Friday, November 14, 2008

Bicultural Children- India and California

Video: Courtesy of San Jose Mercury News

Earlier this month, San Jose Mercury News had an article exclusively based on the kids who had returned from the Bay Area to Bangalore, India. Reading the article, gave me a better insight into the lives of children who are now, more than ever, exposed to and are living in two different cultures.

Global careers and economic opportunities lure several NRI folks back to India to settle down and as a result the children are also forced to tug along to a place that seems as foreign as it was to their parents when they first arrived in this country as graduate school students. The number of Indians going back, especially from Bay Area, given its Indian population is still on the rise with every passing year. As a result of this, several young Silicon valley children are trying to adjust themselves to the school environment, community and plain simple, just living in India.

Statistics show that per the National Association of Software Service Companies, atleast 22,000 NRI's have returned to India and more than half of it is from Bay area. Companies like Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Oracle are some of the major corporations that the parents are employed in and when they go back to posh, expat style, gated-community living in Bangalore where their neighbours are colleagues and friends from US, life is much more secure. Little do they realize, that just outside the walls of those posh residences, there exists profound poverty, which is the first glimpse of reality that their US returned children get to see.

While, attending International Schools may not be that much of a shift in cultures, nevertheless, the differences are still striking. The article has excerpts from what a few of the kids who were unhappy with their Indian classroom experiences said-

1. Students at school must stand up any time an adult enters the classroom
2. Students are required to address instructors as "Sir" or "Miss" and of course wear uniforms, somtimes with ties.
3. More than that, they have to wear a name tag/badge. One of the girls asks,"How many California schools make you wear a dog tag?"
4. Have to endure teasing from Indian classmates about their American accent.
5. Girls are not allowed to wear make up to school or even let their hair down, which is very much an active ingredient of teen school life in US
6. Last, but the most important difference is that the kids find that their teachers don't encourage creativity in the schools. Neither do the teachers encourage asking questions (in fact, many times the teacher tells you to shut up and listen to her talking), sometimes the teacher's response is "You don't need to know that." In the US, school and education is more about helping you grow as an individual and being creative and applying your learnings to real life examples.

A few other students who had adapted more easily to their new surroundings and environment had the following to say-

1. Coming to India breaks your mental block of America being everything in the world to you.
2. There is a lot more to the Indian community and you experience something very different and enriching.
3. Mingling with other religious students and learning about India's ways makes us more flexible with adjusting our ways and hence we have no fear of the unknown.
4. While there are no high school proms and dating activities, we do lot of things within our community as a group of friends.
5. Life here is much more slower and relaxing than being in US.
6. We have different people to cater to our needs, like a driver to take us out, a maid to clean and a cook for our meals and of course access to cousins and grandparents is always there.

While the census is that some kids are more adaptable than others, it is still a safe haven of living in a posh neighbourhood inside a world that is cut off from the poverty and other aspects of day to day Indian living, though a drive in the car and while waiting at the signal, you'll never miss begging children rapping on your air conditioned glass windows.

But, some of these kids still keep in touch with their Bay area friends, especially the ones who miss their silicon valley lives the most. They are up at night chatting with their friends who live here and look forward to the summer when they can be back in the Bay Area to attend summer school and do other activities that aren't there in India. And of course, like most other expat kids, they will be back in the US for their undergraduate education.

While, both returning parents and children come to terms with living in a global culture, sometimes, it just feels down right confusing for the kids, while the parents keep telling them that your old silicon valley life has not gone away, you've just grown an extra one and will go back to your old one once you are in college.

Link to the original article:

Happy Children's Day and Thank God its Friday!


Laksh said...

Very nice post. Have never really thought about this. Was eye opening in some ways.

A-kay said...

That was a good post Mitr. Can you link the original article to this post? Would love to read that. Thanks for posting this.

anudivya said...

Nice post, and liked the video a lot.

Aparna said...

Heartless I might seem to Americans; but having spent my life on both sides, I can surely say that life is not as bad as many portray here in India. Especially with all the "growth", there are actually times I miss the old India! It is way too americanised in most metros at least.
Besides, it is good to learn to adapt at an early age and realise that the world is flat; life will take you where it does.Am glad at least some kids have learnt to adapt. I guess it is all in the mind. Liked the comment by one of the kids about how she felt that America was the world. That was what I thought most people think and feel there. I know the US influences global economies; but reality is not the entire world. :)
Just my thoughts....
I was amazed when I met Americans who had not even stepped out of their own county and were so blind to anything or anyone outside. Did not show my surprise to them though ;) I would rather raise my kid to be a global citizen truly and really adapt to any place. God knows where I would be next?!

Mavin said...


Guess a lot depends on parent-child bonding and the age of the child.

Early on they would adjust fast but as a teenager it could be difficult.

It also depends on the parents. If they continually crib at having to relocate to India, they make things very difficult.

But life has so many plusses here. There is so much more social interaction amongst relatives and friends. So many things can be managed by hiring help at a moderate cost.

Krishnan said...

Good post Mitr. Yes I do agree that Indian kids born and bred in US will indeed face quite a different world here in India. As you rightly pointed out, you cannot escape the grim face of poverty in India even if you are ensconced in luxurious villas that are coming up dime a dozen here in India. The kids ought to be sensitized by their parents to the real India.

Cham said...

Great post. I have 2 of my friends moved to India and came back after one year or even after 2 years , because of kids. They really don't like India! That was little funny, those kids were born in India and moved to US at younger age.They just blamed they miss so many things in Chennai.When they re younger it is more easy to adopt the change.

నల్ల చంద్ర స్వామి said...

Good yaar very nice

na_an said...


Interesting post. I agree with other commentators, that if you have to move you have to do it when the kid is really young, otherwise it is going to take a lot of time for the kids to get used to India. As it is, it is difficult to us to get used to India now, after being in US so long, so I can imagine how difficult it must be for the kids. We are in such a difficult generation, we have to make so many difficult choices and just hope that results in the best for us and our kids!!:-(

Janaki Barath said...

Very informative. Things such as accent & freedom to be whoever you are without fear of judgements, being able to voice your opinion are definitely some areas where the kids from US will have an issue going back.

Also, sometimes to be a success story, you have to "unlearn" some good things out of this culture and get used to Indian system of thinking, education. That is sad, but, practically speaking.

Inturn, the kids might get the support, love of grand parents and taste of the good side of our roots and foundation. Being raised in a developing country probably makes the kids work harder, ambitious, appreciative of resources and make better use of what they have. But, common, this is when I grew up, today, what I hear from friends back home, kids have everything they "want" and "need" to have !!

Great posting,

DEESHA said...

this is a nice post .. had never thought about these aspects at all

DEESHA said...

this is a nice post .. had never thought about these aspects at all

Usha said...

Interesting post,like a lot of the others here I believe that relocating younger children is easier than teenage kids.Additionally there are some schools there which are far more flexible and which encourage kids in all areas and are not as regimented as the schools before used to I guess it is a combination of a lot of factors...

AJEYA RAO said...

Hi Mitr, Back after my break! Stopped by to say Hi...Still catching up with your earlier posts.

Priya said...

Hi Mitr, Long time. You have an award waiting in my blog.

AJEYA RAO said...

I can understand the turmoil that a kid may have to go thru to adpat and adjust in different culture....Either from there to here or from here to there. BUt my sisters kids...always are seen very comfirtable here when living with a bigger family. I am not sure about the grown ups though.

Rajalaxmi said...

This article highlights some of our concerns prior to coming back to India & some of our experiences, thereafter. We relocated to Bangalore after 10 years of living in California. Both my children go to Inventure Academy and I have to say the school has made the transition for the kids much easier. The school follows a progressive education approach, similar to the school my children went to in the Bay area. It has a warm & positive environement, even while focussing on academic & co-curricular excellence. My son does need some more time to adjust to life in India. Adaptability is an essential life skill for our children to develop. It is upto us to teach and help our children come to terms with the move as any big change is difficult, especially that which involves change in cultures. Besides India, has a world of opportunity

mallika said...

The Settling-in process is important. A child would need to feel safe, secure and confident to experience different cultures. And since they spend so much time in school, it is very important to pick the right school. A school that helps the transition for the children as smooth and as hassle-free as possible - to understand where they are coming from, and take it from there. I happened to speak to few of the recently graduated kids (IGCSE) from Inventure Academy, who were so happy they joined Inventure, they said they really looked forward to coming to schoo, everyday, meet their new friends and have a chat with their teachers. They said that they could do so well in their board exams only because the school gave them their space and guided them all at the same time.