The Measure of SuccessA shiny car, a massive mansion or a hefty bank account may not be something everybody yearns for, but the promises of a “better future” undeniably entices many Nepalis into moving abroad.
A shiny car, a massive mansion or a hefty bank account may not be something everybody yearns for, but the promises of a “better future” undeniably entices many Nepalis into moving abroad. The notion of living outside Nepal, temporarily or otherwise, itself suggests that the person is travelling to greener pastures to grab the opportunities that are so hard to come by in Nepal. And for good reasons. The endless struggle for bare necessities may have become a part of life for many, but some others choose to leverage their energies and resources to improve their quality of life that may otherwise loom under the shadows of indefinite load-sheddings, dwindling personal finances and endless political transitions at home.
As a result, a good number of Nepalis have flocked overseas, across all the six habitable continents. When opportunities show up in the form of better education, easier means to raise their families or the independence outside the struggles of the third world, moving to a foreign country does not seem too big a leap of faith. The United States of America is one such country that has enticed people from around the world for generations; and like people from many other countries, hundreds of thousands Nepalis have come here to create their own opportunities.
And sure enough, to someone who has not been to the US, the mainstream and social media may both have contributed in creating an image of a land that screams glamour and grandeur. The bustling streets of New York, the sunny beaches of Florida, the cosmic laboratories of NASA, the chic neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills, “America”, to the uninitiated, comes across as a place where eventually every dream comes to fruition. While those depictions are not false, they do not portray the entire truth either.
All individuals who move abroad carry their own underlying stories that oftentimes get obscured, more so in today’s social media-driven world. More often than not, most commencement photos do not reveal stories of students working long hours in school cafeterias; most beach-selfies belie hidden tales of back-breaking summer jobs; every party shot does not speak of the anxious longing for weekends after five stressful days at work. Climbing up the corporate ladder at Fortune 500 companies is not impossible but most short narratives building up to those grand stories—of surging medical bills and overdrawn bank accounts—get lost among the ‘idyllic’ pictures hastily uploaded onto Instagram. By and large, the other side of the coin is seldom seen, much less talked about.
Most people who migrate from the economically challenged, politically unstable or socially restrictive homelands are exemplars who prove that diligence and perseverance always defeat challenges in the end. Among the thousands of Nepalis living all across the US, this photo story touches upon the lives of a few among many Nepalis who reside in one of the biggest cities in the upper Midwest—Minneapolis, and who are doing just that—chasing the proverbial American dream and writing their own unique chronicles.
Pritesh/Archana Upadhyaya, Supriya Upadhyaya (daughter)
Pritesh - Vice President of Sales, Computer Associate Technologies; Archana- Technology manager, Wells Fargo
When Pritesh Upadhyaya came to the US in 1994 as a freshman in college, he realised how independent Americans were. That inspired him to build up his own base—“Once I mustered up the courage, everything fell into place. I went to a good school in Minnesota and got an on-campus job that paid well; I worked summer jobs and made enough not to have to ask my parents for money. You learn through your early struggles. When I first came here, someone asked me if I wanted to shovel snow at night for cash, and I said ‘sure, why not’. But a couple of hours later, I realised what a tough task it was; especially coming from a family where I didn’t have to do anything labour intensive. But through these struggles you learn how difficult things are and then try and figure out a better way to do things. When you start working hard like that and paying everything out of your own pocket, you value these opportunities more and get a different perspective in life.”
His wife Archana, who came to the US with a Green Card after marriage, sometimes, feels that she is living off of her husband’s hard work— “My struggles were mostly social because when I came here after getting married to Pritesh, I didn’t have a friend and that sort of made me feel alone. The only way to come of out it was to find a common ground with Pritesh’s friends and make them my friends too. My understanding of the culture here was also limited. You can only learn so much from movies.”
Usha KC is an aesthetician who has lived in the US for 17 years. She went to a culinary school with the mind of returning to Nepal to help in her father’s restaurant business before switching to her current profession—“Running my own restaurant might have given continuation to my culinary interests but when I started working in the field for somebody else, I realised it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. I then rediscovered my love for skincare and went on to become an aesthetician. Looking back at the eight years of working in this field and all the hard work, I think I’ve had good success—I have a loyal clientele that trust me and are very happy with my service. I have to strive continuously to maintain their trust. But I feel like I’ll be truly successful when one day I establish my own company. And there’s a lot to do to accomplish that dream.”
Master of Human Rights
Candidate at Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Originally from Bhutan, Richa has fond memories of growing up in Jhapa. Now a US citizen, she still has many relatives back home and makes good use of social media to stay in touch with them—“I think people using social media to portray mostly happy moments is a phenomenon that is pervasive in all communities. Maybe a reason that most of the photos are happy is because people don’t want other people worrying about them. I can see that happening with immigrant families that don’t want to upset their families back home. But then it could also be because our society in general doesn’t really know how to handle sad things, so people don’t share them as much. I mean, how would you react to a status that said, ‘Life in America is hard’, ‘My wife and I barely see each other because we are so busy working a job we don’t particularly like’, ‘I feel like I am a bad parent because I don’t seem to understand what my kids want’, ‘It’s hard to keep up with two cultures at the same time especially when it comes to raising a kid’? Sometimes I think back to the days I was back home, and I smile and I cry.’ If your reality is like the fictional status above, then you kind of want to escape from it to a place where everyone is happy. It’s nice to take a break from the real world just to see people smiling and enjoying their lives.”
Co-owner, HimalayanRestaurant, HighlandCafe & Bakery
Having owned two restaurants in Minneapolis for the past nine years, Pravin Shrestha is quite content with life but recounts his days of initial hardship—“My brother and I run these two restaurants and we aren’t looking for other jobs but we’re constantly trying to grow our existing business. This to us is success. The US is a land of opportunities—if you work hard, you get rewarded accordingly. But doing business in the US is not easy. We were far away from home, where we hardly knew anyone and there were these confusing laws to abide by; a simple mistake could cost us a fortune. It was no longer like Nepal where we had the backs of our
family and friends. I thought I wouldn’t have a language problem here; I spoke English in Nepal, but I had to learn a different version of English in America. So there are little things that people often overlook, but everybody has their own challenges. Life’s not simple as it looks. But if you’re ready to follow your heart and work diligently, you’ll receive the returns you deserve.”
Store employee, TBS Mart
Raju Shakya, who works at an Indian grocery store by one of the busiest highways in the city, says that if he were to do things all over again, he’d teach himself the value of time management and tell himself to get serious about life—“Two years ago when I landed in the US with my DV, it was shocking to realise that the America I thought I knew was actually different. They said it was the ‘land of the free’, but I have yet to figure that one out. I am so tied up with work that I don’t get leaves very often. It may look like I’m earning a lot, but only I know how much gets left of my pay check after taxes and rent. When I was back in Nepal, I used to think that the US was all about having fun. It might be the ‘land of the free’ outside of work, when you go out on vacations but only if you’re able to completely block work off of your mind.”
Doctor in Dental Medicine
Since her arrival in the US, doctor in Dental Medicine, Rakshya Shrestha lived in Connecticut and Massachusetts before moving to Minnesota— “‘Success’ to me is a relative term. Looking back at where we started, I would say we’re pretty successful; however, there is still a lot to accomplish. But we’ve had to work very hard to come this far. The biggest challenge was going to a dental school in Boston while my first child was still little; because unlike Nepal, there were no relatives to look after her. I did not fully understand the basic systems like day care or finding the right babysitter. And now there is a subtle nervousness about her future. Raising kids in the US is good in many ways, and I can already see it when my eight-year-old daughter voices her opinions frankly. But then again, I feel like some core cultural and social values that we learned as children are hard to teach to our kids because the only way of living they’ve ever known is the highly-independent life here, far away from our relatives and our roots.”
Graduate Student, University of Minnesota
After receiving her Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk, Niluja Singh earned her Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Minnesota. She is surprised at the difference in approaches taken in Nepal and the US regarding education—“I like the system here better because for the first time I felt like I wasn’t just studying for exams. Although, initially it was hard to adapt to a hectic schedule, I came to realise how well the courses were designed and everything I learned taught me important lessons for the future. Skimming through the books and class notes one night before the exams is not how one gets through the college here. If you don’t work hard, your future is in jeopardy. And it’s especially a bigger challenge for international students as there are more rules to follow, finances to handle and learning to live away from family.”
Server, Gorkha Palace Restaurant
Following in her sister’s footsteps, Anju came to the US but only after completing her undergraduate studies in Nepal. Even then, life wasn’t very easy for her—“I come from a well off Thakali family and here I am working multiple jobs, one of them as a server—serving, cleaning and doing dishes, which my family would probably not approve of. Yes, America is a land of opportunities, but people should be willing to accept that there are a lot of challenges here. Opportunities don’t wait for you at your doorstep; you have to grab them when they show up. There is no job that is small or big. Your social status may matter in Nepal but the US is all about creating yourself. If you’re not street smart, people may even take advantage of you. In my case, when I worked at an Indian restaurant, they did not pay me for about 100 hours of my work. I was in no position to fight because I was a student at that time and not eligible to work off-campus. I had to take that gamble for financial reasons but I was left without the money I had worked so hard for.”
Text and photos: Prapti Shrestha