Technicolour dreams

Published On: November 25, 2017 12:56 AM NPT By: Gunjan Upadhyay

I can tell you from classroom discussions that most students want to go abroad and never come back

Do you know anyone in Australia? In Nepal, that is as rhetorical a question as they come. I mean, who doesn’t? Of the many hats I’ve worn in my life, one has been that of a teacher. I can swear that for the past couple of years, one or the other of my former students goes abroad (usually Australia) on a weekly basis. I’m clearly exaggerating but it certainly feels like it. It’s not surprising because I can tell you from classroom discussions that there are very few students who do not harbor dreams of going abroad and never coming back. I never even found myself discouraging them like some teachers I know tend to do.

The simple reason is that for the vast majority of these foreign-bound students, education is not the sole objective. While the official rationale may be academic pursuits, there are more compelling reasons like the exposure to a foreign culture and the prospects of living, working (and struggling which is often overlooked, but more on that later) in a foreign country with the ultimate aim of achieving that holy grail—permanent residency. 

Fancy that
While not exactly noble, their motivations are understandable. In this day and age social media plays a big part in driving this herd mentality (for lack of a better word). Everyone’s doing it, so should I. To be honest, even I’ve thought about going abroad (preferably without my wife). Jokes apart, this herd is lured by the grass that looks greener on the other side. The interesting social media updates, gorgeous photos in picturesque backgrounds and always ‘fun times’ magnify the already rose-tinted view that young folk have of life abroad. Many harbor delusions—of fashionable clothes, time spent in fancy coffee shops, high street shopping and a general sense of living the good life. 

What these social media posts paint is a picture I liken to the series F.R.I.E.N.D.S. It’s never showed how the main characters earned their money in expensive NYC (that would be really boring anyway)—just convivial gatherings and fun times in coffee shops and apartments. What very few of our young folk contemplate—beyond the oft-parroted ‘I’m prepared to struggle’ line—is the hard work required to survive there. The real deal begins once the initial social media posts and congratulations have been liked and forgotten and they get down to the business of living in a foreign country. The realities and burdens of daily life tend to temper the exuberance of arriving in a foreign country.  

I’m probably giving our youth less credit than they deserve. After all, they’re not stupid but it’s perhaps also our general upbringing that makes us ill-equipped to deal with life abroad. There are obviously exceptions to every rule but most of us as kids have been brought up sheltered from all responsibility, having all our decisions made for us, everything provided for with no emphasis on personal freedom and learning to fail. How many times have your parents told you angrily ‘All you have to do is study!’ There is some truth in that because everything else has been taken care of for you.

Arranged one for you
Never mind a degree of self-sufficiency in cooking and other life skills, some of our younger lot wouldn’t even have heard of the concept of doing their chores. In a sense we are like our politicians—kids with all the rights and none of the responsibilities. I’ve known parents supporting their kids, both financially and otherwise, way past the age that it is generally considered healthy. In fact, the ultimate manifestation of this mollycoddling is our custom of arranged weddings: Roses are red, violets are blue, lest you have to make-do, we’ve arranged one for you! 

When you contrast that with the comparatively more individualistic culture of western upbringing you can see where it might be difficult for us to settle in. It’s also the age when the concept of dignity of labor really starts to sink in. The kind of jobs that you would get Ramu, Shyamu and Harke to do at home is what keeps you fed and paying the bills in the proverbial land of milk and honey—wherever that may be. I’m talking the kind of menial jobs (I doubt my editor would let me use the word I really want to) that are now almost a rite of passage for Nepali youth into adulthood. Not for us the gap years or volunteering abroad or learning a new language—it’s the McJobs.

While technicolor dreams are all well and good, a dose of realism is perhaps required for many. The grass may undoubtedly be greener beyond the fence but it takes some wading through the mud to get there. I speak from experience, having done a lot of these so called McJobs and even with my resolve (if I may say so myself) it was quite relentless and soul destroying. But I probably learned more through my misery than I did at business school. I guess that’s life though. You’ve got to struggle your way through the arduous work. Just don’t expect it all to be hashtag worthy. 

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