Musings: Home Sweet Home

By Arabdho Majumder

Exploring cultural differences in moving

Illustration by  Sujean Gahng.

Illustration by Sujean Gahng.

An Uber driver recently told me that his family moved from Buffalo to a small town in the middle of nowhere in New York when he was young. He hated it. Having to change homes meant trying to find friends again. As the outsider, he felt easily labeled as “weird.” Kids who don’t move have the best childhoods, he argued, and parents should be mindful of that. What he wanted was stability.  

I disagreed (although I didn’t say it to his face), having moved more times than I can count on one hand thus far in my 19-year life. I was born in Austin, Texas, but lived everywhere from Vancouver, Canada to Pune, India before settling back in Austin for high school. Then I made the choice to leave home once more for college.

Each time I moved, I found myself surrounded by vastly different cultures. Canadians are nicer, as it turns out, and in India, I found myself no longer the minority but instead finding little diversity. Each relocation was a learning experience.

On one of my first days of class after I had moved back to Austin, a teacher asked the class if anyone knew who Willie Nelson was. Coming from Canada, I knew who Bobby Orr and Guy Lafleur (both Canadian ice hockey players) were, but Willie Nelson? No clue. Immediately I became a stranger, but I grew from that experience. Aside from learning Nelson is a country music legend, I figured out how to fit in, make friends and create a new home.

American way

I’m one of 11.2% of Americans, according to the most recent census data from 2016, who moved in a one-year period. It’s a percentage that’s been falling in recent years; the 2016 number was an all-time low, falling from well above 15% before the turn of the century.

However, the U.S. still sees much more internal movement than most other regions around the world. A Gallup poll from 2013 found that 24% of Americans had moved internally in the past five years. Most countries in Europe, especially in the eastern part of the continent, had numbers under 10%. India and China, two populated Asian countries, were under 5%. When people in those countries move, it’s typically out of their national borders and often to the U.S. A Mises Institute article found that three times as many Europeans move to the U.S. than vice versa.

Grass is greener

Most Americans move for work as was the case for my family. It’s the chance for new opportunity, something we’re fed from the time we’re young -- the American Dream, an extension of Manifest Destiny. It led to Americans moving 11 times on average, compared to four times in Europe, according to an article in The Atlantic.

Work culture is much more ingrained into American's’ life than Europeans’. In high school and college, busy work can be a sizeable chunk of homework. A working paper dissected by Bloomberg found that Americans log 25% more hours than Europeans do. That makes where you’re working more important. The expected tenure at a workplace for an American is also four years compared to 10 years for a European.

No hablas Español

It helps that the U.S. has a widely-used language and gets little effect from varying dialects. European countries are tiny in size by comparison and every new place poses a language barrier. In Asian countries, there are often different languages in just one country. India has 22 major languages and over 720 dialects. I speak Bengali, a language common in the eastern part of the country. Hindi is spoken throughout and I can understand enough of it to where I would feel comfortable traveling around places in India where Hindi is prevalent, but states that mostly speak Urdu? Or Tamil? I would have as much trouble if I go to China.

Settling down

My uncle has lived in the same house in Siliguri, India for as long as I’ve known him. It was where he and my father grew up. Every time I go back to Siliguri, I walk up the same staircase every time, imagining my dad doing so when he was a kid.

My father and uncle have always known that they can return to what their father built. For them, the house is and always will be home. Its walls repainted, its floors renovated and the area around it inviting new businesses and people. However, it is a constant for my family and it was what my Uber driver wanted. While I didn’t agree with him, I can certainly appreciate what that stability offers.

Aro Majumder is a freshman studying broadcast and digital journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.