NRI Survival Guide

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This year I’ll complete six years of being a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) living in the USA, and what a ride it has been! I came here to gain an education and build a life fueled by my passions. I was terrified and excited at the same time by the sheer number of possibilities for my life, and I cannot forget the feeling of everything around me being new.

Education and profession aside, every year of this six-year journey has been a learning experience and has shaped me into the person I am today. Some of my biggest lessons have been in humanity and respect for each other more than anything else. Today I want to share some of my musings in an attempt to define for myself what being an NRI has taught me, and to invite thoughts on your experiences – simply because it’s a topic worth reflecting upon.

We Are All One

One thing that I’ve noticed more than others is that the more you separate yourself from others the more you feel and act that way. This took some time for me to figure out especially because I initially felt lost in this new world that I’d decided to implant myself into. I was uncomfortable about myself and constantly worrying about whether I was saying the right things, offending people without meaning to or worse yet making a fool out of myself. Thankfully, my MBA program had some great mentors who helped me see how even though we all might be physically different, or from different parts of the world there is a binding thread among us all that makes us one, that makes us human.

I think what cemented that for me was also my work with my MBA team mates in which we were encouraged to share honest feedback with each other in a respectful manner. In the process of doing that I learnt how we all have our pain points and triumphs, our insecurities and the things we are proud of, our experiences good and bad, and most of all our different fears. Simply being able to speak about what drove an action/reaction and how it affected another helped us remove all the fluff surrounding our physical identities and look at each other for who we are as individuals. I learnt to respect and meet the other person where they were and that forever changed the way I looked at my NRI experience. I went from feeling like an outsider in an alien land, to being able to connect with people by just genuinely trying to learn where they were coming from and sharing myself with them.

Even today, if I feel a wave of that fear welling up in myself, I remind myself that we’re all one if we choose to look beyond the fluff and try to understand why a person might be behaving the way they are. Regardless of whether that makes a difference to the situation or no, there comes a sense of peace with it that is invaluable. This has made a permanent difference to the way I communicate as an individual as well as a professional and I consider it an important part of my life as an NRI…better yet, as a human.

Life Is A Game, Play It

There have been several highs and lows during these six years, and they’ve taught me resilience. The most difficult lesson for me to learn was to allow things to flow rather than try to control them all – because like the first time you’re playing a video game you never know what’s coming at you. While one day everything might seem great and you’ll feel like you’re in love with everybody and everything in the world, the next day the world might let you know that it doesn’t like you back as much. That used to knock me down in the beginning, I’d think I wasn’t cut out for this whole experience and that I should probably go back home to the safety of my family. But, it took just one time of facing the lows and coming out stronger on the other side to make me a more confident person. I’ve had several chances over these years to exercise the muscle of resilience and today I can say that I can put on my game face anywhere, any time and sail through the difficult times. I’ve taken hits, things that have nearly destroyed my sense of self, but I’ve survived them all and here I am writing this – grateful and blessed.

This is an important part of my NRI life because of the simple reason that my stay here is currently governed by a lot of external factors that I do not have any control over. The only thing I control is how I play this game, and how I make it to the end, standing tall and proud. Going with the flow is now my life strategy.

Be There for Yourself

The decision to remove myself from the familiarity of family and come here also came with a lot of mental challenges. There was no substitute to the emotional safety that came with being around loved ones who’d seen me at my best and my worst and loved me for exactly who I was. I distinctly remember feeling dejected sometimes and having to put on a brave face and get through the day only to find out that I wasn’t feeling dejected or lost anymore. I realized that these feelings are temporary and once acknowledged I can find ways to alleviate them. Friends became my new family and continue to be a blessing in my life. However, what made the biggest difference for me in this journey was learning to be there for myself – all day every day.

NRI life has taught me self-care like nothing else has. I’ve learnt that it is ok to not want to do things, to say no when I’m tired or to go out and have a fun night if that’s what I feel like. I’m no longer burning myself out, I’ve learnt to listen for what I need and give myself that; and that has made a huge difference to what I bring to the table in my relationships as well as at work.

This six-year journey has been defining in several ways. I’m not sure if I would have experienced the same things or with the same intensity if I had chosen a different path, but I can’t be grateful enough for this one. Starting from the time I landed in the USA to today, I’ve been surrounded by loving friends, competent team mates and inspirational co-workers who’ve made everything worth it.

If you recently moved outside India to pursue an education or follow your dreams, remember one thing for the difficult (and the happy) times – Just Keep Swimming.



 Creative writer. Part-time engineer. Marketing professional. Swetha has an MBA from the University at Buffalo. She manages Oxigen’s presence online, providing value to NRIs and driving sales along the way. When not working, she’s usually creating things – either craft, writing or food.

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