All posts by Jessica Kumar

Global Nomad from birth. Indophile. Cause Marketer. Veg food lover.

The Costs of the Digital Nomad Lifestyle

The Digital Nomad life is now accessible to more and more as our world gets further connected. We love to follow the romantic blogs and Instagram accounts of happy families who seemingly galavant across the world with hip looking children, drinking coconut water along the way and occasionally cranking out a few hours of work here and there to pay for their travels. They seem so well adjusted and self-actualized. The digital nomad life seems like an ideal lifestyle, and it feels like if you aren’t doing it, there must be something wrong with you.

But there are steep prices to pay for this lifestyle that no one tells you about. 

There are two kinds of global nomads. The first are the ones who do it specifically for the travel, mostly taking it as an extended vacation with some work involved. The goal is to work from a location and observe the local culture, then later return back to home base. This could be the person who travels frequently for work but whose family is rooted in their home culture.

The second variety are who I’m talking about. These are the long term digital nomads who have made it a lifestyle. They either have no home base or have a series of home bases which are not in their home culture. Their family (if they have one) comes with them and they have no plans of “going home” or settling down. They engage the cultures they are in and take root.

What are the long term challenges digital nomads face?

Displacement

The feelings of displacement are very real. Being away from your home culture, extended family, friends and familiar places is extremely taxing, to put it mildly. It sometimes feels like a military assignment without any structure or purpose, and the worst part is, you have no battalion.

The mind can only take so many “unfamiliar” at a time, and is not meant to be constantly readjusted for long, sustained periods. One has to give themselves time to become acclimated and familiar with a new location, set of relationships and way of doing life.

I don’t use the term “displacement” lightly as this term is largely associated with refugee populations.  There is a huge difference between “push” of refugees being forced out of their country and “pull” of the digital nomad life. While the situations are very different, there are some feelings which are common between these two groups. The similarities are in the displacement of starting over, the feelings of confusion and longing for familiarity of one’s homeland.

Losing Yourself

Losing oneself doesn’t happen until you allow yourself to truly be known by the locals. I’m not talking about the digital nomad who roams a different country every three months. This is the digital nomad who finds a place and camps out for an extended time, engages the culture, makes friends and allows themselves to be known deeply by the local people. There is a difference between being an observer in a culture and being an active participant. In becoming an active participant, you give something of yourself. You must loosen some of your roots of your home culture and be willing to let go.

Many nomads travel to “find themselves,” but in order to do that, you must lose yourself first. 

Priorities

In the process of becoming a global citizen, one’s priorities have to be completely undone and reevaluated. In the digital nomad lifestyle, one’s perspective of the world goes from an ant size grass level view to a 30,000 cruising altitude view in a relatively short period of time. The first year of nomadic life, is wildly disorienting. Your family, your identity, what you care about, all gets called into question as you delve into a new way of doing life. What is really important and what is not important, all must be reevaluated in order to learn how to function. And for those who find that sweet spot, things eventually fall into place in an improved order.

Each culture has a grid, a different way of wiring and functioning. At first, you often short circuit in a new culture as you assume the wiring is the same as your culture’s grid. These short circuits can lead to a fire in the grid if one doesn’t let the wires disconnect and be reassembled. That period of disconnecting and ambiguity is highly uncomfortable.  Sometimes in this period, you are barely functioning. Slowly, the discomfort goes away as the new wiring starts to work for you. The old wiring is disconnected and forgotten.  You become an improved and flexible machine. 

Even with the steep costs, living the digital nomad life is worth it. 100% worth every tear, every confusing wakeful night and every piece of lost luggage along the way.

 

Advertisements

Stable Kids in a World of Unlimited Choices

For many Millennials and Xennials, we feel the need to questions everything our parents did in raising us. Our culture is one of entrepreneurship, disruption and re-invention. This seeps into parenting as well.

Many things need to stay the same, and some things need to change with the times.

Children growing up in the 80s and 90s were surrounded by a changing world with the introduction to one of the world’s most shattering technologies, the internet.

The good parents who foresaw the changes that would change our generation, did their best to protect us from MTV, drugs that the DARE program warned us about and the potential evils of big cities.

Our parents saw we needed security and that is what they dedicated their lives to. The suburban dream was born with big yards and minivans. Our parents worked for the same company for years in order to provide us with what we needed the most, security.

Each generation has our specific parenting challenges and ways we need to parent our kids.

Now, as we millennials and xennials are parents ourselves, we see a whole different set of needs for our kids. Security is still a need, but the way we pursue it has to be slightly different. Given the nomadic nature of careers, security based on location isn’t much worth pursuing.

Security is an illusion. It is more important to teach our children self worth and how to thrive in a tumultuous world.

This hit me when my grandmother was watching me feed my 2 year old son. I gave him a choice between carrots and green beans. She was shocked that I would ask a 2 year old this question. My grandmother made the comment – “In my time, the kids just ate whatever we put on their plate. No choices and no questions asked.”

What she said stuck with me for months.  The “do as I say, or else” worked great in that generation where you had limited choices in life- you picked a career that seemed stable and stuck with your job as long as you could. The radius of decision making was severely limited. You needed to follow the rules in order to succeed.

Our world is no longer one of limited choices. In fact, we have unlimited choices, and that can be incredibly immobilizing.

Teaching simple decision making tactics are crucial to helping this generation thrive in the midst of a world with too many choices. Our kids can travel the world, live in pretty much any location they want and interact with almost anyone they desire given the ability to connect online. Their jobs could take them to Medellin, Salt Like City or Chiang Mai. They could live in a city, a cottage or a farm. Their dietary choices could give them access to any type or quality of food on planet earth. Their future decisions could take them anywhere.

Stability means something else in this generation. Stability means that a person has the “know how” to choose their limits in a world with unlimited possibilities. Their stability may not be in a home, in a job or even hobbies. The closeness of a few key relationships, the ability to field the bumps of life and a rooted identity are what brings a person security in a global world.

So maybe my grandma was right about the beans and carrots “one choice” approach of her generation, but we need new tactics to teach decision making skills if our kids are going to be able to navigate our new global world.

 

Why Being Mothers Makes Women Better Professionals

Before I had children, I had this fuzzy imaginary picture of what it looked like to be a stay at home mother. You drank green smoothies every morning, made homemade cinnamon rolls and read novels while your kids played peacefully with legos in their room, while the rest of the house remained untouched and pristine. It would be so unlike the messes and chaos of the professional world. It would be peaceful and there would be no stress.

Immersing myself in the reality of being a mother of two small children, the deadlines, extreme need for multi-tasking and fast paced environment have not ceased to be necessary, to my surprise.

Spending time with small children all day activates a different part of the brain than sitting in meetings all day does, but I still feel stretched, intellectually stimulated and pushed to my limits at the end of the day.

Being in a high-functioning professional environment trained me to switch gears quickly and utilize short spurts of time for maximum performance. This is not unlike the skills needed for managing children. Let me give you an example.

Professional environment- It is 8am and you’re at your desk fielding a phone call about an upcoming meeting while putting the finishing touches on a written marketing strategy in google docs. Immediately following the call, but only 10 minutes before you are supposed to report on your marketing strategy to your boss, you are called into the CEO’s office where you are asked to give a quick high level overview of your progress on a different project. Meanwhile your breakfast is getting cold on your desk. You also need to book flights for an upcoming conference, submit last month’s expense report and reply to a few important emails before lunch. You are supposed to meet a vendor for coffee at 11, but your day is out of control and you will likely have to reschedule.

Home environment- After a difficult night with a sick baby, your doorbell rings at 6:00am. You are waiting for FedEx to deliver some important documents, so you hop out of bed and rush to the door. By the time you get there, whoever it was, is already gone. The doorbell woke up your toddler who asks for breakfast and tells you his “tummy hurts.” It is still 2.5 hours until school so you get out a puzzle for him to work on, give him some water and transfer your baby to your husband’s side of the bed, so she feels a body next to her and doesn’t wake up. You make a quick cup of tea for yourself and sketch out your priorities for the day including tracking down these important documents from FedEx, attending an HOA meeting and going to the bank to get a cashiers check for a purchase you need to make. A text comes in, your breakfast guest is running late, which only leaves you 20 minutes with her before you have to drop your son to school. While your son is brushing his teeth, you quickly pack his lunchbox while texting a friend who has a question about her rental apartment, and asks you because you are knowledgeable about real estate in that area. The baby wakes up and it is time to feed her. You grab your phone to scan through your email and send next week’s flight itinerary to your friend that you’ve scheduled a visit with, all with one hand since you are nursing your baby. Your guest arrives for breakfast and this is all before 8am.

Both situations require thinking on your feet, changing gears from low level details to giving high level summaries. The brain is exercised in multiple dimensions. In both scenarios, the priorities are continually shifting.

If women are so skilled in muti-tasking and managing shifting priorities, why does the workplace often see mothers as “less valuable employees?” Why should mothers be nervous about being rehired after taking a few years “off?” Is she not a more multi-dimensional thinker after having children? Is she not even smarter and savvy, having ample practice in balancing shifting priorities?

I find that a woman becoming a mother makes her even stronger and an even more dedicated professional. She has a strong desire to focus and has proved she is dedicated to long term projects. She has the ability to think broadly yet focus on the fine details. She can be firm, yet flexible. She can emphasize yet make tough decisions.

Mothers who reenter the workforce should be seen as more marketable and not less.

Top 5 items to bring from the West to India

With many people coming back and forth from the West to East, there are items which one cannot find while here. Since I find myself asking these questions on a regular basis, I thought I’d share my knowledge and what I’ve found.

Top 5 Items to Bring 

1) Safety items for kids – The best thing I brought from the US was a helmet for my 2 year old. With all the riding on scooters and motorcycles, this has served us well. Child helmets are just breaking into the Indian market, but they are often awkward and hot. I brought a bicycle helmet with holes for ventilation and it has probably been one of the most used items we brought with us. Carseats are also limited since they are not required here by law. Carseats here are often imported and extremely expensive. My advice is to bring your own from North America.

2) Food items -This is a biggie. I’m going to break it into three categories.

  1. Baking- people doing their own personal baking is just catching on in most homes in India. If you have certain molds or ingredients you really like, I’d advise to bring your own. Other specialty and gluten free items really don’t exist here. Cacao powder, almond flour, coconut flour are not available in most places. You may also be surprised to find the quality of vanilla, active yeast and chocolate chips to be less than stellar.
  2. Grains and health foods- Quinoa and other grains sourced from North and South America are very costly in India. Goji berries, real maple syrup, maca powder, spirulina and nutritional yeast are not readily available. Certain herbal teas that are sourced from other parts of the world are not available- matcha, jasmine, etc.
  3. Firmented foods are not really a thing in India (except for achaar and dahi). For those who like kombucha and water kefir- bring  your own starter and brew at home.
  4. Cheese- High quality and certain varieties of cheese like gouda, feta or cheddar are only found in import quality and very expensive. HimalayanCheese.com does source, produce, sell and ship in India.
  5. Coffee- if you’re a coffee snob, most of the Indian brands will leave you unsatisfied. Starbucks is newer in India, but unless you live in a major metropolitan city, you won’t have access to those dark roast kind of beans. There are a few place doing their own roasting like Blue Tokai in Delhi.

3) Kids Books- Unless you are in a big city with Oxford Books, you won’t be able to find specialty kids books in English. There are a lot of general things out there for older kids, but the collection before age five is limited. Also, if you speak another language like Korean, Spanish, you won’t be able to find children’s books here. Books for small children in local languages are starting to make an entrance in the market. Publishers like Tulika have Hindi, Bengali and a few South Indian languages are available.

4) Holiday sentimental stuff- American holidays like Thanksgiving, 4th of July and even Halloween are non-existent here. So bringing your own cornucopia and candy corns are probably necessary if you’re sentimental like that. Up until the last few years, Christmas was even hard to find. However, Indians have taken a great liking to the secular meanings of Christmas. Christmas trees and Santa Clause stuff is not so hard to find anymore. Kirti Creations in Delhi’s Khan Market is one of the few carriers of quality Christmas garb in Northern India. Other holidays where there aren’t large communities represented (like Rosh Hashanah or Chinese New Year) don’t have a large representation here either.

5) Ladies specialty items- Topics like menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding are taboo in most of India. Anything having to do with these normal passages of life do not have the representation of goods in the market. Ladies undergarments I find are not as high quality in India and have limited variety, particularly for nursing or for plus size women. Nursing pads, breast pumps, etc are best to be brought from abroad. Ladies menstrual hygiene goods are very limited on choice as well.

Worst 5 Things to Bring 

1) Water filter- Water filters are widely available in India and quite necessary. Carbon based countertop filters like Brita are actually dangerous in India due to the quick bacteria buildup inside sitting water. Save yourself the trouble and buy a Reverse Osmosis mountable filter upon arrival. They come with warranties and often have guys come along to do regular servicing.

2) Most Electrical Appliances – Save yourself the headache and heartache (when it burns out) and just buy stuff here. Ovens, microwaves, blenders, etc are all available. I have still not been able to find an affordable Vitamix or SodaStream India, but other than that, everything is available here in 220 Voltage.

3) Toys, Markers and crayons- Kids coloring and drawing stuff is widely available in India. I find the quality to be pretty much the same. Many of the plastic toys are available here, but not as many educational type creations. There are new companies like Flintobox in India that are making a splash.

4) Clothes and shoes for kids- Clothing for kids here in India is exceptionally good. There are certain things which we North Americans love like baby onesies which aren’t as widely available here in non-urban areas. But if you look on the tag of many of your kids clothes a lot of them are actually made in India. Also, most of the clothes here are made for the climate here.

5) Food items which are found here – My advice to people is to eat local. You can burn thorough a budget pretty fast by buying all imported foods, most of which aren’t that good anyway. There are several fad foods which are consumed in the US which actually originate here- coconut oil, chai, certain spices and anything with turmeric. No need to bring any of these items with you. Just buy the original when you arrive!

This is just my starters list! Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

The Cure for Mommy Brain

I used to wonder what stay at home moms did all day. I was annoyed and frustrated when friends told me they were “too busy” to hang out or return my phone calls because they now had kids and were stuck in the house all day.

Now being a mother of two small children, I certainly feel the pinch in being able to complete certain tasks, such as responding to a sensitive text or committing to making plans with a friend for an outing. But I still sometimes wonder why people tell others they are “too busy.”

“Too busy” is really a poor use of semantics to describe a lack of mind space. What we should say is “I’m too distracted.”

Being a mother of small children is an absolute doozy on a woman’s brain. Even the most efficient women find themselves pulled between multiple tasks at once, which stretches her short term memory capacity to the maximum and her patience to shreds. Being regularly interrupted for years on end breaks the power of her concentration and trains her mind to be constantly multitasking. Then she beats herself up when she can’t focus. This is nothing but a law of nature, yet she fights it.

Yet somehow in our Western culture, we are feed young moms the white lies like they are recent graduates at a cheesy commencement speech –  “the time is now”, “now or never”, “seize the day.”

Why does Western culture insist on torturing young moms by dangling the unrealistic notion that it is easy to have a monetized mommy blog, write a book on your maternity leave or go back for your online MBA while bouncing a toddler on your lap? Enough already.

These things are all achievable, for some people. But for a caretaker of young children, there are actually much better times in life to do certain things like start a business, go back to school, or work on certain areas of your own professional development. This is the time to give your overachieving self a break and focus in on the tasks at hand in the next couple of years – raising healthy human beings.

There isn’t a cure for “mommy brain.” But you can learn to accept it.

So here is a challenge to all my young mom friends. When you’re fed the cultural lies, refuse to digest them and make them your own. Hold onto that extra baby weight for a little bit longer. Push away the lies that you need to be a productive, career woman and have perfectly behaved children, all while baking homemade bread and brewing kefir. It just isn’t gonna happen right now.

You really can’t “have it all.” At least not all at once, right now.

Themes of Honor and Shame in Bollywood Movies

Two huge Bollywood blockbusters just hit theaters in the last two weeks across the world. Both are selling out as crowds flock and millions of dollars have been made so far.

On the surface both films look quite different.

Padmaavat is an epic drama about two warring kingdoms, staged in the 13th century. It capitalizes on the glamor of the royal life in the prime of Rajput glory. It has clear protagonist (Queen Padmaavati and King Maharawal Ratan Singh) and antagonist (Sultan Alaudin Khilji). The basic thrust is that Sultan Khilji becomes obsessed with Queen Padmaavat and conquers her kingdom so that he can take her for himself. Spoiler alert- in the end, upon defeat of the Rajput army, the entire clan of Rajput women burn themselves alive to prevent capture by the conquering army, thus maintaining the honor of the community.

Pad Man, is staged in dusty streets of North Indian Varanasi, in modern times. The protagonist is real life inventor, Arunachalam Muruganantham and the antagonist is society itself. He is a simple man fighting against societal norms to create low cost sanitary pads for women. The thrust of the film has created a movement across India to openly discuss menstrual health of women, a topic which has been taboo for millennia in the Indian subcontinent. He faces many obstacles, the biggest one being the sheer shame put on him from the community, accusing him of being a pervert, an adulterer and mentally ill.

However different these two films may appear, a common thread ties through both of the films – defending honor and avoiding shame.

In understanding the underlying motivations of societies, there are three worldviews:

  1. Guilt-innocence cultures are individualistic societies (mostly Western), where people who break the laws are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to rectify a wrong.
  2. Shame-honor cultures describe collectivistic cultures (common in the East), where people are shamed for not fulfilling group expectations and seek to restore their honor before the community.
  3. Fear-power cultures refer to animistic contexts (typically tribal), where people afraid of evil and harm pursue power over the spirit world through magical rituals.

These differing worldviews are what propel a number of our East/West conflicts and misunderstandings. Grasping the shame and honor context is one of the most critical pieces to understanding modern India, as we know it today.

Most of the Bollywood films have some sort of shame/honor theme. If you watch closely, even the most seemingly glitzy and modern Bollywood films carry this theme underneath the skimpy dancing and flashy cars.

Amidst the glamor of Padmaavat and the simplicity of Pad Man, these films show how critical these motivations are to Indians. However modern, anglicized and forward India may be on the world stage, lets not confuse the true underlying motivations of shame and honor that lay in the modern Indian heart.

 

Credit to Author, J. Georges, for definition of three worldviews.

East Meets West Parenting

It seems that North American and Indian parenting styles have many opposite features.

Lets have a little quiz just for fun. In which culture would you hear the following statements, North American or Indian?

  • “Its the school’s fault that my kid hasn’t learned to speak yet.”
  • “Just let him pee his pants in public, he will learn potty training from shame.”
  • “I can’t go out because my child has exams this month.”
  • “Its ok that he fell off his bike, he will get back up again.”
  • “You are not getting any other kind of food until you eat your vegetables.”
  • “Its bedtime.”

If you guessed the first three to be from Indian parents, and the last three to be from North Americans, you’re right!

To qualify, I’m making broad generalizations and comparing middle class North Americans to middle class Indian people. People who live in the village, who don’t have access to education, or on the other end are very wealthy can not be compared directly to the variety of flavors of Western parenting models available in the US and Canada. I’m attempting to compare one middle class segment to another. 

General Principles which I find to be the most contrasted in Indian vs North American culture

1) Role of the child in the home

The joint family system creates an interesting challenge for parents in India. Grandparents, aunts and uncles living under one roof provide a hedge of protection and love for a child, but can also be confusing if there are not consistent rules and expectations. I’ve seen parents who try to enforce rules, which are then trampled by grandparents who have their own ideas. The child becomes the center of the home because of this power struggle between the elders and adult children.

In many North American families, the child is not the center of the home, the marriage and husband/wife relationship is. After that, comes the children, and other family relationships. There is little question of who is in charge of the child’s development and often times grandparents are cut off by adult children because they try to implement their own ideas or “push the boundaries.” The role of the parent being in charge is clearly defined and culturally accepted.

In middle class India, the child is the center of everything. Your world is dictated by the child. All grandparents, aunts and uncles circulate around the child’s school schedule, food desires and sleeping habits. Even professional offices are child-centered and allow flexibility for parents when a child is mildly sick or in need of extra care.  This is simply not the case in middle class North America. There are other outside forces (careers, parents’ hobbies, husband/wife relationship) which dictate the center of priorities.

2) Role of parent vs role of school in behavior development

Teachers are somehow responsible for everything in India. I have actually heard people blame the teachers when their children get poor marks on an exam. In North America, this is a matter of personal responsibility for the child and parents.

To share a personal story, in my son’s school, there are people employed there to actually hand feed your child. There are people employed to change the pants of the child when there is a toilet accident. In the West, these are all the child’s responsibility to learn on their own and the school remains uninvolved in these matters. In the West, by the age of 2 or so, a child is expected to be able to eat on their own. Potty training is a personal matter and parents are the sole contributors to the process.

There is immense pressure to perform in school in India, yet kids somehow end up not learning as much as they could. Due to this pressure, parents often complete the school assignments for their child to “impress” or “keep up” rather than helping the child to really grasp the concepts. The end goal seems to be to “complete the assignment” rather than “learn the concept.” The goal is to impress the teacher, get good marks, not learn.

In North America, parents give more space for their child to try and fail. I don’t know of any Western parents who would ever complete a child’s homework for them. There is no concept of propping up the child to protect them from failure. You often find parents who don’t “push” their kids in school or who are pretty uninvolved in the learning process of their kids. Parents let their child manage their own workload and take responsibility for their mistakes, even if they fail.

3) When to enforce discipline

Discipline in studies is of utmost importance in Indian culture. But correcting bad behavior seems to be something which is reactive rather than proactive in the early years. The attitude is “when kids are small, they are bound to misbehave.” There are little efforts to proactively teach the child to behave properly. But when they start school at a later age, things somehow shape up and the kids turn out to upstanding citizens of society.

In US and Canadian mainstream culture, the behavior of the child is something that needs a lot of correction and attention in the early years. Discipline in studies isn’t a main focus, but making the child into a “good, well rounded person” is the goal. Discipline and consequences are often enforced in the early years. The goal is the make the child independent in the long term.

 

Westerns would call the Indian style of parenting “coddling” or “pampering” with no discipline whatsoever at home. Indians would call the Western model of instilling independence “uncaring” or “aloof.”

The issues of discipline, roles in the home are central to forming a culture at large. Observing these cultural patterns, can give great insight to the psyche and behaviors of a people.

This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of either culture, just observations from a parent who finds herself confronting these contrasts in her daily life.