25 August 2016

Ritu Kaushal - Expat in San Francisco, USA

Ritu Kaushal - Expat in San Francisco, USA

We’ve had the chance to talk to Ritu Kaushal, 33, an Indian expat who has moved to the USA with her family. Mrs Kaushal who has been living there for two and a half years now works as a writer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am originally from India.


Q: What made you move out of India?

A: I moved here because I got married and my husband works here.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: I live in Milpitas (a city in the San Francisco Bay area).  


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Like I mentioned before, the move was related to another big life decision!


Q: How long have you been living in America?

A: I have been living in America for a bit more than two and a half years. 


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in the USA?

A: Since every major life transition creates a loss of an old identity, figuring out my own space in this new environment was the most difficult part. There have been days of extreme loneliness, where I have felt completely isolated. It’s easy to feel like no one understands you. In a sense, no one does because being an expat is a unique situation that only other fellow expats can relate to.

The loss of familiarity and navigating a new space has been the hard part. However, challenges also help clarify and strengthen our identities. So, I have learnt many things as well and grown as a result.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in the USA? What was your experience with these?

A: My visa (H4) was linked to my husband’s work visa, so the process of getting it was pretty straightforward. This process is similar to applying for most of the other US visas. You need to fill in the DS-160 form and then provide all the requested documentation beforehand and appear for an interview. The interview dates open two-three weeks in advance, depending on which consulate you are going to.

Once you have given this interview, the officer informs you on the spot if you have been approved or not. We (my husband and I) did all the paperwork ourselves. We booked an interview at the U.S. Consulate in New Delhi and got the visa within 2 business days.

Once I got the visa, the visa renewals have been taken care of by the corporate law firm that represents my husband’s company’s employees.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: My husband and I live here.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in the United States? How did you manage to find a social circle in the United States?

A: It hasn't been very easy making friends and meeting people. But that is related to many different things. First, I think making friends as an adult is anyways more difficult. Also, it is important for me to find people with a similar worldview. So, it’s taking time, but slowly, I’ve found people who are part of my “tribe,” so to speak.

Yes, right now, I mainly socialise with other expats. I do find it easier to relate to expats, mainly because our frame of reference is the same. With time, I hope to find more friends - both expats and non-expats.

Till now, the majority of my friends’ have been through my husband’s social circle. I have also connected with people on my own by attending meetup events, in the writers’ workshops that I have attended, and through volunteering at the local library. 


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The San Francisco Bay Area is a fabulous place. San Francisco, itself, is, of course, a major tourist attraction with its world-famous cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge. I stay around an hour from the city, in the heart of Silicon Valley. The best thing about living here (for me) is the proximity to parks and nature trails. I love being in nature, and it is so easy to get to a place that can nourish you.

Another thing I love about the Silicon Valley is the fact that its “melting pot” identity makes it easy to dip into and get a flavor of different cultural experiences. In case you are a foodie, this can be a serious foodie haven. I have a Korean barbecue place, a Vietnamese restaurant, and a Malaysian restaurant all within a five to ten minutes drive from my home.

Depending on what your interests are, you could go to a jazz concert or learn skydiving. You could learn to sail if you wanted. You could just go to an ethnic neighborhood and soak in its wonderful differences as well as the similarities to your own culture. There are endless things to do and experience.  


Q: How does the cost of living in the US compared to your home?

A: California is an expensive place, but it’s hard to make a correct comparison with India.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: A cup of coffee is approx $2.50.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: A meal in an inexpensive restaurant is approx $20 -$25 per person

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: A meal in an expensive restaurant is approx $70 or more per person.

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: A bottle of wine is approx $18. Not sure about the cigarettes. 


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in the USA?

A: American culture is very different from Indian culture. There is definitely a learning curve as you learn to understand and work with the norms of the place. From small things to big ones, this can leave you feeling ungrounded when you are still learning how things work.  

For example, Americans are generally more direct than Indians. It has to do with how our cultures emphasize different things. India is a more collectivist culture, and America a more individualistic one. Sometimes, an American speaking very directly can come across as rude to Indians. I imagine Americans might perceive that Indians don’t get right to the point.

One thing I respect about American culture is the spirit of questioning that they inculcate even in small children. I am an individualist at heart, and I appreciate being in a place where there is an emphasis on individuality and personal expression.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in the USA?

A: There are many positives. I am a writer, and San Francisco is a wonderful city for artists. I have been part of several writers’ workshops that have helped deepen my craft. As a writer, it’s also extremely interesting to see different cultures at a closer distance and understand similarities and differences.

On a more everyday note, systems work very efficiently in America, and that makes life easier and more predictable.

The negative side is inherent in what it means to be an expat - the distance from family and friends.   


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes, I do miss family and friends.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I have learnt to cope with homesickness by focusing on my own goals. I volunteered as an adult ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor for a year and a half, which made me feel like I was part of this community.   


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I don’t have any such plans right now, but who knows what the future might hold.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The most difficult aspect has been figuring out how to nourish me and take care of myself in the absence of a support network. As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), adapting to change does not come easily to me. So, it has taken me some time to figure out and adapt to different aspects of this huge life transition.  


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: I would say that don’t compare your transition experience to someone else’s. Depending on who you are, it could take you more or less time to adjust. It can take at least a year to get the basic stuff together and anywhere between 2-4 years to make a real transition.

Another thing to keep in mind is that America has a very different culture as compared to Indian or other Eastern cultures. Be prepared to have your beliefs challenged, and to doing things in a different way. Having said that, I would also like to say that this questioning will also help you really understand who you are and what you believe.

It’s important to understand that being an expat is both a very challenging, and potentially a very rewarding experience. It will push you to grow. My own transition helped me deepen my commitment to working as a writer. In the middle of it, I started a blog called Walking Through Transitions that talks about what how Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and introverts adapt to change and major life transitions. This blog has become an integral part of my journey as a writer. You will find that your transition, while tumultuous, can also create the right conditions for growth and expansion. 


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the USA?

A: I like Live Work Travel USA. It has many useful tips and interesting observations about American culture.