According to a United Nations estimate, with the emigration of computer experts from India to the US, there is a loss of 2 billion dollars a year. At the same time, when Indian students go abroad for higher studies, India again loses 10 billion dollars in foreign exchange. Given this situation, why are people still being lured to the developed countries? Lack of opportunities in India and rich opportunities, more freedom, developed economy, better living conditions, etc. in the host countries are some of the reasons. There could even be reasons specific to the individuals, like relatives present overseas and personal fondness to explore new places, ambition for an improved career, etc.
“It was during my second job that I meet a wonderful man, who had come from the US and started a company in Bangalore named Ashok Santham. This job and the way he explained things that had happened to him, gave me the roadmap to move to US. I then started to contact all my friends, who were in the US and ask them to help me find a job, as sponsorship was required to obtain visa. A dear friend from Washington DC helped me with a consulting job there and sponsored me to come to US,” Guru Rajan Gopalakrishan said about how he went to the US to work. He did his Masters in Computer Science in the US, while working. He is now Co-founder and Senior Vice President at Pramana Inc, Greater Atlanta area.
Given the fact that there is no scope for subjects like Botany in India, Pramodchandra Harvey was planning to become a forest officer in India, while doing M.Sc. in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. He says further, “At that time, I met my friend in Bombay and then the idea came about of studying in Austria.” He now works part-time at the Afro-Asiatic Institute and does the pollen monitoring system at the University of Graz on freelance basis. He had to redo his M.Sc. in Botany in Austria because he did not have his Masters theses after he had done the course in Mumbai. Besides he had to study German, since that is the official language there.
Regarding his work at the Afro-Asiatic Institute, Pramod says, “It consists of organising workshops on developmental politics in schools. The programme is for foreign students visiting school classes, where they present their nation and its culture in a context of developmental politics. The other part consists of organising lectures and workshops for students and the general public. My themes have generally to do with the environment and development. I started working there from 2009 onwards, but my association with this institution dates back to 1993, when some of the German classes were held there and after 1996, I started working for them on a freelance basis as a Referent for India. The people at the Afro-Asiatic Institute knew me for such a long time and in 2008, when I had left my previous job and was on a look-out for a new one, the head of the institute approached me for this job and I took it up.”
About his initial struggle, Guru Rajan says, “I had no idea before that I would work in Atlanta, where I am now. When I planned to go to US, as the confidence and strength that I had helped me survive any where I would have landed. Initially, I came to Minneapolis and then moved to Dallas and then finally to Atlanta.”
Getting a visa was difficult for both when both had left India and this was 20-22 years back. “The visa application required necessary paper work from US showing that I had a job waiting and description of the same as well. The sponsoring company was required to take responsibility to pay me the prevailing wages and take care of my transportation, etc. This is the reason we could not directly apply from India, as the process required some recommendation from someone in US, giving them an approval/guarantee about the applying person’s capabilities. My friend helped me and hence the sponsorship was a piece of cake. The Indian US Embassy had a lengthy process, where they would verify every information on the application (as this was not automated, it took its own time) and I had to wait for a while and was worried whether the sponsoring company would still honor the job. After all the efforts, I got the appointment with embassy just before the expiration (3 months validity) of sponsorship,” says Guru Rajan.
Pramod also says that it was a difficult process at that time. He says, “My friend in Austria sent me an invitation letter and then I had to bring a confirmation letter from the Bombay University that I was qualified to study the same subject there as well and all the documents had to be authenticated by the notary, the external ministry and the Austrian embassy. For the visa, I also had to show the admission letter from the University of Graz.”
Many Indians have been found to change their names once they go abroad. Pramod had to change his name to Pamir, since the Austrians found it difficult to pronounce his name. He explains, “People in Austria had problems pronouncing Pramod in the beginning and at the German course, the teacher asked for my pet name and I replied it as Pamia. Names ending with ‘a’ are always feminine in Europe. Thus ‘r’ replaced the ‘a’ at the end and it became Pamir.”
Culture-shock could come to you unawares, when you shift abroad. For Guru Rajan, “Obviously this was a learning curve, as the slang and way of the people approach, etc. was tough, but with certain determination I could overcome these. Only thing that was in my mind was that I had no choice but to succeed in this environment, gave me the courage to overcome them easily.”
For Pramod, “I had good friends around me thus the transfer was easy. Nevertheless there are many traps as to the etiquette. For e.g., saying thank you and please, the sense of humour, the privacy, which questions could be asked and which you couldn’t, showing affection and such things!”While Pramod never married, Guru Rajan married his sweetheart from his hometown, Chennai. “Subha and the family were well known to us and I had made up my mind that Subha was mine. When the time came that I had to apply for my residency in US, my family expressed interest (guess the family had already expressed interest in this) and when I came for a vacation back to India in 1994 we got officially engaged. Rest became my life. She took some time to adjust to nature of living here. We agreed that she would be a home maker. She has not worked here, but might in the future when kids go to college to keep herself engaged.”
His kids took to the place like a fish to water since they were born there. But he and his wife are after all Indians at heart. The sanskar that they give their kids could have conflicted with the situation there. According to Guru Rajan, “Even though they are born here, we try to give them the best of both worlds. Yes, there are challenges, for sure, but it is up to us to see what and how they understand and keep up with our heritage and also have choice to express their opinions, etc.”
Recently his father had expired and his brother Mani, who lives in Canada, could not make it to the funeral. Isn’t this a stumbling block as far as being an NRI is concerned? According to him, “I had come to India 12 days prior to his passing. I had the kid’s school, etc. and could not come sooner. But it was a blessing to be there in time and spend quality time during his last days. Mani could not come in time, not due to any problems with restriction, etc., but since the time is a major issue. My father passed away around 12 am on Jun 21, which was 10 am Canadian time, the flight only leaves around 6 and 9 pm in the evening and there is no way he could have come on time (due to time difference, Canada being 10 hours behind + 17 hours of travel time).”
Pramod does not find any more problems there for the greater part, since he has settled well. While Guru Rajan says, “There are no significant problems with the place or people, but general market issues that are common all over the world.”
Guru Rajan’s future career plans are, “Career wise, I have grown to the highest point that I can. I have no major plans but need to keep pace with the technologies, etc. in the current environment.”
Pramod is indecisive about his future career plans, “I’m very open about it. One never knows what will come next! That has been the case always.”
About returning to India, Guru Rajan says, “Not immediately, may be at some point.” On the other hand, Pramod is again indecisive about returning to India, “Now I have the citizenship of Austria, so the chances are marginal. But I am not sure. I feel at home both in India and Austria. Twenty years back, I didn’t think that I’ll land in Austria, so it is quite possible that I may come back to India or go to some other country.”
Originally published in Eve’s Times, this article has been reproduced here with permission from the editor, Swati Amar.