| Log in

Jolly’s Volley: Reverse culture shock

15 October, 2012

Continuing the tradition of writing while either at the airport or in flight, I write this as I am flying Emirates (Economy) on my way to Dubai for a Board meeting, flying over the northwestern US wildfires, heading towards the Northern Lights over Canada. Somehow, the pumping of oxygen at 35,000 ft, the view from above and being squeezed by an oversized person sitting next to me provides the motivation and confluence of emotions to emanate literary creativity. I wanted to have a part II to the previous submission, and discuss the topic of culture shock that the family experienced upon our return to the US of A. While the family is struggling to settle in (we didn’t realize we would miss India as much as we do), there have been multiple instances that were fairly unanticipated. That is the topic of this particular entertaining couplet.

Let me pick up where I left off with our kleptomaniac driver, and transition to the moving company which has accomplished the enviable task of continuing our agony. We have realized that by being on a budget and using a mom and pop moving company (which, by the way, we had used on our journey to India with fairly positive outcome), was a mistake. There was theft (suffice it to say of a couple of very expensive items that we should have brought with us in our luggage), either in Bangalore, in transit or at the destination which cannot be proven, but has caused several thousand dollars in missing merchandise, significantly more than I saved by selecting this moving company versus another more reputable institution. As it turns out, there is some recourse for damaged goods but none for a situation like this.

While the above is clearly a downer, I always tend to look at the positive side (I suppose more could have been stolen, for example). Interestingly, the moving company employed north Indian sikh college kids as contractors. My kids, especially the six year old found that quite amusing, especially since he had seen more Sikhs in one place in the US than we really ever did in Bangalore, outside of the Gurdwara.

Then came one of the biggest headaches of any global transition… aka the kids’ school selection. Having gone to a public school that, by the way, was famous for having the highest teenage pregnancy rate in California, and still by accident making it to MIT, I tried to persuade my wife (unsuccessfully) to have the kids attend public schools. I did give my wife the option of buying a recreation vehicle (RV) and that way at least the mortgage would not be an issue and we could afford private schools without stretching ourselves financially. She didn’t go for that either. While we had jumped through various hoops and gotten the oldest enrolled in a private school, we were struggling to figure out what to do with the younger two.

The struggle was between the “holistic” approach based schools where the idea is not just about IQ but EQ, or the social and emotional development of the child in a nurturing environment; and the more rigorous truly academic institution. While benchmarking our kids’ education level with those of our friends in the bay area, it became clear to us that the so-called international schools in Bangalore that the kids attended had been more resorts than institutions of fundamental learning. After that initial shock subsided, we had to make a decision – go with the softer loving approach, or hard core academic rigor. We chose the latter for our younger two. Whether that was the right decision, only time will tell.

Without mentioning names, we hesitantly placed the kids in a school that mimicked the Chapman Academy in the movie Daddy Day Care (highly recommend it). While we knew we had to make up for lost time in Bangalore (in terms of academics), my wife and I have been questioning our decision since the day the kids started at the school. The school was founded and is effectively owned by a Caucasian woman, but that is where the non-Indianness of the school ends. The Principal, and 90% of the teaching staff is Indian. They actually remind me of my early schooling in India where the teachers would smack us with a ruler for seemingly no reason, or at least frivolous reasons (shirt not tucked in, for example). Or make the slightly rumbunctious types sit outside the classroom like a chicken (squatting down and sticking your hands through your legs and holding your ears), which might have been more a preparation course for Bikram yoga than anything else. My guess is that the teachers would be happy to resort to that behavior if they did not fear being arrested in the US.

While the kids at the school where our oldest is going, come to school cheerful and looking forward to the day and playing some basketball before school begins, the “Chapman” school seemingly instills fear, and not a single child is smiling in the morning as they head to school (based on my observation as I drop off my kids). The school indicates drop-off as being 8-8:20 am, but if a child shows up at 8:05, he/she is already behind for the day. Even in the third week, kids in first grade come to school crying (not sure if my behavior would have been much different to be honest).There is no mechanism for parents to actually connect (the school very candidly indicates that it neither want parents involved with the school, nor will they facilitate any opportunity for parents to interact with each other). On the polar extreme is the school for the oldest one has a parent social or some community function virtually every week. As mentioned earlier, the student enrollment is primarily Indian and Chinese. The token Caucasians at the school are actually Russian who are just as intense academically as their Asian counterparts. The school’s idea of a balanced learning environment is a 10 minute recess, and kids are not allowed break to get some water in the middle of class because it disrupts the teaching flow. And, oh by the way, this is a private school, so parents (including of course yours truly) are paying for all of the above.

What was really ironic is the fact that in India, the kids were at an international school where the student enrollment was 95% non-India and only 5% Indian (of which our own kids made up a significant percentage). In the US, we find ourselves in a crazy situation where easily over half of the student body and 90% of teachers are Indian. I am sure the readers are wondering why in the world do we still have the kids at this school. Believe me, my wife and I ask ourselves the same question, but have resigned ourselves to the military academy for at least a year until the kids make up the academic lag that we seemed to have created in India. The intent clearly is to take the kids out after a year to hopefully put some life back into the kids that is being sucked out. Currently, the kids commute about 35 miles to get to school while our house, which is much closer to the school, is having some construction work being done. That means an extra 45 mins commute each way for the kids, waking up at 5:30, and given the 1.5-2 hours of homework every day, leaves virtually no time for anything else in our lives during the week. As a result, the weekend is jampacked with kids’ activities to make up for lost time during the week.

While professionally the transition has been nothing short of amazing, on the personal front it has been more frictional than we had anticipated. Whether it is because of the domestic help (and we are missing the cook and maid), the tremendous set of people we met and befriended, or the sheer level of activity one finds oneself surrounded by in India, I don’t know. But in the US, life seems to be a lot more hectic with a lot of running around (I often find myself asking the question, “what am I doing?” while stuck in freeway traffic jam); insular, given the lack of the “gated community” feeling, and more cluttered with little true down time. While we may not have appreciated it in India, life seemed to be more appropriately balanced between work and play, and not just on the weekends but during the week as well. The interesting turn of events is that the same kids who in large part could not wait to move to the US are now urging us to spend our winter and summer breaks in India.

They have also realized the depth of true friendships that were created over a relatively short period in India. The irony is that we feel much closer to those we befriended in India than those who in the US claimed to be close friends. When moving to India, we were offered far more help by total strangers, than we received on our transition back to the US by the so-called good friends (inch wide and mile deep versus the superficial mile wide and inch deep analogy). All of this has made India, in retrospect, a life-changing event for not only the kids but for my wife and me as well. Whether the MJ/DFJ portfolio does well in India and exits eventually take place, are clearly water cooler (or papdi chaat) conversations happening every day, but lessons learned during our stint in India about people, places, character and life as a whole have already provided a 100x multiple for the Jolly clan.

(Mohanjit Jolly is the Executive Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)


View Comments
Revealed: The Great Indian Melting Pot

Revealed: The Great Indian Melting Pot

Mohanjit Jolly 6 years ago
Here is a puzzler for all of you: In India, what are the two places that bring...
The power of communication

The power of communication

Mohanjit Jolly 4 years ago
While often mentioned, the challenge and power of communication are something...
Performance Essentials

Performance Essentials

Anu Vaidyanathan 6 years ago
When I got a call on one sleepy afternoon in September from ASPIRE India,...
3 Comments
Pawan Prabhat . 5 years ago

Hi, I have read your article about Chennai auto drivers and I see a marked change in your take on India. I hope you continue writing about life in general. Despite its corrupt politicians and poor infrastructure, India still has that spirit.

Venu . 5 years ago

Dear Mohanjit: What you described as a reverse culture shock is indeed a change to your comfort zone, that you got used to in India, and to which you are reacting. Although you are used to ways in US, now you are finding the gaps that probably always existed there and now are becoming clearer. Say you like beer over wine and yet you choose to try wine only for an year and then you switch back to beer, your taste buds are saying wine ain’t that bad over beer. So this is what conditioning of the mind is, our knowledge which includes the set of experiences tends to prepare our body to see good in things that didn’t matter earlier. Coming to younger kids, who are finding it tough; the best path of resolution is to give them time to grab that flexibility towards comfort zones, as remember a rare little rougher diaper never kept the kids happy and our mind despite aging still can sense that discomfort and tend to prepare the defense mechanisms. At least this is how I felt when I parked my ship in India, returning after a decade in US.

Gursharan . 5 years ago

When I moved back to India, the grass appeared “tech-er” on the other side, having already spent time in SV; leading to life coming one-and-a-half full circles, starting from India. The US does feel like a little dull living wise, but is a lot more ethical and comfortable at work. But, but, despite all the horrible things you deal with everyday, theres still some romance I *always* have with thoughts of living in India. I’ve concluded its not only family, but people, warmth & human awareness/closeness in general. And its only bemusing how the migrated (to US) genes differ on these axes.

Jolly’s Volley: Reverse culture shock

Powered by WordPress.com VIP