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5: Leisure and pursuit of happiness (Professional Life in the US for Immigrants: Section)

 GaramChai.com >> Book >> Section 5

Leisure and pursuit of happiness

Indians moving to the US and other western countries realize that the western world is equally serious about the pursuit of leisure and personal well being as it is to work. The working conditions and hours are highly regulated, and except for project contingencies, most people work about 40 or 45 hours, five days a week. Weekends and spare time are sacrosanct, meant for family, or pursuit of one’s hobbies and other activities. Even Indians, who are used to enjoying the rat race back home, after a few months in the west realize the significance of compartmentalizing the different aspects of life into work, family, friends and learn the importance of having a leisure pursuit. They too recognize the significance of all work and no play, makes Singh (or Babu) a dull guy and learn to strike a balance between their work and leisurely pursuits.

The avenues to pursue leisure activities and hobbies are endless, and generally affordable to most of us. Some re-discover childhood passions like music or art and others involve themselves in the community and spend time working on social causes. Most large cities in the US with a sizable Indian population also have Indian temples, community centers, and Indian associations that provide avenues for people to network and socialize. A walk down Indian haunts like Devon Avenue in Chicago are sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia, reminding one of some street in Mumbai, Bangalore or Hyderabad. The advent of internet has made networking relatively simple. There are scores of websites catering exclusively to Indians in the US. A website, GaramChai.com (http://www.GaramChai.com/) that my wife and I maintain has extensive listings on Indian resources listing over 250 temples, 200 restaurants, 50 online shops and 300 bazaars. Other listings include jewelers, wedding specialists, theaters, beauty salons, mosques and gurudwaras. (A more complete listing of sites and resources for NRIs in the US can be found in the Appendix).

Most of us who leave our homeland come to America to further our own goals and enrich ourselves — by experience and in terms of amassing wealth. However, most of us do not forget our roots. Making money may be the means but not the end. Many Indians in US and elsewhere in the world also tend to periodically revisit their altruistic side by giving back to the society. This section of the book is intended to give the readers a glimpse into the leisure, recreation and altruistic pursuits of Indians in the US. This section is by no means extensive, especially considering the fact that Indians from different backgrounds, cultures and regions have been amalgamated into the melting pot that makes America and ethnically diverse interesting. 



Weekends in the US

Over two centuries ago, America’s founding fathers envisioned a nation that would work towards securing “Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness...” to its citizens. Long after attaining “Life and Liberty”, Americans are still serious about the pursuit of happiness, a key to life that everyone here, including my fellow Indians, takes seriously.

Working hours and conditions in the US are highly regulated, and except for project contingencies or if one happens to be working shifts, projects and work-cycles are optimized such that people do not have to put in endless hours of overtime. The work-weekend cycle here has been refined into an art form. So much so that the pursuit of happiness is actively encouraged and is something every one strives for. One gets initiated into this on first landing here, and realising that to most Americans, weekends are sacred. The average John (or Jane) Doe has a life outside work and they rarely like anyone transgressing their personal time. Of course, that is not to say that one does not come across the odd nerd who “lives and breaths” work every waking moment of their life. But the nerds are too few and far between as to be inconsequential. Most people like to take the weekends off and pursue their hobbies or passions.

Indians, after a few weeks or months in the US, realise that they too need to ‘get a life’ outside work and fall into the rhythm of workweek and weekends. It takes a while to get used to the fact that people work only forty or fifty hours a week. Weekends are generally reserved for socializing, shopping or catching up with the new movies. It is the long-weekends that people start looking forward to. Long-weekend is not merely an American concept. Canada, UK and the Europe too have a tradition of long weekends. Although the exact days vary, the concept is still the same. In America there are five or six long-weekends, well marked on most calendars.

The annual long-weekend cycle begins with the New-Year’s day - 1st of Jan, given to people so that they can recharge their energies for the new year after the revelry of the holiday season. The next holiday comes during the second Friday in April - Good Friday. Memorial Day, generally the last Monday in May, the official beginning of summer, also heralds the summer holiday season. Fourth of July, the American Independence Day is as sacred as any other long weekend. Next comes Labour Day, generally observed on the first Monday of September. Thanksgiving, which generally falls in November, is an All-American holiday when most families get together to thank the pioneers of the nation. Of course, December ushers in the Christmas season, culminating in Christmas Day along with the day after Christmas, which is also a holiday. These are the major holidays and most companies have their own schedules of extra holidays that they dole out to their employees.

Even Indians, brought up to believe that ‘work is worship’, take to the concept of long-weekends like ducks to water. These weekends marked in calendars are spent socialising,  or planning getaways – weeks, sometimes months in advance.

Every region in the US has at least a dozen national parks, resorts and other tourist attractions. The most popular way to get to any of these places is to rent a car and drive down. Hertz, National, Alemo and other big car-rental giants anticipate the demand and hike their prices around the holidays; so do the local hotels and motels near the tourist spots. Driving 800 to 1000 miles (each way) to visit some of the ‘nearby’ attractions is not unheard of. Of course, the intriguing system of interstate highways criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country facilitates road travel. All one needs is a good car and a map.



Weekends

For most people, the pursuit of happiness does not stop with long weekends; it is a continuous process. There are fifty-two weeks in a year and about half a dozen long weekends. Regular weekends are no less important in the pursuit of happiness. The work culture in organisations here is tailored to be worker friendly.

Most Americans like to start their days early. They get at work by about 7 in the morning, have a short working lunch and wind up work by 3.30 or 4 PM and head out to enjoy rest of the day. Days are generally long, with the sun setting at around 8.15 or 8.30 PM. People have their pet projects and activities they head out to. The sporty types play a game or two, sometimes coaching their kid’s little league. Others head out to their church group or work with voluntary associations. For some, the favourite summer pastime is to do some yard-work or mow the lawns. With workweeks highly standardised, people look forward to their weekends when they get to pursue their passions or hobbies. For instance, trekking and mountaineering is a popular hobby in the Colorado Rockies where I live.

People in India are generally used to working long hours and more often than not, end up taking work home. Those who move to the US find the demarcation between work and leisure quite intriguing. It is not that Indians are not used to hobbies or leisure, but recreation generally takes a secondary place against the grind of daily existence. On moving to the US, Indians find that they have the time, and resources to pursue a variety of hobbies. Many like to hang out with friends and watch Indian movies and DVD’s. Some also pursue an active lifestyle, taking up sports like racquetball or tennis. The bigger cities in the US with a larger population of Indians boast of their own cricket teams. About a year ago, I had the pleasure of watching an “Indo-Pak” tournament being played by local Indian and Pakistani consultants.

Indian associations are generally active in many large cities and they organize get-togethers and functions and celebrate Indian festivals like Diwali, New Year etc. They are also instrumental in inviting prominent artists, musicians and performers from India. At a more informal level, there are a number of local bhajan groups that get together on a regular basis. Indians arriving in a new city generally make a conscious effort to tap into the networking groups, find like-minded people with whom they share common interests. 

Of course, the informal networking also helps in one’s professional life. One of the most popular recruiting tools in the US is employee referral. Employers dole out incentives ranging from small gifts to thousands of dollars to their employees who refer the right person. Because of the informal network that exists amongst Indians, we are able to market ourselves better. These networks are also an excellent way to find professional mentors who can help guide one in career planning. There are also a number of formal groups, like TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), that promote Indian entrepreneurship and organise formal and informal networking get-togethers.

Indians in the US have taken to the Internet like ducks to water. One of the favourite pastimes is to “chat” with near and dear ones using online chat or voice chat. Thanks to the advances in Voice over IP technology, chatting using pc-to-pc software works out much more economical than using the services of MCI or ATT. Internet is also an excellent medium for networking and Indians are harnessing its potential the fullest extent. For example, websites like Sulekha.com and Rediff.com provide a good forum for people to post their queries and people visiting their board are generally quite responsive. Web directory services like GaramChai.com provide listings, including those of Indian associations in the US.

Indians in the US realize that all work and no play makes for a very dull life. Like the local natives here, we are becoming conscious of the fact that in the land of honey and milk offers more in the way of life than just work from nine to five. 



Indians play the Good Samaritan in US!

Most of us who leave our homeland come here to further our own goals and enrich ourselves — by experience and in terms of amassing wealth. However, we do not forget our roots. Making money may be the means but not the end. Many Indians in US and elsewhere in the world also tend to periodically revisit their altruistic side by giving back to the society.

Americans seem to be generous when it comes to their involvement with charities and foundations. They gave $175 billion to charity in 1999. A bulk of this money went to universities, hospitals, churches and the arts. Charities in America work like fine-tuned machines. For instance, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity has an endowment of $22 billion. All the hype over charities is contagious and even Indians tend to catch the “charity bug”.

Indians in America, especially those who can afford to, generally rally around to help others although we do not have a formal tradition of donating to charities. Many of us in the US consider ourselves fortunate to be working towards a position of financial security and do not tend to easily forget where we come from. Some like to volunteer their time to manage local chapters of charities or organising events. Others like to be more hands-off, preferring to donate a set amount of money every year.

Some people prefer offer their used odds-and-ends to charities. Interestingly, charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army etc are extremely well managed mega-industries in the US. They accept donation of almost anything one wishes to offer – from used TV’s to Toyotas and generally operate out of huge facilities with a drop-off areas. They also help employ disabled and disadvantaged people gainfully. Items received as donations are cataloged and (if needed) mended. They are then placed for display and sale in the ‘showroom’. The atmosphere in the showroom of most of these thrift shops is clinical, sometimes mall-like. Just to give you a sense of perspective, retail sales of donated goods of Goodwill alone totaled over $941.1 million in the year 2000! And, Goodwill is just one among the dozen or so mega-charities in the US.

Apart from the gratification one receives while giving to charity, there is a tax benefits from Uncle Sam too.  One can claim a certain percentage of rebate on taxes for items donated to charity. No wonder even Wall Street Journal runs advertisements from charities asking the well-to-do readers to donate their ‘used’ cars, automobiles and yachts! It is a win-win proposition. The donor gets a hefty tax-write-off and the charity collects the car or boat, spruces it and sells it, generating cash! Many a time, the donor does not even have to visit the charity, they will send someone to your place to tow the car or take the old sofa!

India, with all the social and economic problems that it faces, needs all the help it can get. There are millions of enthusiastic, energetic young people, if given an opportunity would be more than willing to find a niche for themselves. In a nation where a good percentage of population is below the poverty line, even the grind of daily existence becomes a chore. This is where NGOs (non-government organisations) and other charities need to step up to the plate. Many social problems stem from the tremendous inequality of wealth in the world today. Charitable organisations are intended to rectify these social problems, partly by a voluntary redistribution of the wealth.

Indian charities have started realising that Indian expatriates form a good source that they can tap into. Some of them have found the support of volunteers in the US who manage local chapters and branches. Most charities in the US are highly regulated. Charities operating in the US also have a tax-deductible status under IRS (Internal Revenue Service) codes. Contributions are generally acknowledged with a receipt including tax-ID number along with the amount of donation. This way, people donating to these charities can also claim a tax break, making for a win-win proposition.

Indian charities in the US also conduct regular charitable events and fund raisers. The Web and e-mail have been harnessed to generate awareness. Case in point, the Gujarat  earthquake in early 2001 rallied thousands of Indians abroad who became aware of the tragedy and were able to communicate and rally support over the web.

Even corporations in the US, especially those with a sizeable Indian presence, sometimes rally around special causes. Immediately after the earthquake in Gujarat, employees of Microsoft Worldwide pooled about $150,000 for the victims and talked the company into matching the sum, raising a total of over $400,000. Many large corporations also have a policy of donating a part of their profits to local charities and Indians working in the higher echelons of some of the Fortune 500 companies have been instrumental in channelling some of the corporate donations towards their favourite charities in India. Many US corporations also have a matching donations program whereby they donate an equal amount towards their employees preferred charities.

Raising money for charity need not be a dry and monotonous affair. As volunteers of Asha- Colorado recently set out to prove, it can also be a lot of fun. Founded in 1991 at the University of California at Berkeley, Asha aims to bring hope to underprivileged children through educational opportunities. Asha works with organisations in the Indian states of Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. Asha has local chapters all over the US managed by Indian professionals and students who volunteer their time. They recently organised “Geetanjali”, an ethnic cultural festival in Denver that attracted nearly six hundred people. Local talent volunteered their time to organise and co-ordinate the event, netting over 5,700 dollars, which is a good amount considering that Asha-Colorado is a small chapter and the Indian community here is very small. This program also helped increase awareness about Asha and charitable organisations in the Indian community.

In India ‘Charity’ is generally looked upon with suspicion and disdain. There are innumerable horror stories about misuse of distribution channels, and ways in which the money that is donated to India is misappropriated. On hearing and reading about these stories, many feel disillusioned. Of course, for every black sheep there are dozens who are trying to do their bit.

 

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Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2002- 2013

All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. Any mentions of commercial products, company names, or universities are solely for information purposes and do not imply any endorsement by the Author or any other entity. The Author provides this article "as is." The Author disclaims any express or implied warranties including, but not limited to, any implied warranties of commercial value, accuracy, or fitness for any particular purpose. If you use the information in this document in any way, you do so entirely at your own risk.

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Book Index

  • Intro
  • Section 1: Visas and Immigration
  • Section 2 Finances
  • Section 3 Law and legal system
  • Section 4 Consumerism
  • Section 5 Life and weekends in the US
  • Section 6 Health and lifestyle
  • Section 7 Demographics
  • Section 8 Indians in America: Looking to the future after Sep 11th
  • Section 9 Preparing for the next wave
  • Appendix
  •  

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