Pin the tail on the donkey
July 20, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Trying to make plans for my future: what country should we live in?

I am a 26-year-old Indian woman, on my way to an advanced degree (a PhD) from a very good American university. I am a liberal, feminist atheist. I am in a serious relationship with a man of the same age who is also on his way to getting a PhD, from an Eastern European country. He's everything I've ever wanted in a partner -- kind, attractive, intelligent, shares my values -- and we have similar plans for what we want from life -- a comfortable existence, one or two kids and enough free time to go on vacations for a month or so each year. We are both committed to sharing housework and childcare equally and would like both of us to have satisfying careers. Neither of us wants to stay in academia.

His family is scattered -- his parents are divorced -- his mom is in Italy, his dad and paternal grandparents in the US, his grandmother back home in the city he grew up in. He is most attached to his mom but she is willing to relocate to where he ends up. I don't think his attachments to his paternal family are as strong.

My family is all in the same city in India, where I grew up, and lived until age 21. I have my mom and dad, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncle etc. all there. They are a wonderful family -- really I have been blessed to have them in my life and I grew up with extremely strong roots. During my early childhood I'd say we were middle class, but now we're probably closer to upper-middle class after some of my parents' and grandparents' investments turned out well. I have always had a very strong safety net -- in the sense that no matter what I knew my family had my back and would bail me out. I haven't made much use of that so far, but it's always been a factor. My parents have an extremely strong relationship and both my parents have successful careers in India. My mom is one of those elusive women who "had it all" -- but she certainly couldn't have done it without the whole year of paid maternity leave she got from her job, grandparents living nearby and, frankly, maids and nannies who looked after me when I was small.

Considering my options for what to do after we both get our degrees is really confusing to me. Moving back to Eastern Europe is not appealing to either of us, but there are many other possibilities.

The first would be stay in the US, settle down here and establish roots here. This to me seems the option least likely to give us both what we want -- we would have neither familial nor social support. I don't know how anyone manages to have dual-career families in this country -- well maybe I do, but it is a very unappealing option to me. It is also sort of the default option though, we met here, went to school here, are looking for jobs here. It does seem that it is very difficult to establish permanent residency here though.

The second option would be to move to Canada. It has the advantages of not being a completely alien culture. I would speak at least English, and my boyfriend speaks both English and French fluently. It has better maternity leave policies and social support structures and I think we would have a better chance of getting what we want. Looking at the requirements for a skilled worker permanent residency we would have enough points if we just worked for a year after getting our degrees in the US, which should be doable. It would be great to never have to worry about healthcare again. It is however, cold, and after five winters I wouldn't mind moving somewhere warmer. My parents really hate the cold. I don't know anything about how difficult it is to get jobs there.

Yet another option would be to go back to India. This is the one my mother has been most strongly rooting for. She wants to know why I want to start all over again leading an uncomfortable existence in a different country when they can easily give me a leg up in India, and I would have our entire social network to rely on. This is true. If I went back to India, I would lead a very comfortable existence, in the sense that I wouldn't really have to worry about material things and would have the freedom to explore work options. The thing is after 5 years out of the country, the things that bothered me about Indian culture when I lived there only bother me even more. I felt that I lived in this loving, close-knit bubble but that the minute I stepped out of this bubble the harsh realities of Indian society would stare me in the face. So much of our attention was directed inward -- to the other families we knew, our social circles, and it was all great fun -- but it wasn't exactly the greatest city to grow up in in terms of what the city itself had to offer. I feel that I had a great life there in spite of the surrounding city, rather than because of it. Right now I live in a great liberal collegetown and I love feeling so connected to the community and this sense that other people around me have similar values. I never got this sense in India. I also feel that this option would put a lot of strain on my relationship -- I don't think my boyfriend would feel comfortable there and he would have to rely on me for so much, which he might really grow to resent. At the same time, I really really love my family. I am an only child and it kills me sometimes that everyone is over there growing older while I'm over here. It's not out of any feeling of guilt or duty really -- these are all just really cool people -- very warm, generous, funny, liberal -- I miss them :( Also India is a growing economy, so there would be more options to start a company, or do something different. There are many new niches in the economy that are already oversaturated in the West. So there's that.

Finally we could move to somewhere else entirely -- perhaps in Europe? This would be a bit of a culture shock for me -- unlike my boyfriend who has lived in several parts of Europe and speaks several European languages, the only European language I speak is English. Finally, we are obviously an interracial couple and would have to go somewhere where people are cool with that and are not terribly xenophobic. Plus of course the difficulties of attaining permanent residency.

So what would be your advice? Obviously my boyfriend and I are committed to each other and are both willing to compromise. No one's going to be making any unilateral decisions.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not all of Canada is cold. Vancouver and Victoria have a temperate climate (Victoria has no snow and less rain than Van), and Vancouver is home to a large South Asian population. Fifty percent of the population speaks a first language other than English in the GVRD.

I'm not sure what your PhDs are in, but I'm assuming you're hoping for teaching jobs. Vancouver and Victoria both have vibrant software development industries. Victoria has more SME technology businesses that are independent, and are usually looking for talent.

Vancouver is more of a production centre, almost a colony of other parts of Canada and the US, since there are few head offices in that city compared to Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

Calgary would seem to be the Canadian city to move to, if you're looking for a high-paying job combined with a reasonably high quality of life - the Rockies are just an hour away.

Vancouver is expensive, and everyone wants to live there, meaning there can be wage deflation.

Victoria is a more affordable choice, although it really depends what you do. It's one of the most highly educated cities in North America, which means it will be difficult to find teaching work.

PhDs are in demand in Victoria in the fields of signal processing, typically for companies involved with remote sensing in marine environments.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:29 PM on July 20, 2012

I met my partner in a country foreign to both of us and I ended up moving back to her country as it was the most practical option at the time. For me, giving up my country was harder then I thought and I still imagine that I'll end up back there one day. Make sure you or your partner are really comfortable with your choice if your choice is to one of your home countries as the stress of culture shock is not evenly shared in that case. Otherwise I would suggest neutral territory.
posted by foleypt at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
My PhD will be in computational biology and my boyfriend's in physics -- with a specialization in biophysics. We are not actually specifically looking for teaching jobs so don't be limited by that
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2012

I'm European, my husband is South Asian, and we lived in the US for a number of years. We ultimately decided on Canada as the place we wanted to settle down for many of the reasons in your post but also transparency in gaining permanent residence and because it feels like a cross between Europe and the US in many ways to me. Things we gave up in moving - cheaper travel home, lower taxes, more expensive consumer items, etc - didn't really matter to us but may to you. If you plan on your folks moving to you eventually, you may wish to read up on Canadian family reunification type visas, however that works, as I know a number of Indian people who have moved older parents over. We found the Buffalo consulate to be quite quick in issuing PR versus others friends worked through, but that was 2005. And yeah, the weather varies a lot in different parts of Canada.
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2012

There are at least three remote sensing companies in Victoria that employ physicists. There are a couple of startups in Victoria that employ computational biologists, specifically in the genomics space - one being Genologics.

Check out the Genome BC website.

However, tech companies in BC are not really big enough to hire PhD's. So be warned.

My sister has a PhD in genetics (a little different I'm sure), and, very generally speaking, she specializes in prostate cancer. She found work as a post-doc in Vancouver at the cancer centre and was paid $30,000 a year. She makes three times that now in Australia.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2012

The ideal country for both of you is England.
Discuss it.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:59 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Throwing in a wild card: Singapore. They're hungry for skilled migrants and talent, and if you land the right corporate job, your quality of life could be close to what you would enjoy back in India. Not to mention that it's easy to travel to India and Europe from Singapore. The catch is that Singapore attracts very ambitious people, and the environment may not be as congenial as Liberal Collegetown.
posted by peripathetic at 5:00 PM on July 20, 2012

Agreeing that it's going to be hard for us to give you advice without knowing what it is you're studying.

Can I put in a negative vote for India? (I'm Indian, and proud, but still.) Yes, it's a great place for a lot of reasons, but the culture is suffocating, especially if you've become used to the West. And in all honesty, sexism is alive and well and living in hamaara Bharat mahaan. Don't be surprised if society expects you to give up your career and become a good little wifey, even if your family is more liberal. (Nope, not speaking from experience, why do you ask?)
posted by Tamanna at 9:18 PM on July 20, 2012

The fact that neither of you are only looking at teaching jobs does help, because quite frankly, the quality of higher studies and research in the hard sciences isn't very good in India. There's a reason so many of our best and brightest head abroad.
posted by Tamanna at 9:19 PM on July 20, 2012

Some friends of ours were trying to decide between the US and Australia as a place to relocate from the UK (dunno why, probably economic) and they decided on Australia. They have a similar program to Canada with points and preferred degrees and TBH *I* would move there if I wasn't mid-career/mid-life. I've never been tho, so I'm really just spitballing here.
posted by fiercekitten at 1:41 PM on July 21, 2012

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