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More Indians Who Moved To The U.S. Decide To Return Home


So often, we hear stories about immigration that paint the United States as the destination for people fleeing violence and conflict or looking for new opportunity. Immigration from India to the U.S. has been on the rise. In fact, Indians are now the third-largest immigrant group in this country. But these days, an increasing number of Indians are on the move again, heading in the other direction so their kids can connect with the culture. Liz Jones, of member station KUOW in Seattle, recently traveled to India to find out what it's like for some ex-pats who go home again.

LIZ JONES, BYLINE: A shaggy-haired teenager sits cross-legged on his living room floor. His head swoops low to the beat of the tabla.

APURVA KOTI: (Playing tabla).

JONES: Apurva Koti took up tabla after his dad took a transfer with Microsoft and the family moved from the Seattle area to Hyderabad, India. That was eight years ago. Apurva's 16 now.

A. KOTI: When I moved here, I knew that I really didn't like being here. And I wanted to go back. But when it really came down to it, it was just weird things, like the fact that they use Celsius here and not Fahrenheit. I would take issue with that.

JONES: Apurva's parents moved back so their kids could bond with this place. It worked.

A. KOTI: Now I have my really close friends and everything. And I've gotten used to it here, so...

JONES: Along with tabla, Apurva also plays electric guitar. Both instruments appeal to him.

A. KOTI: Because they're two completely different instruments and used in two different worlds. I don't lean towards one more than the other.

JONES: That also kind of sums up how he feels about life in America versus India. He's at home in both countries and both cultures. This family's part of a growing community in India. They're sometimes called ex-pats, although re-pats might be more accurate since they're repatriating to India after years abroad. Many return for their kids' sake, for jobs or to care for aging parents. The Indian government estimates that every year, up to 200,000 Indians moved back.


VIJU KOTI: This is my cook, Bala (laughter). She’s making a curry, and that’s chickpeas. She's making a chickpea curry. And then there's rice.

JONES: That's Apurva's mom, Viju. For her, domestic help is a major perk here. In Seattle, she cooked, cleaned the house, drove the kids around. But in India, those tasks are easily outsourced. After 15 years away, Viju is happy to be back. But she remembers it was a tough decision.

V. KOTI: We always had this feeling that the kids should get some exposure to their roots and their native - you know, their homeland. And I felt time was running out because as the kids grew older, then it would be harder for them to adjust.

JONES: The kids cried a lot. At school, it took them a full year to adjust to more strict and formal teachers. As for her husband, Shirish, who switched to a Microsoft campus halfway around the world, he landed on familiar turf.

SHIRISH KOTI: We continue to work with the same set of people, same product, same technical challenges. It's just, you know, sitting in a different place. So there's no difference at all.

JONES: Downstairs at their sprawling housing complex, families gather to celebrate a holiday.


JONES: Musicians play in a banquet room, which is just past a pharmacy and a small grocery store. The Koti family lives in a gated community that's like a hybrid of India and America. These communities are increasingly common here, with names like Orange County and Dollar Meadows. They spring up near multinational companies, and people who live here and can afford it tend to be returnees.

V. KOTI: Somehow, once you’ve lived there, you kind of tend to get along only with similar people.

JONES: Apurna Rayaprol is a professor of sociology at the University of Hyderabad. She studies trends of Indians who return from abroad, as she herself did in the '90s. She says it used to be more of a culture shock to come back. But now, thanks to globalization...

APURNA RAYAPROL: You have Dominoes. You have Pepsi. You have Pizza Hut. You have everything here.

JONES: Technology and India's government also now make it easier than ever for Indians to come home. But down the line, Rayaprol says many ex-pat families tend to hit a crossroads. That's when kids finish high school and set their sights again toward the West.

RAYAPROL: Because they're all American-born kids with American citizenship, they'll go back to college. So are the parents going to follow them?

JONES: Or stay in India, where many who return feel a sense of belonging like nowhere else. For NPR News, I'm Liz Jones. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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