Depressing To Independent: Turning Life Around On A H4 Visa

Posted: August 19, 2019

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Shifting to the US for a year after having worked in corporate was not an easy decision. Here is a story of a woman who turned her life around on an H4 Visa!

Taking that decision to shift base to the US, without a job, on an H4 visa – was not an easy call. And heading straight into a sudden break from a hectic corporate work schedule made that role transition in life, even more difficult.

I travelled to the US on Nov 1, 2017 with an H4 visa. Back then, I was not quite a believer of long distance marriages (well, I still have my reservations there!) In fact, I was a flag-bearer of the ‘no-matter-what-couples-live-together’ policy.

Before this, I was working in Singapore, in a well-paid and full-fledged role of a software developer-analyst. I had an almost 12-14 hour work schedule. So, it was not that I moved to the US for a better quality of life financially.

I always had a fair option of not travelling to the US on an H4 visa, but I CHOSE TO.

And to be very fair to my spouse, he was extremely accommodating and there was no pressure from his end at all. As a couple, we mutually decided to move to the USA, instead of to Singapore.

What is an H4 Visa?

For those who don’t know, here are some inputs on the H4 visa. This is an immigration option in the USA, that authorises a person to reside in the country, along with their spouse or children as direct dependents.

Unfortunately, according to this visa, the identity of an individual resides with the partner. Your own qualifications and work experience are not even considered and you are strictly not authorised to work.

Sometimes, I grin at the irony – the USA is the most developed country in the world and often termed as the land of opportunities. Yet, a segment of people residing there, are still struggling for a basic right in life – a right to work and be financially independent!

Having said that, I will not get into the details of this visa. Enough data is already available regarding the same, on the internet. I am sure, America, as a developed country, has its own set of policies to follow, so as to keep immigration in check. I don’t question that.

My love for writing and how it all began

Even though technology has never been my area of passion, my decent brains have helped me survive in the IT industry. And I was always a workaholic, almost to the point of being obsessive at times.

Deadlines, long working hours, challenges, executions – all of these gave me an all-time high. My organisation got me good opportunities in my professional career.

But, my heart always lay where the pen was. I loved writing!

I felt so liberated when I wrote, especially while travelling, that nothing else could ever take its place. It was the unconditional love of my life. So yes, I had a plan to dedicate a year’s time to full-time writing and setup my own website.

The initial rosy days on an H4 visa

If it is your first trip to the US, you would love it there. My first interest was to lap it all up, before I missed any experience. The people, their ways, the discipline, the cleanliness, the consciousness, the attitude, the country as a whole – it felt so different from India.

I got busy imbibing all the goodness of America, from the moment I set afoot there. In the first month of landing in USA, I had taken a road trip straight to its heart – Las Vegas.

Yes, that was the level of adrenaline pumping in my veins in the first month itself.

Travelling always set me free and this was the farthest I had travelled away from home. Nothing could stop me.

My mind raced free, and life outside a corporate office seemed just perfect.

Wander Bird - Travel blog by Santwona Patnaik

The reality check

After a month of all the initial euphoria and travel, that feeling of not getting back to office sunk in. Yes, this is what corporate conditioning does to you! We become so used to the hectic schedules and long working hours that we crave for holidays and getaways. But, that craving for holidays is short-lived.

After a refreshing break, we just want to get back to work with all the renewed energy. And in my case, that never happened.

One month had passed. The adrenaline rush had mellowed down by then. Gradually, I could feel the change. I had begun missing that whole process of getting ready for work, having that 5-minute breakfast, rushing to office, completing assignments, racing to keep up with deadlines, socialising and getting back home to plan some piping hot dinner before snuggling into bed. Suddenly, it felt as if I had all the time in the world and absolutely nothing to do!

Needless to say, the next month was one of the gloomiest and one of the most difficult times of my life.

Soon enough, I realised that I just had to put my foot down and take the reins of my life in my hands. Irrational brooding and self-pity was definitely not going to take me anywhere.

I had taken this 1-year break for a reason and it was time to materialise that dream.

My days got jam-packed with internet-surfing while trying to figure out the best possible way to self-host my dream website. And the nights got busier, with the strategy implementation.

I had begun working even harder and started building my dream, one step at a time. Everyday, I learnt something new, improvised, failed, and bounced back harder. That’s how WANDER BIRD was born.

Wander Bird - © Santwona Patnaik

Back to base, after completing a full year in USA on an H4 visa

Now, it’s been a year of travel-writing and life seems to have completed a full circle in a span of just a year. Today, I feel immensely refreshed, have a greater clarity of thought, practice a better balance between my job and travel writing. And, most importantly, I have my priorities sorted like never before!

We become so comfortable in our mundane lives, that we often hesitate to take that leap into the unknown. There were people who criticised me, rebuked me and even judged me saying that I was going on a ‘paid leave-vacation’, ‘absconding from work’, ‘finding an excuse to chill’ and would never do anything substantial with my life.

According to them, I was apparently wasting my time and had no substantial plans for a year. A senior person from the workplace had even wished me luck to ‘burn my husband’s hard-earned money’. Yes, these were the exact words.

Well, I don’t even owe an explanation to such people, about the zillion hardships I faced while taking this 1-year break from my corporate work and even while living this decision of mine.

It was a hard decision to live with, and today, it was even harder to stick to that decision and get back to work, trying to manage a long-distance marriage for a while.

To all those critics — you will never get the credit for pushing me to achieve what I did, in the last year of my professional blogging. I always had my plan sorted in my head and was working silently towards it, unperturbed. But yes, you guys made my resilience stronger. So, thank you!

H4 story - © Santwona Patnaik

To my ever-supportive husband and my tribe – With a rock-solid support as yours, anyone can achieve anything. Thanks for everything!

A version of this was first published here.

Picture credits: Author’s own

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