A primer for the returning professionals
By Akhil Verma
The sustained growth of India's economy has attracted droves of Indian professionals to return "back home." Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that this trend will only accelerate, bringing with it clichés such as "reverse brain drain" or "reverse culture shock." Much has been written about the challenges that folks face in re-integrating.
Based on my family's own experiences and mistakes as well as my observations as an executive search consultant, the following is a succinct (though by no means comprehensive and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) set of guidelines on how best to make this work positively for you and everyone around you. As a caveat, the broad definition I use of a "returning Indian," in the context of this article, is someone who has been away for at least a decade:
--Let it go: That's right. Leave the "notion" of America (or wherever it is you are returning from) behind. Those around you - at work or in your personal life - will find it extremely abrasive if you keep referring to how things work there. You will also find that holding on to what is no longer there, or more correctly where you no longer are, impedes your own ability to observe, assimilate and respond. Be in the here and now.
--Don't try to change the world on day one. You can't and it will frustrate you more if you try. Hold on to your habits and set personal examples instead. Everyone will toot their car horns on the road for no apparent reason. Teach your driver not to, unless absolutely necessary. Stop at traffic lights, even early in the morning when most everyone is whizzing by. I've found that my stopping forces others to hesitate and stop as well. The same applies to work. Observe and take in the culture and customs first. Then try to make changes gradually. This is perhaps a little easier when you're the "boss." But even if you are (and even if you're not) influence and implement change subtly and over a period of time. Above all, don't judge.
--Rebuild your social ecosystem, quickly. Irrespective of whether you've come back to your original location or not, it is very likely that your social networks no longer exist. You may also find that your experiences and perspectives have changed you in a way that you may not be able to reconnect with some of those whom you could relate to before you left. Don't stress about this. People change and grow and you need to find a network that you can now connect with. In our case, we knew pretty much nobody when we got back and we found that the fellow parent community at our older son's school was the community we connected to best. Over time, they have formed the nucleus of our new social ecosystem.
--Accept and be aware of the negatives, but seek and seize the positives. Corruption, bureaucracy, folks tossing trash from their expensive cars - all of this exists. Moan about it if you have to and if it helps you vent. But use some of that energy to focus on why you are here: your parents; the grounding that the children get as they interact with their extended family and grandparents (as in our case); the opportunities at work - more than likely you are at the vanguard of a new industry/sector or a revitalized business. What greater opportunity than to do this in an emergent environment such as India's? Think of this as an opportunity to reinvent yourself.
There's a lot more that one can talk about. As basic principles, though, the points above will serve as a foundation to find a path that works for you in your context. You made the call (or, as in my case, it just happened) to come back. So smile, be tolerant and open, don't compromise on your core values but understand and accept that things often work or are done differently than what you are used to. Keep the end goal in sight and, most importantly, have a sense of humor. Last but not least: Even though you decided to return, keep the doors to the place you left behind a bit open if you can, if you know what I mean.
Migrating sea turtles and students alike