Who are you?
Hi, I am Abhisikta Bhowmick, an Indian-born Bengali expat, living in Texas, USA. I work in the cosmetic & personal care industry as a Research & Development Technician.
Where, when, and why did you move abroad?
I was born and raised in West Bengal in India, where I completed my master’s degree in chemistry and worked for almost six years. Then I met my husband on an online matrimonial platform and our families got to know each other. We got married in 2021, and within a month, I moved to the USA with him. He was already working here for quite a few years, but it was my first time traveling abroad.
What challenges did you face during the move?
My visa got processed fast, so I was able to travel with my husband and we didn’t have to live apart right after our marriage. The real challenge was accepting that I was leaving my whole family, my hometown, and a major part of my life, to live 8,000 miles away where nobody speaks my native language. It took me more than a year to adapt to this new country – its culture, people, food, music, festivals, and lifestyle.
Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit, or work permit? What was the process like?
After our registry marriage, I had to apply for a dependent visa (H4) based on my husband’s work visa (H1B). Then I waited for almost two years to process the work permit, which is known as an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
The process was mainly filling out a simple application form, but getting the approval was quite time-consuming and required a lot of patience. Generally, it takes three to six months for the EAD to get approved. On the other hand, if someone is living on an L2 visa (dependent on an L1 visa holder), they can start working in America immediately without waiting for the work permit approval.
The waiting period is when most expat women, especially Indian women, suffer. Overnight, we become unemployed, leaving our jobs, and sitting at home for a couple of years (if not more). The key is to utilize this time constructively. I concentrated on traveling, organizing & decorating our new apartment, cooking meals, exploring local restaurants, visiting the local public library, volunteering, participating in virtual networking events, connecting with fellow immigrant women, and planning my career path in this new country.
How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?
The living cost in the USA is way higher compared to that of India. This wasn’t unknown to me. I was glad to find out that living in Texas was less expensive than most of the other states in the USA. One thing is for sure when you are living abroad on a visa, you must be very wise and careful about your expenses. No matter how many zeros in your paycheck, you should always save enough for your future, your family, and medical expenses (which are very high here).
Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?
It is a straightforward process here. Once you receive your social security number (SSN), you can visit a local bank as a first-time applicant. In most of the banks, they need you to come in person since you don’t have any credit history in this country yet. You will be guided throughout the process to finish your application. The necessary documents are – Government ID (preferably a passport), SSN, and Address Proof. People prefer to access their bank accounts online, so you will hardly ever go back to the bank in person once your account is activated.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I never had to go through “apartment hunting” since my husband had a rented apartment already. However, I have seen my friends being proactive about this and looking for apartments even before their arrival in this country. It is always advised to connect with a few people over social media (Facebook, WhatsApp expat groups) who either live nearby the place where you are planning on living or work at the same company/institution as you and ask for their suggestions about possible living arrangements.
I am linking a few Facebook expat groups here for anyone who is planning to move to the United States soon:
Are there many other expats in your area?
I am fortunate to have met a lot of expats both in my neighborhood and workplace – this was a huge factor that helped control my homesickness. There are plenty of Indian families living in my building and immigrants from different countries staying in the nearby areas.
At present, I have colleagues from five different countries on our team. As a result, we have a multicultural work environment. We have bonded over food and often go for team lunches to try out a variety of cuisines from different continents. This makes the job even more enjoyable.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Being an introvert doesn’t exactly put you in a great position when it comes to striking up conversations. Everybody here speaks English and I know the language very well, yet it seemed unfamiliar when I first came here. I struggled a lot to understand the local accent. There were times when I visited a café or a salon and didn’t understand a word of what the salesperson was saying.
Despite the hurdle, I knew that I had to work on my social skills. Being a bookish person, the easiest way for me to socialize was to get a membership at the local library. Every weekend I used to go there, meet new people, and participate in book club discussions which gradually made it easier (read “less awkward”) to understand the local accent and engage in conversations with them. Thus, my plan worked and now this introverted woman has a whole group of friends at the library.
What do you like about life where you are?
Life in Texas has brought out a lot of new qualities in me – a love for country music, trying out a variety of cuisines, traveling to offbeat places, and wine tasting are a few of them. Although it’s quite hot here during the Summer (which lasts for almost six or seven months), I still love the sunny weather, clear blue sky, and watching the sunset on the horizon every day.
I like the way people respect privacy and personal space – a concept heavily sacrificed in India to date. People here are so independent irrespective of their age. They work hard throughout the week and enjoy the weekends with their families – the concept of simple living is predominant.
I love doing grocery shopping here, something I never enjoyed back in my home country. I have gradually started appreciating this independent lifestyle – it certainly takes a lot of effort to cook for yourself, do household chores on your own while working full-time, but at the end of the day, it makes you feel so content.
It’s a land of opportunities and no job is too small here – you just need to be patient to grab the right one for yourself.
Another thing I love so much about living here is its cosmopolitan society – diverse yet inclusive.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I grew up in a small town where I lived with my parents. In India, people in my neighborhood are very cordial, they love to socialize with each other. Visiting a neighbor’s place, exchanging home-cooked meals, and having chit-chats by the balcony are quite common there. This is how we bond with each other.
In contrast to that, living in an apartment was a new concept to me and I felt a lack of social interaction among the neighbors here. During festive seasons, it often feels very lonely to not have your family and loved ones with you.
Another problem is the time difference. My parents often forget that I am living in a different time zone now – they call me in the middle of the night and ask why I am still sleeping, and then we all laugh about it. Calling your friends can be quite a task too, since they are all at work when you are free and vice-versa.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The biggest cultural difference between India and the USA is in the social structure – Indians are brought up in a close-knit family and they become dependent on the family members quite easily, whereas individualism dominates American society.
American kids move out and start living on their own after finishing high school, which is not so common in India. Americans do everything by themselves while we can avail help for all kinds of domestic chores in India. I have picked up most domestic skills after coming here.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
My advice would be to enjoy your time after coming to a new country for a while, understand the local lifestyle and then focus on rebuilding your life and career. Try to connect with more expats who have been in your shoes before and learn from their experiences.
Please understand that life abroad is not all roses and rainbows as it may seem on social media – you must put in a lot of effort to make an identity in a new country.
If you do not have a valid work permit and are afraid that the waiting time will create a career gap on your resume – there is an easy solution to that. You can volunteer and utilize the time gap. I still volunteer from time to time even after getting a job and have noticed that interviewers often ask about volunteer experiences during the job interviews. It is a great way to expand your network too. There are tons of organizations that look for volunteers throughout the year, you can look them up on the following websites:
At present, many fellow expat women are doing great work as professional career coaches and immigrant mentors. If you are new to a foreign country, taking guidance from them can be helpful. They will give you emotional support on your new journey. I participated in one such immigrant mentoring program when I started my job search, and it has helped me grow in so many ways.
What are your plans for the future?
I am balancing both my work and studies at present and working towards my goal of being a cosmetic chemist in the future. Be it life or career – starting everything from scratch hasn’t been easy for sure, but I am not in the mood to give up.
In addition to that, I want to help other immigrant women when they move to the USA. I have connected to a lot of expat friends all over the USA and all of us want to give back to the community by helping those who are going through a similar journey. If you are an immigrant woman in America and are reading this article, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (I am mostly active on Instagram and LinkedIn). I will try to guide you as much as I can. Let’s make a strong community for ourselves.