It was in January 2011 when I had first shared with a friend my intention of launching a TV talk show on Nepal related issues. To this he asked me if I planned to return to Nepal at any point in future. Never having been good at making long term plans, I wasn’t sure of the answer and so I told him I didn’t know. I have been somewhat convinced by the Dalai Lama’s preaching that if I make plans for so far into the future, I would just forget about living in the present.
To my response my friend—a psychology major at the University of Virginia—said I may have ‘athazagoraphobia’. I was taken aback by his prognosis that I may suffer from the ‘fear of being forgotten or ignored’.
For a few days, his diagnosis made me feel uneasy. And though I decided I shouldn’t let it bother me, his analysis would come back to haunt me each time I met former Nepali politicians or actors or other professionals who were now living abroad, and compel me to ask them about their plans of returning home.
It is then that I decided that the Vision for Nepal Foundation—a non-profit organization which produces ‘American Conversations: Connecting Frontiers’, with which I am associated, should conduct a survey on the issue. I talked to my colleagues and they agreed to carry out the survey. Every time we would strike a conversation with politically, socially and culturally active members of the Nepali community, we would remember to ask them this question with certain gravity.
This survey concluded on July 25, with 80 people responding to our question about their plans of returning to Nepal. Only the future can tell us how the survey will unfold in reality. However, I shall share some salient features of the findings.
Of the 80 who participated in the survey, 36 such socially active members of the Nepali society living in the cities of Northern Virginia, Richmond, Baltimore, New York, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, St Louis, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco were found to be really anxious about the present condition of the country and were worried about being forgotten or ignored if they did not play a certain role in the Diaspora community. They are certain that they would really like to return to their homeland and were concerned that they may not be accepted or would be looked down upon if they failed to take with them some sizeable repute or money.
Eight of such individuals said they did not care because they were not planning to go back to Nepal at all. Twelve respondents said they are yet to think about it. “Even if I go back I am not worried whether I would be socially liked or not. I know the only truth—if I have money they will like me.” Some of these respondents were quite clear about how they would be received back home.
Five of them were like me. They said they were not good at planning what exactly they would do in future. The remaining nineteen respondents were very clear about visiting and investing in the Himalayan nation but not about actually going back to live there. They said retirement in the US was healthier and more secure than in Nepal.
Among the female respondents, almost 70 per cent were sure of not returning and thus, not worried about being forgotten. Twenty five percent of them intended to go back only after securing their financial future. Five percent were anxious about being accepted as an important member of the society and polity, if they returned.
At a time when several skilled non-resident Indians and non-resident Chinese are returning to their respective homelands following lucrative offers and conducive political environment and openings, skilled non-resident Nepali are appalled at the country’s fragile political condition and lack of opportunities. One of the members who participated in the survey had returned to Nepal after completing his studies. But when he was treated as a foreigner in his own town and it took months for him to get even simple things done, his well meaning plan of contributing to the preservation of rain water for dry season had to be aborted. He said he flew back to the USA before the expiry of his visa and would like to contribute from the US if he could.
After the Chinese government changed its policy for the returning academics, 98 out of 100 students who had left China for higher studies in the United States under government funded scholarships eventually returned between 1997 and 2009. This information is available on the website of The China Scholarship Council, the regulator of government scholarships for overseas studies under the Ministry of Education. However, the picture is not as rosy when it comes to students who managed to study abroad on their own funds.
A majority of Nepalis living abroad fear being forgotten or ignored by their country, but are unsure of returning to home for many reasons.
India is working on policies to lure more US educated and skilled NRIs back to India and has already achieved partial success with some academics and IT techs returning home.
Nepal’s case, however, is squarely different. Since the Himalayan nation has not formulated any policy conducive to returning academics, it has discouraged them from coming back home. It’s interesting that Nepal ranks 12th in the world in terms of the number of students traveling to the US for higher studies. Worse still, hardly any of them return home. Obviously those who go abroad for further studies or to work expect certain policies, opportunities and dynamics back home when they return, all of which are currently lacking.
Our next poll will not be on athazagoraphobia among Nepalis in the US and instead, would focus on what they expect in Nepal when they do decide to return.
The author is associated with The Washington Post and hosts a weekly TV talk-show—‘American Conversations: Connecting Frontiers’—on Nepal related issues.