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Many Indian women plan on moving abroad after marriage. Some tips to deal with the challenges and problems of women living abroad.
By Debjani Talapatra
Like any bride-to-be, Prachi Shah* was excited, yet anxious. Unlike many Indian women, however, she had no time to plan her honeymoon. Instead, other things claimed her attention – visa interviews, paper work, and finding out the baggage allowance on her flight. She was relocating to America.
“I was excited; America seemed like an adventure – all I could see were self-contained picket-fenced neighbourhoods. The reality was quite different”, recalls the 32 year old former store manager, 5 years on from her apartment in Boston. For a hardcore Mumbaikar, the Boston winter was the first hurdle. Soon, she was besieged by feelings of loneliness. Friendlessness, staying in all day and the constant calculation of time differences before calling family and friends began to take a toll. Instead of enjoying the first year of marriage, Prachi remembers being miserable.
Umme Salma Kandoriwala Babrawala, 25, a clinical psychologist who moved to South Africa earlier this year, concurs. “I felt totally displaced and completely uprooted; South Africa has a very individualistic outlook and it took me some time to digest it.”
Prachi and Umme are not alone. Every year many Indian women leave India to follow their husbands abroad, with a significant percentage moving on a dependent visa that limits the scope of finding work.
The loss is not just of friends and family but also that of a career. Many women, especially those from metros, leave India at the prime of their careers. Finding themselves dependent on the spouse financially can be extremely depressing. “I felt small asking my husband for money, for little things, especially if I needed to shop for myself”, says Anindita*, 28, a former Kolkata-based copywriter, who moved to the UK two years ago, but hasn’t been able to get a work permit.
While feelings of depression and low self-esteem may dog women even in good marriages, the situation is worse for those who find themselves in incompatible or even abusive relationships.
While the loss of financial independence is hard, a job is also more than a source of a regular income. For many educated Indian women who have always assumed that they would have a career, a job is a part of their identity and critical to self-esteem. Temporary unemployment may also mean that vital years of your career are lost. In technology based industries, where the rate of change is high, people find it difficult to get back to the workforce after a break.
While feelings of depression and low self-esteem may dog women even in good marriages, the situation is worse for those who find themselves in incompatible or even abusive relationships. Organizations such as Narika, SNEHA and Sakhi in the U.S, Ashiana and the Asian Women Resource Centre in the U.K and the South Asian Women’s Centre in Canada are a few that work with women who find themselves in such a situation.
While moving abroad, therefore, the first step may be to consider carefully as to what your career means to you. If you believe that it is central to your identity, you may need to look at whether your fiance or spouse can work in India. If you are indeed making the move, a good step would be to prepare yourself mentally. Look for other women who have moved abroad and find out how they have coped. Seasoned expatriates may be able to help you cope with the transition by providing advice on everything from where to get your Indian groceries to affordable day care and even finding a job.
Doing a course at a community college can help women add to their skill sets, which comes in handy when looking for work or if you are changing fields. Another way to keep yourself occupied is to volunteer at a local school, homeless or animal shelter. Most visas allow one to work for no pay and while such jobs may or may not relate to your specialization, they at least allow you to meet people.
Look for other women who have moved abroad and find out how they have coped.
For those with young children, the decision to apply for a work permit can be complicated by childcare conditions. In the US, for instance, day care rates are steep, ranging from $75/week to upwards of $295/week, and one needs to do thorough research to find a suitable one.
However, relocating abroad is not all gloom and doom. Bindu Mandya*, 27, a software professional, who moved to Montreal, Canada last year, found it a great change. “It felt glorious to take a break after 5 long years of work and I used this time to experience all the festivals, restaurants and interesting places in Montreal,” she says.
While there are two sides to the coin, it makes sense to be prepared for a tough transition and consider your own objectives and motivations closely before taking a decision to leave for what may, or may not be, the promised land.
* Names have been changed to protect identities.