Category Archives: Immigration

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.

 

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An Easier Route – Black Americans Paved the Way for South Asian Immigrants

Gandhiji, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are the three most well known social reformers and freedom fighters of the last century. Each of these men represented an oppressed people whose land and/or livelihood was occupied or stolen by white people. Each of these leaders fought against the unjust nature of white dominance. During Black History month, I’ve been reflecting on the contributions of those such as Dr. King, and the ripple effects which the civil rights movement caused for other Americans of color.

gandhi-king-mandiba

Even though the United States has had South Asian immigrants for at least 100 years, Indians in America today have a complex way  of fitting into the race and cultural wars in America. With so many Indians in the media who own their cultural heritage, including Preet BhararaNina Davuluri, Mindy Kaling, Indra Nooyi, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria, Ravi Zacharias, and many more, there are still some who publicly chose to shy away from their Indian-American identity.

Governor Bobby Jindal is a prime example of a confused Indian-American.  In a recent statement, he encouraged NRIs (non-resident Indians) not distinguish themselves according to their ethnic background, but to call themselves “Americans” rather than Indian-Americans. He thinks somehow distinguishing and appreciating the cultures we came from will lead to discord among people groups, rather than fostering an appreciation.

The rhetoric of “America as a melting pot” is outdated and inaccurate. America should be described as a chunky stew where each bite gives you a variety of tastes, as individuals own their unique identities. Jindal’s one-size-fits-all philosophy is very 1970s where we were taught not to see color, but just hold hands and sing kumbaya while pretending we have all been given the same social power.  So called “colorblindness” as we attempt to form into one singular identity, has clearly not worked.

Instead of a adopting a one-size-fits-all identity, we should be inspired to own each of our ethnic identities and embrace the freedom to be who we are. This kind of freedom has only been made possible by respectable people like Dr. King, and all those who fought, and continue to fight for equality in our country.

The road of immigration to the US has been built on the civil rights movement. Not only the rights of black Americans were fought for, but an opening for many more people of color to gain access to the American dream was also created. 

The New America at the Laundromat

There are a few places where I like to go to people watch and reconnect myself with the ever changing population of my urban neighborhood. There are some places that are thriving with life, freshness, and diversity. The Laundromat is one of these places where one can keep their finger on the pulse of “the New America”.

Few places in this country allow you to see the real grit and hardship of people. The fights they choose to pick in public, the dirty laundry they bring in, the things they keep themselves busy with while waiting for their laundry to spin…

A tragic but telling story unfolded before my eyes a few months ago. Dozens gravitated to the laundromat on a Friday night, slowly trudging in with huge bags of dirty laundry. A Pakistani mother in law/ daughter in law dragged a week’s worth of clothing, bedsheets and cloth diapers. A single African American mom fed her kids Cheetos and Mountain Dew for dinner while her hands worked almost disconnected folding clothes while keeping her eyes glued to the TV monitor above. Some brought in carts, while others dragged cotton bags across the busy streets. Around 10:00pm, two gang members rushed in chasing a teenage boy of a different color. The boy had no shirt and was running at full speed. He came for refuge, but what he got was a beating. Dozens of us stood in shock as the two boys beat this boy to the ground. Blood gushed from his nose and after about 30 seconds some other men stepped in and starting yelling. The two gang members sprinted off, banging the glass doors on the way out, and the rest of us stood in shock, some trying to mind their own business, while others looking wide eyed trying to memorize the culprits’ features so that we could report them to the police.

The Somalian woman across from me paused her phone conversation, as she stood motionaless in a purple polyester burkha with her phone tucked into the side of her hijaab next to her right ear. The Latino twins that were previously enamored with the telenovela playing at maximum volume on the TV mounted on the wall, stared at the bloody teen while their popcicles dripped on the floor, mouths hung open in shock. After about 20 minutes, the cops showed up, took the boy’s story, and took him off to a safe place. We all breathed a little easier.

Some call my community in Chicago a melting pot. I’d call it more of a stew pot. Everyone is thrown together, but people often keep separated. Indians over here, the Orthodox Jews over there, The West African Muslims over there. Living in a community where many people are FOBs (fresh-off-the-boat), sometime the FOB mentality never goes away. People recreate a community where their ethnic group is safe, protected, and free. When outbursts like this occur, you can almost feel the stereotypes of other ethnic groups being reinforced and prejudices forming. I almost wonder if our little ethnic communities are more harmful than helpful. Are they breeding grounds for prejudice, fear and stereotypes? I think about that boy and realize the impression he made on all of us at the laundromat. Will we harbor fear and anxiety about ethnic groups that we are afraid of? Or will we let it go?

Lessons on Global Competition from India

Even with the deepening of global business relationships and the influx of immigrants coming into the US, many American professionals still don’t realize how globally competitive markets really are. The past few years in the US, we’ve felt the pain of a tight job market. And I’m not convinced that my generation is prepared for the next wave of competition from abroad.

In the small town I grew up, it seemed we all deserved to be handed jobs once we graduated high school. If someone lost their job, it was NEVER their fault. And if someone’s job was outsourced, uh oh! Not fair!
Like my mom always used to tell me “Jessica, the world is not fair. Get used to it.”

But maybe the world is more fair than we think….

With the global nature of markets and the ease of communication between East and West, maybe we should seek to learn from our peers across the world who are putting in extra study time, specializing from a young age and sacrificing greatly to get ahead.

Expectations

When I lived in India, I noticed a few major differences in the way that middle class children are raised in comparison to American kids. Especially regarding the expectations that their parents have for their academic performance.

  • In America, we want our kids to be involved in activities which they enjoy. Allow them to explore their creative and athletic abilities.
  • There are no extra-curricular activities in India. After school kids go to ‘tuition’- which are extra study sessions.
  • In America we want our kids to be ‘well-rounded’.
  • In India, parents want their kids to be specialized in a steady field which guarantees employment in the future.
  • In America we want our kids to be in at least one competitive sport, and some parents push their kids to perform and compete. Parents participate in the support of athletic events and show ‘team spirit’.
  • Indian kids don’t really play sports unless its cricket (typically only boys). Girls and boys also play some light badminton on the roof of their house. They stay in their neighborhood within yelling distance of their mother. The only ‘team spirit’ that they feel is for Indian Cricket.
  • In America, the ranking and division of the sports teams are a major sway factor and reason for fame of a particular school.
  • In India, schools are known only for their academic quality and ranked accordingly.

Indian kids and American kids are happy. It all depends on cultural norms and the way the parents formulate and communicate expectations.

Desire for Security

One of the possible explanations for this Indian focus on academia is the desire for security. In America, many middle class families have grown up with a sense of financial security for generations. Our grandparents remember what it was like to live a life of uncertainty (due to the Depression), but our parents may have never been directly affected by severely tough times.
In India, the possibility of poverty  is not a distant reality. It is right here, right now. Indians are forced to face this every day as beggars and slums confront them on every time they cross the street. Striving for financial security is a must and a driving factor for most middle class Indian families.

So what can we take away from this?

The world will only become more competitive.
I think we will start seeing trends of American families who give their children a bit more guidance in academia. Clearly setting expectations of which fields they hope their children will go into. Parents will creatively find fun ways where kids can be involved in academia outside of school. Parents will allow time for sports and video games, but will set more stringent boundaries on the child’s free time.

We need to make sure that kids who grew up in America are ready for the wave of competition that is about to come. Instead of feeling entitled to a job, American kids need to be prepared to compete with peers like most middle class Indians, who started doing computer programming in 3rd grade.