans have ever built and will be the main driver of the world’s economy for a long time. It is a country of tremendous possibilities.

  3. Finally something real related to OIT…But… ‘the cricket league where a cricketer can compete with the best in the world’ !!???

      1. No worries, good writing, it is applicable for other nations not only Indians. I was just considering the SAsians physical and mental well being. But good humor is also beneficial for national mental health. See, I am waving the plate with a number 9.

  4. I realize that the US is just a different version of the Gulf (UAE/Dubai) for educated Indians. Work and earn all you can, but a residence card will be just out of practical reach. The wait times for citizenship are so long that some are moving to Canada. I mean, more than bureaucratic legalese, at the heart, there must be xenophobia to have such impractical annual quotas. One of my friends, who is already there for 6 years, estimates another 8 to 12 years for the quotas to clear.

    1. Ugra, I do expect the green card situation to get resolved in the coming decade. It might actually happen automatically with more online work necessitating less onsite requirements for Indian companies and with more Indians moving back as living standards there keep rising. Also, other nationalities are waking up to the opportunities of American tech, and are competing to be part of America’s tech workforce.

      The thing is, even if the green card process was super smooth for Indians, the lack of career flexibility may be a deal breaker for a lot of young Indians. This was true for a close relative of my own. By the time he was 28, my relative had helped an international drug company launch a new product in India, restructured a pension and healthcare plan for a major Indian company, worked a year at NITI Aayog understanding India’s health system, worked at a social entrepreneurship investment vehicle funding think tanks working on making India’s internet more secure and accessible.

      This kind of trajectory is simply not possible for Indians working in America in their 20s. Even if you start working in the US immediately after your Bachelor’s degree, getting a green card will take around 5 years. You are looking at getting a green card around the ages 26-28 as a best case.

      1. That’s just hope. Not a substitute for everyday practicality or emotional stability. Almost every country outside the US has a dramatically lower period for naturalisation – I generally advice many younger professionals to avoid the US especially if their aim is immigration. There are far attractive options on the Continent and in South East/Far East Asia.

        Plus of course some of your points are very partial considering the lack of social healthcare and subsidised education.

  5. Cost of living in urban India used to be much lower 30 years back; now I find cost of an apartment – forget about house surrounded by garden which was the norm in the 60s when I grew up- in India is comparable to many areas of Britain , without the corresponding quality of life , like fresh air, places to walk/cycle, efficient municipal services, etc

    1. Hi Vijay, I deliberately avoided comparisons like these, because they are very contingent on individual experiences. I know folks in the Bay Area who had to sell their car and home at a substantial loss because the husband lost his job. We can just go on and on comparing anecdotes like these.

  6. Vikram,
    Very nicely written;
    I myself had a similar decision to make in 2014 – whether to continue comfortable job in India with prospects of buying a House, Car, Luxury around the corner with better options for marriage OR take the leap outside my comfort zone and get admitted in Stony Brook for Masters with a huge student debt and stressful two-three years for me and my family.
    I chose the earlier – while most of my peers 90%+ took the other decision. I dont regret my decision but continue to wonder “What If ” exactly along the lines you have written.

    For lot of middle class & upper middle class Indians – Going abroad is often viewed as the logical next step.

    1. Stony Brook for Masters with a huge student debt and stressful two-three years for me and my family.

      10 years at Stony Brook 88-98), the then Marine Sciences Research Center (MSRC), now School of Marine and Atmospheric sciences (SoMAS).

      No student debt though. Grad student on TA/RA funding.

      I hope you managed to get some walks at the MSRC/SoMAS Flax Pond Laboratory. 135-acres of salt marsh with great bio-diversity and natural beauty

      https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/112697.html

      https://www.google.com/maps/place/Stony+Brook,+NY,+USA/@40.9597932,-73.1280483,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e83f2aae781151:0x49f925381c086b3e!8m2!3d40.9256538!4d-73.1409429

    2. GauravL, judging from your posts, you appear to have a deep interest in society, economics and religion. If that is the case, I think your decision is along the right lines. Finding a job that fulfills these interests might be hard in India, but it is possible. In the US, its much harder. It also doesnt help that virtually all the Indians here are from a tech background, so even having conversations about these things is hard. One Brahmin guy at my previous place of work thought Rama was married to Rukmini.

      If you do enjoy algorithms and system design, might not be a bad idea to move abroad for a bit.

      1. “One Brahmin guy at my previous place of work thought Rama was married to Rukmini.” 🙂 .
        You have a point but i didnt make the decision to stay behind because i was deeply interested in all these things – as a matter of fact my interests in these areas have grown a lot since i decided to stay behind. my decision was due to my nature which is averse to risk-taking and leaving my family & comforts. 🙂

        1. If that is the case, you should think seriously about getting out and about even if its for a limited time. Doesnt have to be the US. Just some place you would be a bit uncomfortable. Twenties are the time to challenge yourself and get as much exposure as possible. These things become much more difficult as you grow older.

  7. Vikram says
    Thanks Hoju. If nothing else, America is the greatest market humans have ever built and will be the main driver of the world’s economy for a long time. It is a country of tremendous possibilities.

    I think you are seeing a process of change in the US. In a year or two that change will be markedly visible. Change could be for the better, but I doubt it. It is a nation divided and polarized vicious politics.

    One of the advantages touted is about the safety of the US. It never was, unless you stayed in your comfort zone of a hipster coffee shop. Now more and areas are becoming no go areas.

    Example place, Yale. Inside the campus a safe zone. Outside crime ridden.
    https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2009/09/15/safety-in-new-haven-a-tale-of-two-cities/

    1. Hi sbarrkum, there is a deep truth to the immigration of most Indians to the US, no matter what our skin colour. We are moving to white America. That is the country we dream of and want to access and be a part of. I dont think the presence or absence of non-white Americans would in any way change our desire or even our experience of living there. So in our mind, the no-go areas were never a part of America to begin with.

      There seems to be a great disjuncture though in the life experiences of Indian immigrants and first generation Indian Americans. Whereas Indian immigrant parents are thankful to white people for accepting them and acknowledging their worth, their kids seem to feel unaccepted by white America in the main. This is despite being on equal material terms. There is a streak of deep angst in the work of folks like Aziz Ansari, Hassan Minhaj and other Indian-American artists.

  8. The experience described above is a function of one’s rootedness in the country of origin and the ease of assimilation in the host country.

    I moved out of India over a decade and half ago, having lived for a few years each in one city after another, until I came to London — where I have a home and kids. It is the city I have lived the longest in and am most at home in. I feel no real displacement, and at any rate far less than what I felt in India growing up. The fact that my wife was brought up in London and I literally drove past her school in N London 20 mins ago before writing this comment down just adds to the belonging my family feels here.

    I have seen much to hate here, and much to forgive.
    But in a world where England is dead, I do not wish to live.

    – George Mikes (How to be an Alien; 1946)

  9. I have seen much to hate here, and much to forgive.
    But in a world where England is dead, I do not wish to live.

    – George Mikes (How to be an Alien; 1946)

    Fortunately for Mikes he is not alive to see the England of 2020.

    1. Mikeš wrote the book in 1946 — in post-war bombed-out, decolonized, debt-ridden Britain with food rations and poverty.

      He would have given an arm and a leg for the Britain of 2020.

  10. Good post, but a few important nuances.

    1. Emigration *increases* as countries get richer up to a point:

    https://www.cgdev.org/article/new-research-confirms-migration-rises-poorest-countries-get-richer

    This is because a lot of people who wanted to move, but couldn’t because they were too poor, now have the means. While the country is richer, it is still too poor to be attractive to hold significant amounts of people back.

    This changes around $15-20,000 GDP per capita (PPP). India still has ~10 to 15 years before it hits that threshold.

    2. While patent applications are rising, it makes more sense to look at quality of innovation. The Nature Index is the cleanest measurement of hard sciences innovation I can think of, and India’s share of elite science production has stagnated in recent years at a relatively low 0.8% of world output. America still has the biggest individual share but China is growing very fast.

    So either for intellectual elites or for aspiring middle-class people, emigration will remain an attractive option for years to come. That said, this ignores the cultural aspects. Not everyone wants to be a small minority in a country. While there is now a big Indian diaspora, there’s lots of assimilation at the 2nd gen level. If you care about cultural contunity, it will be a challenge in the West. OTOH, some people care less about that than their immediate needs. To each to their own.

    1. India is steadily moving up the Nature index, should break into the top 10 in the near future.

      https://www.natureindex.com/annual-tables/2020/country/all

      China is a tricky comparison to make, the government takes money from households and pours it into patents and papers. Its not sustainable. Much of their output is work done purely by senior researchers, not student-professor work.

      I have seen PhDs from Indian schools getting hired as faculty at US schools (UIUC, RPI), but havent seen any PhDs from China get hired in that way.

      1. “I have seen PhDs from Indian schools getting hired as faculty at US schools (UIUC, RPI), but haven’t seen any PhDs from China get hired in that way.”

        Why is this? I guess it’s because Chinese PhDs have more attractive options at home? Are universities also less likely to hire them in sensitive subjects knowing that they might transfer that knowledge back home? Or is it just a language issue?

        1. Ronen, I would encourage you to check out the faculty listings at places like Tsinghua and Peking, versus those at IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay. You will notice that the faculty at the IITs have more international exposure, there are young profs who have left tenure tracks at places like UMinn to join the IITs.

          American academia is the absolute summit for an academic career. I cant imagine Chinese PhDs in CS and Applied Math (the two fields I am most familiar with due to my own experience and that of my wife) not taking up opportunities in the US if possible.

      2. I have seen PhDs from Indian schools getting hired as faculty at US schools (UIUC, RPI), but havent seen any PhDs from China get hired in that way.

        Three from my grad school, SoMAS, Stony Brook Uni, NY

        Minghua Zhang was my time and on my PhD committee. Later Dean/Chair of the center. I just noticed all his co authors are Chinese.
        https://www.somas.stonybrook.edu/people/faculty/minghua-zhang/

        These two are after my time 1998.
        https://www.somas.stonybrook.edu/people/faculty/qingzhi-zhu/

        https://www.somas.stonybrook.edu/people/faculty/ping-liu/

        1. Chinese Academy of Sciences is not quite a grad school, its more like a research lab.

          That being said, it does appear that my surmise should be restricted to the CS and Math fields.

          1. Yes, because you have big companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei in China that needs these engineers. India does not quite yet have any equivalents. So staying in the US is the only option.

  11. emigrating out of india is a “lived experience” for me, (to use an in-fashion phrase 🙂 ), so i can probably write volumes on this topic. but i found an article on the internet which summarizes the issue way more better than i could ever do. so i am just posting the article verbatim, courtesy prof TT narendran from IITM. Prof narendran hits the nail on the head so forcefully, i just couldn’t have said it any better. i just highlighted the sentences which were particularly striking and thought provoking. (bold fonts are mine).

    fun trivia – the article was written in 1996. what is astonishing is that every word of it is as relevant today as it was quarter century earlier!

    the original article is here – http://www.samarthbharat.com/indiaorabroad.htm
    “In the seventies and eighties, going abroad was a very attractive option for IITians. The reasons were evident-it was very easy to get aid; there were good prospects for employment and, most importantly, there was job satisfaction. Indian industry was conservative, salaries were low and jobs were few. What has happened in the nineties? The US has been hit by recession. People who finish their M.S. face unemployment and are forced to choose between a programmer’s job and doing a Ph.D, a five-year commitment at the end of which you can’t even be sure of a teaching job (A typical Ad. for Asst. Professor’s job attracts 350 applicants from Ph.D. holders).

    So ask yourselves: ‘ What do you want to be in life?… Five years hence…, Ten years hence,…. and in your mid-forties… If you have romantic ideas of becoming a researcher, I have this to point out, In thirty years of ‘manpower export’ to the US, I am yet to hear of a single IITian stud in any field of engineering. WHY? Every IITian who goes to the US discovers, sooner or later ,that one cannot progress in an organisation beyond a stage without an MBA . One discovers that there is more money in Wall Street than in Silicon Valley.

    And so, the tragic ending to the story is that many a brilliant brain has been lost to lure of the lucre. If money is what ultimately matters you can get it by going to the IIMs (multinationals pay salaries in lakhs) or to software jobs (dumb thing to do but, at least, you make a lot of money and escape gheraos and sweat and toil in the factories for a pittance of a salary). Exceptions exist for a few branches of specialization. Consult your friends in the US for more information on these. For a majority of specializations, what has been said is the bitter truth.

    Finally the question that comes to the mind is-‘ Who should go abroad?’ If you are seriously committed to hi-funda research then, depending on your field, you may still have opportunities. A warning: Do not fall for these fields, which, dole out aids by the dozen. It is quite possible that you are being lured because the Native American is too smart to step into a potential career doom.

    Another question that needs to be answered is: ‘What has changed in India?’ Economic liberalization, competitive business, growing awareness of the need to be competitive at a global level, growing importance of manufacturing management (many consulting firms are picking up Engineer-MBA’s for such jobs) and higher salaries for jobs are just a few facets in which India is changing. A typical 21-year-old IITian simply cannot visualise life in the mid-forties. I hear that people want to return to India, particularly if they have teenaged daughters – that is when the difference in culture and values hits you. You will not understand unless you actually talk to people in this age group.

    So think…, think beyond the immediate goals of affluence, hi-tech life, spicy surroundings, instant telephone connections, multi channel televisions… think beyond affluent universities, hi-funda facilities, dream world libraries and hi-tech research. At 45, you cannot,or rather, should not feel empty [the line that hit me hardest – scorpion] even after you get all this. Nobody tells you that there is a glass ceiling beyond which you cannot rise in your profession. Nobody tells you that the choice is often between second-class citizenship, first class standard of living in the USA and first class citizenship, second-class standard of living in India. Nobody tells you that it feels awfully lonely out there or that many of them feel within months of reaching here that the massive investment of time and money on ‘apping’ was perhaps not worth it.

    Do you now that much of teaching in the US universities is done by graduate teaching assistants and by Ph.D. students and not by the Profs.? Do you know that a few research supervisors may even stoop to the extent of publishing your research work in their name with your name deleted? Remember, you need a certain level of maturity to think of your priorities-not in today’s context but in the context of two decades hence.
    Remember your mom and dad are desperate to send you abroad because they belong to a society which thinks that anything from the land of the white man must be superior. Remember you do not have to go abroad simply because your friends did so, your cousins did so or because your parents want you to do so.

    Go, if the dirt and squalor of India repels you, Go, if you want to do nothing about it, Go, if the corruption and politics make you puke, And if you do not want to become another T.N.Seshan Go, if you think your future is doomed because of the reservation policy in the country, turning a blind eye to the fact that no upper middle class kid is doing menial labour.

    1. Scorpion Eater, urban, Anglo-phillic Indians are pretty much second class citizens. We live in a country and political system where our voice counts for little. I cant say I am in agreement with the tone and content of this article.

    2. Go, if the dirt and squalor of India repels you, ………, Go, if the corruption and politics make you puke,

      Yeah, these things are still true. 🙁

      Do you now that much of teaching in the US universities is done by graduate teaching assistants and by Ph.D. students and not by the Profs.?

      This wasn’t true in my university at least (in the top 15, early to mid-2000s). I mean, TAs did teach tutorial classes and grade papers (I did that too) but saying that they did “much of teaching” is heavy exaggeration (and a borderline lie.) Probably the professor some skewed feedback from disgruntled grad students?

      Do you know that a few research supervisors may even stoop to the extent of publishing your research work in their name with your name deleted?

      When I joined my graduate lab as an RA (lab supervised by a white American, as were the majority of grad students in our research group), I saw a newspaper clipping on the wall about one such case. But I never encountered or heard of one such case in my academic life. Everyone in my experience took these kinds of ethics very seriously. In any case, I don’t think there was ever a racial angle to this, if that’s what the professor was implying.

      At 45, you cannot,or rather, should not feel empty [the line that hit me hardest – scorpion] even after you get all this.

      This is quite accurate, but it can apply to different kinds of situations. I’m in my 40s, and though I don’t feel any emptiness, I do remain somewhat disconnected from my (Indian) surroundings. My closest friends (college and grad school cohort) still almost all live in the States, and those are the people I still relate to and communicate (intimately that is) most with. This feeling is likely one that any migrant or nomad will experience at some point of time in their lives.
      Who doesn’t feel this? People who pay attention to forming social connections in their 20s and then find a way to keep those connections alive (typically, by not relocating after that age). Also, balance this with your professional efforts. A lot of Indian grad students and workers in their 20s live physically and professionally in the US while living socially in India (i.e., little to no interaction with American society, long hours on the phone with family/friends in India). Social isolation in one’s 40s is a natural result of that.

      Nobody tells you that there is a glass ceiling beyond which you cannot rise in your profession.

      This is definitely not true any more, even if it was in the 90s. I’m skeptical of the latter too; back then the number of Indians was low enough that you wouldn’t expect to see many rise to top management, statistically speaking. Today in my field, desis run many of the top companies (Google, Microsoft, IBM). Indians are well-represented among the powers that be in the headquarters of the MNC I work for. This kind of complaint was (is?) made by feminist groups too, and I find both claims spurious.

      1. Who doesn’t feel this? People who pay attention to forming social connections in their 20s and then find a way to keep those connections alive (typically, by not relocating after that age). Also, balance this with your professional efforts. A lot of Indian grad students and workers in their 20s live physically and professionally in the US while living socially in India (i.e., little to no interaction with American society, long hours on the phone with family/friends in India). Social isolation in one’s 40s is a natural result of that.”

        @Numinous and Vikram, there is more to it (feeling of emptiness) than simply a matter of lack of social network. primarily it arises due to the realization that one is simply a cog in the wheel in the impersonal corporate machinery, and does not any decision making powers in the organizations they work in. you can say it comes from the fact of getting stuck in the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid.

        most indian IT workers who reach their 40s end up achieving usual middle class markers of success by this age – a house, a GC/citizenship, a flat or two back home in india, good 401k balance etc etc. so they have achieved their basic needs. but now comes the urge to do something more worthwhile. to make a positive impact on the world. or just to have some fame. but that is when they realize that they simply do not have that level of authority to shake things up.

        barely 1 out of a 100 migrant indian technology workers in USA reach anywhere close to a position of responsibility in US. (by the position of responsibility I mean having some control over company budget and having a say in how the money is spent. a 2-bit “technical manager” who has 3 similarly powerless h1b guys working under him doesn’t count).

        i am not implying any racist angle to it. it is simply due to the fact that due to belonging to a different culture most indians lack the social skills that will make them influence opinions in american circles and propel them higher in power hierarchy. that’s why they are forced to take an expensive MBA route which is just ignored by native born americans.

      2. let me elaborate more on the cultural handicap the indians face in US in their quest to rise up. apparently, wining and dining your clients is a big part of the job in “higher management”. and now think about this – beef dishes are an indispensable part of american cuisine. they have an entire subculture of beef recipes and cooking. now, how do you expect an indian IT guy, who has most likely have never even smelled beef back in india, to take his clients to the best steak restaurants in the town? or how do you expect him to be knowledgeable about golf, who has only seen congested cities in india?

        1. I agree with this. In fact, some of the successful (i.e., high-risers) Indians I know in the US eat beef and play golf. Those who can’t or don’t want to change will have a disadvantage.

          Vegetarianism is getting increasingly popular in the US though, so that shouldn’t be much of a handicap in the future.

        2. @scorpion,

          Not that I disagree with a lot of what you wrote but lol at “cultural handicap”.

          One time, a random stranger at a technical conference felt they had to tell me in elevator that not wearing lipstick is unprofessional.

          Come on man, cultural handicaps can’t hide the talent (and not just technical but people reading skills). More handicap is the attitude. Always the temptation is that I can do better without having to change.

  12. You cannot take two months off and wander away to see the world.

    Practically speaking, this is very hard for any Indian, at least one who is not awash in family money. Doesn’t matter if you live in India, with theoretically more freedom, or in the US, tethered to an employer through a work visa. It’s not just the fact that we have little money or are overworked but also that our passports command very little respect, and we have to seek visas to go anywhere (often through a struggle.)

  13. Anecdotally speaking, as someone who lived in the US (studied, worked) and moved back to India: people who get degrees and/or work experience in the US, at least in my tech field, still get a lot more respect than equally smart and accomplished people who never left India in the first place. If you work for an MNC, people working in the US (or any “developed” country) get more respect, benefit of the doubt, and (importantly) budget than people working in India.

    Also, if you want to do truly innovative technical things, there’s little to no market for that in India, partly because companies and governments have very little discretionary budget to spend on innovation. Governments can be very bureacratic, and companies can be very conservative, often holding out for innovations to be tried and tested in Western countries before they attempt to adopt them. Most of our homegrown startups I think make a mark (and money) by building arbitrage tools.

    I moved back to India for family reasons, and was willing to sacrifice any high technical ambitions I may have had. But for the reasons stated above, I’ll still advice the younger technically-minded generation to “Go West, Young Man/Woman”. Getting a green card is nigh impossible at this time, but do spend a few years there if you can.

  14. @Numinous
    // people who get degrees and/or work experience in the US, at least in my tech field, still get a lot more respect than equally smart and accomplished people who never left India //

    TBF this is true of nearly every country, and not specific to India.

    Eg it is commonly known that a French person who has lived and worked in London has more job-worth in France than a Frenchman who never left. I have interned in Paris so I know this first hand from locals. In fact working in London (or large American cities) is considered super fashionable in French (or German/Swedish/Spanish etc) middle classes. (Another reason why Brexit hurt more than Europeans are willing to admit).

    Secondly, I have interviewed and worked with lots of Chinese people and see CVs from Chinese students/professionals regularly but I have never come across someone with a PhD in China. Most people will have a first degree in China followed by American (or British or even French) grad school, and some even undergrads in Western unis. But just don’t see local post-grads (the only chap I knew was a tsinghua phd postdoc-ing at Caltech years ago)

    1. Slapstik

      Secondly, I have interviewed and worked with lots of Chinese people and see CVs from Chinese students/professionals regularly but I have never come across someone with a PhD in China.

      As a reply to Vikram I gave three examples from my grad school, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook Uni, NY.

      Search for Minghua Zhang in this page/post. He came in as post doc to Bob Cess direct from China (1988-1990). By 1991 Faculty.
      Top class Numerical Modeller and reflects in his CV.

      I was more of a Oceanographer, but because of wife being in and out of hospital, had to shift to Ocean Atmosphere interaction, i.e. desk research Bloody Minghua expected me to have the deep knowledge of Atmosphere that he had.

      Anyway, luckily* in many ways did not get the PhD and moved to Wall Street. Most think Oceanography is Biology. There is Physical, Chemical and Geological and all three are Applied Math intensive and easy hire into Wall Street Derivative Math and Coding jobs.

      Scorpion Eater says
      belonging to a different culture most Indians lack the social skills

      Other physical skills too, eg Swim, Scuba dive etc. A big advantage if you wish to be a field work oriented Oceanographer.

      A story:
      Second week in US, one of the coldest Februarys (1988). Volunteered to help sampling on a day expedition. New student advisor Henry Bokuniwicez put me on the deck to help Mark Wiggins. Mark did not seem too happy and had long harangue with Henry. I guess, Skinny 5’4″, 110lbs, FOB polyester pants/shirt, patent leather shoes didnt exactly inspire confidence. Couldnt even work with gloves but worked like a dog for 4 hours in freezing cold.

      It was rough seas too, most of the new Grad students were vomiting their guts out. Mark asked me a couple of times, Let me know if you are going to be sick.

      Anyway, around 2pm ship turns around to be at dock before dark (4:30pm). My job was over, and went inside. Drank some tea and Mark asked if I wanted a beer. Said yes and proceeded to drink four Budweiser. Free booze, even watery always welcome. Mark and some other Faculty must have been watching and was asked “Sure you wont be sick”. What sick, we used to drink bottles of hard liquor out at sea. I thought I had wisely stopped, but I got the reputation.

      To Mark after that I could do no wrong. Keys to machine shop, here you are. Keys to small boats, here are keys make sure you tie the boat properly. Cool.

      1. sbarrkum nice story on seasickness. BTW, susceptibility to seasickness, or stamina against it is in you genes, and has nothing to do with physical strength. i myself am not particularly big bodied, and i can proudly claim to be someone who can hold back my stomach against roughest of seas. same for alcohol. 🙂

        i guess it has something to do with our inner ears that maintain our balance. will study it some day.

  15. Nice article!
    @Scorpion Eater. Thanks for sharing article by TTN. Puts it very nicely.

    I don’t share the optimism of other folks on this thread the Green Card will be streamlined in the next 10 years. If any, it is only going to become worse. The populists and neo-libs are having a power war and I am fairly certain that it is going to continue for a long time.

    One of the advantages of coming to the US is the quality of education. I know that desis insist on always staying in the best school district, but overall, I think 50% of the american schools have pretty good standards. Kids *actually* get good education here. Such an education would be very difficult to get in India.

    The culture of kids as soon as they enter the high school gets very messed up (at least in my opinion)! I actually don’t mind horny teenagers having sex, but I feel that there is an over-emphasis on being “cool” and “fashionable”. Good looks is given way more importance than competence. I think the overall trend of not marrying before 30/35 as just a continuation of trying to live the sweet moments of high school. Am I wrong about the high school culture? Would be happy if someone who observed high school more closely, or who went to high school in the US can give their experiences.

  16. This link could be on Open Thread or here.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/29/world/indians-migrant-minority-black-lives-matter-intl/index.html

    Above link was given by a Sri Lankan Schoolmate (now in UK) in response to other Sri Lankan belittling Black and Hispanics.

    Edited conversation (italics others comments)

    If people want to be relevant how about striving to be the largest tax paying ethnicity? Betcha your lives will matter then.

    Me: As usual you make supercilious,new immigrant, they as in Black and Hispanic are “looser” type remarks. When were you and yours ever in the forefront defending the US, other than as an armchair warrior.

    I guess you dont think Black and Hispanic are part of the “Brave” (as in Land of the Free and Brave) who have been in forefront of the right or wrong wars the US has been fighting.

    Why do you think the Fed govt is reluctant to get the military out. Because they are not sure which side they (as in the foot soldiers) will decide to support. 40% of the military is minority and very likely much higher at the rank and file level.

    Think about that statistic and who becomes relevant when the inevitable civil war breaks out.

    No idea what all that has to do with taxes. My statement is simple. More economically important you are to society more people give a shit about you. And I am an immigrant so ya know…

    Me: And when things go bad, society cares more about those in the military.

  17. I see most contributions here are Millennials , hence one aspect is not discussed much. The next generation!
    What would you like your children to grow up like? Culturally/Philosophically!
    I find it very hard to raise ‘Hindu kids’ here. Most of the Hindu kids I know are basically American. Their interactions with their parents are not that different from mainline Christian Kids. Most are, as Razib says, coconuts!
    I however do have several Muslim acquaintances/classmates who have raised fairly devout Muslim kids. One kid, became a surgeon from Emory, still ended up marrying an Indian Muslim woman from Maharashtra who keeps hijab.
    Maybe HMBrough has thoughts on this.

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