All my life, I had a clear vision of what my future would hold – I’d be happily married to the best guy ever and have a great job, and neither of the two were ever negotiable. I’d seen my mom not only balance, but also love her career and her home in equal measure and always thought that I would follow suit. I never thought that staying at home was an option and frankly, I did have a tiny bit of contempt for girls my age who chose to get married and follow their husbands to whichever corner of the earth these gentlemen lived in, sacrificing their own careers, forgetting their own choices and needs in order to become a devoted homemaker.
So you can imagine how difficult a decision it was for me to quit my job post-wedding and move to the US, where my husband is currently working. But marriage is about embracing changes and accommodating your spouse’s interests too and all factors considered, this made the most sense for us as a couple. Also, the fact that he and I were friends for a considerable period of time before we got married and that I knew fully well that if some day the roles were reversed, he would do the same for me in a heartbeat was a major factor in my decision.
While my previous post on this blog describes the happiness and excitement about making this move, this one is intended to describe the flip side of it. And if I may be so conceited, I hope that this post will maybe help someone who is in a similar position today, as I was (about) a year ago. So here goes!
Stage 1) To Move or not to Move – When everyone’s a Judge of how You should live Your Life
The first thing that hits you after you decide to quit your job and move countries is the amount of judgement directed at you. Take my word for it, everyone from your dad’s office colleague you’d never met to your acquaintance from college WILL have a very strong opinion about what you’re about to do.
Two months after I moved to the US, this friend of mine rather disdainfully told me that instead of sitting at home and chilling all day, I should try to find myself a job. This, after I had explained to him (before I moved) how the H4 visa works and how there is NO legal means by which I can be gainfully employed while on it in the US. Now, I get that he was coming from a good place, but that day I really did feel like the most insignificant person on Earth. Because as much others judge you, the worst judgement of all comes from within. I doubt that I can ever explain in words the amount of internal conflict and turmoil I felt while making this decision. And having to constantly explain this choice of mine to others is downright insulting!
So, to all those well-wishers out there trying to “help”, please stop! The H4 visa is, without a doubt, one of the most restrictive visas of the world and if you can come up with advice on the lines of “just go find a job”, then trust me the person you are advising has researched and thought things through a million times more than you have.
The silver lining though, is how much my aunties and uncles get me these days! I can safely say that nothing I have done thus far in life has made any of them as proud of me as going off to the US to be a housewife has. I remember basking in their collective delight and trying really hard not to wonder if I was officially entering “aunty-dom”; and that was why for the first time ever in my life I felt more acceptance from them than from people my own age! 😛
Stage 2) The Visa Process – When the Visa Officer thinks that You have the IQ of a Potato
The next step for me was to get an approved visa from the US consulate in Chennai. The first day I had to go to a rather shady looking “office” (which I really hope was a work-in-progress), near Teynampet to give my finger prints. This took about 30 minutes I was done for the day.
The next day was my interview at the US Consulate which is located near Gemini Circle. 2 hours and 3 long queues later, I was bored, tired and annoyed about having to wait so long in spite of supposedly having an appointment. Anyway, I was finally at arm’s length from the visa officer and there were a couple of people ahead of me – a petrified looking young girl and a guy who looked like he was about my age. The visa officer started grilling the poor girl about why she wanted to do a Masters in the US in environmental sciences after doing her under graduation in Chemistry. She gave an answer that I couldn’t hear, but I assume it failed to appease the officer, as his face proceeded to turn into ten shades of red as he got angrier by the second. He finally shouted his rejection at her and asked her to leave – sad and visa-less.
I was beginning to worry at this point because as luck would have it, the visa officer seemed to be in a really foul mood. Next in line was the guy, who from what I heard was applying for an L1 visa. The officer proceeded to question him about the nature of his work (Mobile App development, if you’d like to know) and I was mentally answering his questions and at a few points, correcting him in my head when he was answering incorrectly. I guess the visa officer was not as technologically aware as I was 😛 and so he seemed satisfied with the answers the guy gave and told him that his visa was approved. Off went the happy guy and I was next in line!
Now, I had no illusions about the interview and knew that this was for a dependent visa and the officer wasn’t going to ask me any technical or academic related questions, but I braced myself for at least some amount of grilling, given that he appeared to be the strictest of the 4 other interviewers in the room. What happened though was that he took one look at the fact that I was applying for H4 visa and his face changed; he looked at me like I had the mental faculties of a potato and very slowly asked me
“When did you get married?”, followed by
“Which city is your husband working in?”.
THAT WAS IT. That wrapped up my visa interview and I was sent on my way with an approval of visa. While I was happy that the long awaited interview was finally done, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment at being asked such mundane questions. And for the very first time in my life, I wished an interview had been tougher than it actually was. Because at least when the interview is difficult, you know that the interviewer thinks you are capable of (or should be capable of) answering such questions. And that was step one of my self doubt and confusion regarding my move to the US on H4.
Stage 3) Prepping for D Day – When you Pack Your Bags with memories; because they sell clothes in the US, don’t they?
After the visa stamping comes the biggest task – packing! With an allowance of two check-in bags weighing 22 kgs each, you would think that packing wouldn’t be all that difficult; but you would be wrong! In my case, a large chunk of the 44 kg limit was taken up by the homemade masalas, sweets and other “Indian stuff you cannot get in the US”, courtesy my parents, parents-in-law, aunts & uncles and friends. Half of the suitcase space was then taken over by my shoes. I packed in 8 pairs if I remember correctly :D. Then come the random trinkets, photo frames, books, journals & what not that remind me of home and happiness, that I knew I would absolutely need to keep my sanity. Agreed they had no utility, but if I was leaving behind everything familiar and safe, I would need my safety blanket and that is exactly what these things were going to be. No way was I leaving them behind.
And in the remaining space, I tried to fit in the clothes – and failed rather miserably! I left behind two 6 foot tall wardrobes full of clothes back home and my mom still complains about it 😀
Now this obviously was a bad choice, because as expected, every time I go shopping for clothes here in the US, I see that they were either made in India or Sri Lanka or Indonesia and I try really, really hard not to think about how much money I could have saved had I just shopped for these clothes in Coimbatore or Tirupur, or just packed a tenth of the clothes I left behind at home. Also, I use exactly 2 out of the 8 pairs of shoes I brought along, because the ones I’ve shopped for in the US are so much cuter and fit so much better. I truly cringe every time I think of all the wasted luggage space 😦
If I were to do it all over again, I’d pack my suitcase with homemade masalas and foods (you get almost all of the known branded Indian stuff here anyway), our standard OTC medicines, clothes, things like chai filters, wooden base and rolling pin for chapati (we bought one here at the Indian store and I almost had a panic attack when I saw the $30 price tag), a few stainless steel vessels (they’re super expensive here, so I now make do with non-sticks and plastics), and then I would have tried to fit in the shoes/ hair dryers/ gadgets, etc., if I still had space (you anyway find better ones in the US).
Stage 4) First Few Month is the US – When you L00ove your spouse but blame him/ her for all your troubles in life
I landed in the US after a grueling 36 hour flight – thanks to the fall intake students’ rush and the fact that all tickets around Aug-Sep were sold out or at seriously inflated prices. Luckily though, my tickets were on Singapore airlines where even the Economy seats are super comfy and if you’re on the Airbus a380 like I was, you can have a lot of fun just strolling around and checking out the fabulous double-deck of the aircraft. After sleeping through the first week of tiredness and jetlag in the US, when the husband cooked and cleaned and generally just pampered me no end, I was quite happy and relaxed. And oh, I always thought that jetlag was a fabricated concept made up by snooty people staying abroad, but rather sadly and painfully realized that it is not. For instance, when I was “jetlagging”, I’d be awake one minute and drop down asleep like a log the very next, bang in the middle of the day!
Cut to the next week, when a new routine was slowly setting in. After the husband left for work at 9 AM, I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted to do. I’d have already cooked breakfast and lunch by then. And apart from some random tidying up and laundry, I had a good 8-9 hours to myself. And I thought of all the wonderful things I could do in this time – read to my heart’s content, explore the neighborhood, meet new people, learn a new skill or a language, the possibilities were endless. Especially after having recently worked in an organization where working 10-14 hours a day was a norm, I truly thought this was God’s way of rewarding me for all my hardships in life till date 😛 I felt like the world was my oyster and all that jazz. Add to this the fact that Seattle is such a beautiful city, with so much to do, and that my husband is this active-outdoorsy-travel junkie, we ended up travelling and discovering new places almost every weekend. We also caught up with old friends living in other cities and I had a gala time overall.
Unfortunately though, around this time is when I started missing home like crazy. From what I’ve heard (from friends in similar situations), this is a standard pattern when you move countries. After the initial excitement of all these new experiences wear off, you usually start missing home around the 2-3 month mark. I even started missing my job in the God-awful organization where I used to work! And I did the easiest thing that I could do – I blamed my husband for making me give up my job (which he told me I shouldn’t, unless I wanted to) and move to the US (which he again told me I needn’t, unless I wanted to). But frustration knows no logic and the poor guy had to bear the brunt of all my drama and tantrums. Luckily for me though, he has the patience of a rock and handled my frustrations pretty well. And after about 2 weeks of anger and self-pity, I finally realized that I had to suck it up and make the best out of the situation and more importantly, own up to the fact that this was MY decision and now I had to deal with it.
Stage 5) Settling into a Pattern – While You were busy perfecting that Chicken Biryani recipe, the world was moving forward – all guns blazing
The 3 – 6 month period was by far my most unproductive one in the US. I had gotten used not going to work and was getting used to the humdrum of being an H4 housewife. I was just sitting on my ass all day long, perfecting my cooking skills (I learned that there were about 10 different ways of making a Chicken biryani, would you believe it :O), reading, binge watching all kinds of series on Netflix, taking naps and basically doing nothing useful with my life other than maybe reading a couple of great books.
I realized that I had fallen into a rut. My family and friends were half a world away and we couldn’t speak as often as we did earlier, everyone was busy doing something or the other with their lives. Actually, everyone was making progress in their lives – in their careers and otherwise, while I was just aimlessly coasting along. My wake up call came when one day my mom asked me what a normal day at home was like for me. When I explained my routine to her, trying to make it sound more dignified than it was, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was wasting away my life, and putting myself at a serious health risk – both physically and psychologically. I was living, in her words, a lazy-post-retirement-from-work life at the age of 29 and that just wouldn’t do.
That was a wake up call as good as any and I realized that day that Netflix, contrary to what I had started to believe, in fact was not my Soulmate 😦
Stage 6) This part of my life, this part right here? This is called Happiness 🙂
This was the point when I really started to weigh my options instead of being depressed about and blaming the dependent visa rules in this country. The way I saw it, I had three choices –
- Take up volunteering (I think I’d have to write a separate post on this one)
- Study something (though having just recently completed an MBA, I really couldn’t see what value doing a generic course just for the sake of it would add to me)
- Do everything that I had been wanting to do all my life, but never had the time to!
I chose the third option and trust me, I haven’t ever been happier in life! I started with what was easiest for me to do – Online Certifications. So many organizations and universities offer online certifications these days and you wouldn’t believe the range and variety of topics they offer – from Technology to Tantra, Photography to Psychology, Analytics to Art; the possibilities are endless. And if you look hard enough, a lot of these certifications are for free! It is an amazing way to learn right from the comfort of my home and at my own discretion in order to stay up-to-date with trends and of course, it would add so much value to my resume when I get back into the job market. And if I feel like I need a break from job-related certifications, there are a host of other interesting options too – I could maybe become a certified Gemologist or Lighthouse keeper. How fun does that sound! 😀
Next on my list was mastering Driving. It really helped that driving is much easier here than back home, given the automatic cars and overall more disciplined drivers (my husband thinks that it is more about them being chickens than disciplined, but anyway :P). It took me a couple of months to get my license here and unlike earlier (I’ve had a four wheeler license in India for 9 years and drove a car about 4 times in all this time) I now actually drive around a lot on my own and have become a very confident driver too. I really do consider this one of my biggest achievements. Also, you can rent the coolest cars out here! I’ve driven everything from the Nissan 370z to a Ford Mustang to a BMW convertible to multiple SUVs – fun, fun and more fun! If nothing else, this should be motivation enough for anyone to learn driving here!
One other thing that I’d always wanted to do but never had the time/ courage to, was to learn to play a Musial Instrument. As someone who doesn’t have a single artistic bone in my body, growing up I figured I’d be better off directing my energy at things that I might actually be good at. But as they say, unless you step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself, you would never know what you’re capable of! So I went ahead and bought myself an acoustic guitar and turned to YouTube tutorials for help. It has been about a month since I started and I am now a proud, very average player of 3 easy chords and a basic (happy birthday) song!
Trust me when I say, this is by far the most challenging task I have encountered in my life. When I started off, while my left hand would hold the proper strings in place, the right one just refused to strum, and vice-versa. A looot of practice and patience later, I think I’ve finally managed to coax my brain to try and make both my hands work properly at the same time! I think playing a musical instrument makes you a much more sharper and focused person – something that really helps when you are not working or studying and helps ensure that your brain doesn’t become rusty.
And if I had appreciation for musicians earlier, now I am downright in awe of every single one of them!! It takes great talent and then some more to create and/ or play music! Truly, hats off to every single one of them!
And finally, I have decided to act on the single biggest dream of my life – To Write. I’ve started working on it and am in the nascent stages of writing my own book. It may take me a year to finish writing one, it may take me ten; the point is that I have finally started and that is something I am very proud of. And I have to acknowledge that I might not have gotten started had it not been for this unexpected break in my career. And just for that, I would never ever regret this decision of mine.
Summing up, the H4 visa is not as bad as it seemed to be when this phase of my life started a year ago. And for everyone else out there in my shoes, please believe that this can truly be a blessing in disguise. We may be losing out on a lot of opportunities and prospects, but with the right mindset, this period of time can become the most rewarding one of our lives.
All we need is some inspiration and a dream or two! 🙂
Disclaimer: This blog post isn’t by any means meant to be/ striving to be an exhaustive list of options available to spouses on H4 visa. It’s a purely personal take based on my own experiences and those of a few close friends.