To return or not to return: Nepali expats’ dilemma

Published On: September 14, 2022 06:30 AM NPT By: Ajit J Karki

Ajit J Karki

Ajit J Karki

The author is a Nepali expat living in Sweden for the past five years. He works there as an analytical chemist.

Nepalis longing to return home must not waste time waiting for a better time, better economy, or better government. They must accept their native country as it is now and bet on the potential of the country. If we do not believe in the future of our own country, then why would any foreign investor do so? 

One day, my mother asked my 8-year-old nephew - “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The little boy naively answered, “I want to go abroad like my uncle.” I was shocked by his response. As I remember, we were asked the same question in class more than two decades back but now the answer has changed. Then we would answer that we would like to become a doctor, engineer and so on. It shows even the kids these days are influenced by the idea of leaving the country for a better livelihood abroad. There is nothing wrong with emigration as it is a global phenomenon. Now, the important question is: are the people who have emigrated or settled abroad content with their lives? Folks in Nepal are desperate to leave the nation in pursuit of a better future abroad; in contrast many expats live with the constant thought of returning home every single day. Whenever they plan to do it, the stress and anxiety hits hard. The idea of giving up the life of reasonable comfort and embarking on a new adventure is terrifying. Furthermore, the incessant dissemination of the gloomy socioeconomic situation of the country from several media outlets makes the decision even tougher.

So, what makes an expat think about returning to the country they left claiming, “there is nothing in the country”? These are the same people who threw parties after getting visas to go abroad. It’s because the rosy picture they had on their minds regarding life abroad initially gradually starts to fade away. There are problems everywhere. A person starts to know that the ideal life they imagined doesn’t exist. There are compromises to be made. We should work hard, adjust to foreign culture, get accustomed to the new weather and so forth.

During the initial days, it’s exciting to learn new things, meet new people, visit new places or even learn a new language. Moreover, visiting bars, clubs, and beaches, driving on great roads and posting pictures on social media gives a sense of happiness. As time passes by, a person gets used to all these perks before s/he thinks his/her life has become mundane. They start to see cracks in the system; in some cases they become the victim of discrimination too. We experience setbacks in our careers for no reason other than being an immigrant. Some feel alienated due to the cultural discrepancies or religious views. We start to notice traffic problems, housing problems, healthcare system problems. Life becomes monotonous when a person finds himself or herself in a loop of work and home just to pay the bills and save some money. Then we start to miss family and friends and admire all the things that we took for granted while living in Nepal. Gradually, we feel money is not everything and we desire to repatriate one day and do something in our own land. Some even fear they have to spend their entire lives abroad. Whenever it comes to doing so, they postpone their decision for repatriation. And later, the decision becomes even tougher because by that time a person has a family with kids and ultimately s/he settles there for the sake of his/her kids’ future.

It is evident that Nepal has its own sets of problems, if not less than more. We know it is crippled by corruption, nepotism, anarchy, poor infrastructure and so on. We never know when these issues are going to be resolved. If a person keeps on waiting for all these issues to get resolved before repatriation, then he or she might be waiting for his or her whole life. These problems are not going to be resolved overnight. A friend told me that he is ready to go back to Nepal if he gets a five-digit salary every month. Expats get stuck with analysis riddles. We can’t really decide to go back home nor live peacefully in a host nation. Then we try to keep ourselves busy with the same mundane lives. “I have an important meeting to attend on Monday.” “What about thinking about going back next weekend?” We usually end up with such excuses.

Apparently, following the gut feeling is not always that easy as it sounds. If so, how to get out of the catch-22 situation? There are problems in Nepal, in the USA, in Australia and everywhere. One must choose either to live with problems abroad or in one’s home country. Instead of looking for a job with exceptionally high salary in Nepal, why can’t we think about creating jobs through entrepreneurship, investing the knowledge and skills we gained abroad? In lieu of thinking about the kids’ future at the expense of their own happiness, why not raise the kids in Nepal and let them decide later whether they want to live in Nepal or settle abroad. Some are more worried about being bombarded with negative comments from friends and relatives if they return to Nepal. Are those comments more worthy than your happiness? Of course not.

In my perspective, Nepalis longing to return home must not waste time waiting for a better time, better economy, or better government. They must accept their native country as it is now and bet on the potential of the country. If we do not believe in the future of our own country, then why would any foreign investor do so? This fact was depicted by the outcome of the much-hyped “The Investment Summit 2019” which could not attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as expected. The greatest benefit we have is we are a nation of young people. About 40 percent of the population fall within the age group of 16-40 years whereas about 20 percent belong to the age group of <16 years. If this opportunity is not seized, then gradually the country gets transitioned into an aging society which is arguably less productive.

We proudly admit that Nepal is an agricultural country, but ironically, we are importing rice and lentils which is our major staple food. Our day in Nepal begins with imported goods and ends with the same. The Balance of Payment (BOP) crisis is at the worst level due to the heavy dependence on imports. Some estimates reckon that less than four percent of the remittance is utilized for capital formation. This situation elucidates remittance is neither a long-term solution nor can it fuel our shared dream of economic prosperity. Hence, expats yearning to return have a paramount role to play  in its growth story.



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