Mishika Soni’s story

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August, 2011- My husband was offered a long term project in Los Angeles and he shared the news with me. I was ecstatic and both of us looked at it as a brilliant opportunity to travel and experience a new place, a new country. Having known each other for 5 years through B-school and beyond, I knew he understood my career aspirations as I did his. I happily quit my job at a leading financial firm, taking it as more of a long and much required break from work. Both of us were sure that we would return back to India sooner than later if I do not get a good career opportunity myself.

So we embarked on this journey together, and I have to be honest- I enjoyed it immensely, missing work at times but completely loving doing things which I never had the time to do before. However, I also knew I had to work hard to get a job. It took me at-least 4-5 months to get a grasp on the exact visa cycle, the process, what kind of firms should I be applying to, etc.  I was told time and again by friends and well wishers that my MBA degree and my achievements at my previous work place is all secondary to my visa status here. God knows that if I had to embark on another such journey, I would definitely choose Australia or U.K. for their simpler visa rules! So I religiously applied to countless firms, spoke to many consultants, friends of friends but all went in vain as even as I was trying to understand the process and find the right people- the H1B cap for the year was full by June 2012. That was the first time since I had landed in U.S. that I realized that I have been forced to be out of work for at least 15 more months if I decide to stay in this country! So my first learning was- Pull up your socks if you have to beat the crazy visa cycle!

My next option was moving back to India, but both me and my husband decided to put that one on the back burner!  So the eternal optimist that I am, I started applying for universities and Non-profit organizations since I now knew these organizations did not fall under H1B cap. Yes! Too much research converted me into a pro at all visa matters. But there too I got one rejection after another.

Another hindrance for me was the fact that being from a completely non-IT background, it seemed as if I was totally non-H1B material. Every consultant I spoke to wanted to “enhance” my resume, “train” me and put me in an IT job which I had no intention of pursuing. I would much rather volunteer or work pro bono. But still against my better judgment, I did waste a lot of time in useless training sessions which did not add value to me in any way. My second learning- Do not compromise if you think you have the right skill-set. The right opportunity will come to you. I would have been better off reading more books, or pursuing a hobby at that time.

After around 8 more months of travelling, networking, job hunting, in February 2012 I actually got my first offer from 2 leading MNCs in non-IT roles. The timing was just right, the profile was to my interest and I knew both the firms were into visa sponsorships. After multiple rounds I got through one of them and they sponsored my H1B application. I have just got my visa approval and would be starting work very soon. I consider myself fortunate because I did have some personal contacts who apprised me of the opportunity at their firm at the right time. At the cost of repetition, I do feel that networking with the right people is key as is diligence. I did lose some time in understanding the process and settling in a new country, but in retrospect it all worked out for the best. While everyone on an H4 have their own priorities and considerations that affect the bigger picture, I think a few  things that most people would find helpful  are

1) Even on an H4, there is no dearth of volunteer work you could pursue.

2) Register for pro bono work based on your skill set at sites such as taproot.com.

3) Do not fall into the trap of consultants who offer you false hopes.

4) Stay optimistic and enjoy your long vacation while you can.

Mishika Soni (Alias)

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Anita Satyajit’s Story

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Anita

My life as a H4 wife 

When I first moved to the US in 2002, I was a newly-wed full of ideas and hopes. But professionally, I had also been a journalist for over 3 years with a journalism degree and nearly 100 clips to moot. But my hopes of working in the US were soon dashed. People would respond with enthusiasm to my job application, discover I was there on a dependent visa and reply in the negative.

I spent a couple of months moping and cribbing about stringent US visa rules. But I was never the kind who could sit doing nothing and began to look for opportunities to volunteer in the Bay area. Even back in India, I was already a volunteer for an online NPO, CharityFocus (now Service Space) which was founded by Bay-area based folks and had be-friend-ed many of them. These friends became a huge source of inspiration and support. Though I volunteered for some events with them, I had a lot of time on my hands.

I lived close-by to the California School for the Blind and decided to enquire there if they needed volunteers. Their response was positive! I learnt Braille and assisted the teacher in classes such as Math, time-telling, etc. The Teacher who had severe visual impairment herself stunned me with her knowledge, skill and confidence. She lived and travelled independently, taught the children with unending patience and was a story-teller who mesmerized the writer in me. This experience is among the most valuable experiences of my life. I volunteered with them for over 4 months during which I saw for myself the possibilities for transformation in the life of a person with disability if they were given the right environment to enhance their lives. I learnt about perseverance, about teaching and living in the moment from these kids who could not see and most of whom had other severe health complications.

Soon after my work with the California School for the Blind ended, I found the opportunity to use my media and communication skills for an NPO, Power of Love which worked with AIDS afflicted families in sub-Saharan Africa. The work involved preparing communications material for the organization as well as helping them with their fund-raising efforts. During this time I discovered an organization in San Fransisco which offered free training on fund-raising and proposal writing. I attended both the courses. Volunteering for them made me push the boundaries of my knowledge and skills by making me apply what I knew in a completely different sector. It also connected me with some of the most compassionate and determined individuals I have ever known. What I learnt then proved invaluable and in some ways changed my life, for I began to work as a communications specialist in the development sector once I returned to India.

But it was not these volunteering activities alone that occupied my time. The County library too was within walking distance of my home and I took it upon me to read much as I could during this time. While I was a voracious reader even back in India, that stay in the US opened my eyes to world literature and Indian Writing in English. I also got fascinated with DIY arts during my stay there and taught a couple of little Indian girls in my apartment, who I had befriended, DIY arts and crafts. We also traveled whenever we could to different National Parks across the country.

A year-and-half later we returned to India. Though I had not earned a penny while I was there, I had learned and received immensely during my time there.  I brought back, new skills, new friends and a satisfaction about stretching my boundaries and discovering a new world.

Anita Satyajit
Writer, Photographer, Healer
https://www.facebook.com/anitasworklife

Mansi Jindal’s story

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 Mansi

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”  – Harvey Fierstein

I truly love interacting with people and always want to be in a social circle. I got married in February 2012 and joined my husband in Germany after two months of our wedding. My family members were worried as I was traveling internationally for the first time and that too alone. I still remember those magical words which my mom said to me when I boarded the flight. Her words were, “Now you are going to build your own nest and you will be writing your own book, just believe in yourself.” Tears rolled off my eyes after hearing those encouraging words.

Before going to Germany, I had thought of few things that I wanted to pursue. But the biggest roadblock in my plans was that I didn’t know German. It is utmost important to know German language to survive in Germany because very few people speak English. Therefore, I enrolled myself at Max Planck Institute, Saarland to learn the basic German. Being part of the institute, I got the opportunity to interact and communicate well with local people  The course kept me occupied for two months. But after the course got over, I didn’t have much to do and I  I was idle for a month and felt like I am getting lost. My husband, who has always supported me in the professional career, helped and motivated me at that time as well. He believes that one should do things that he/she enjoys most. Through him that I got to know about the online courses offered by Coursera.org. I found few courses very interesting and I soon enrolled for two courses and I was happy to be busy once again developing new skills and gaining knowledge.

Instead of attending online courses of coursera from home, I decided to go to Saarland University every day to attend the courses and complete my assignments. I found it beneficial due to two main reasons. Firstly, I got the atmosphere of a university and secondly, I got the chance to socialize and interact with people in the university to further improve my German language. Now I had devised a fixed routine from morning to afternoon. Besides my online classes and assignments, I also joined sports classes to keep myself fit and healthy. As I am a food lover, experiments in kitchen at home kept me occupied in the evening. So, it all went nicely. Then, one day I got to know that we will be moving to US as my husband received an offer from MIT. We were very excited and happy to explore this new venture. So we packed our bags and flew to Boston. It felt like dream come true for my husband.

I knew that I will have to face many uncertainties and deal with many issues upon reaching Boston. One should have correct approach and belief in oneself to excel in a new environment. We found our new house in April 2013 and after the initial phase of unpacking all the stuff and setting up things, I felt lost again. I had no clue where to start and how to start. I started feeling lonely and depressed as my husband was busy with his schedule and I had nothing to do. Now everyday was same for me and I didn’t even realize that my smile was lost. My husband did notice this change and advised me to explore things around and he even introduced me to the MIT Spouses & Partners website which proved to be  a pure blessing for me. The very same day I explored the site and also contacted Ankita and Jennifer through it. To my surprise, I did get positive welcoming response from both of them on the same day.

I make sure not to miss any of its Wednesday meetings as I feel it is the best place to meet people and make friends. In the first meeting itself, Jennifer introduced me to Shruti and from that day itself I felt like I have many options to explore here at MIT. I couldn’t stop smiling after attending its first meeting. 🙂 I truly enjoy all its meeting and consider myself lucky to be the part of this vibrant group.  I find myself quite fortunate to have Ankita and Shruti by my side as they allowed me to hold their hands to climb up the first step of my career. They both helped me in every possible way to explore opportunities.  Now I feel things would have been very difficult if I would not have met them.  As my background is in Human resources, they also introduced me to some volunteer opportunities matching my profile. Now I am happily volunteering at Career Collaborative as a practice interviewer and have also joined one more place to volunteer in my area of interest.  Now, I am also a part of Orientation committee of MIT Spouses & Partners.  As I have J2 visa, I applied for my work permit and now finally I have received my work permit authorization. Now my schedule is busier than my husband.

In sum, I just want to say that nothing is impossible; you can do anything. Nobody can stop you, if you have three things, i.e., belief in yourself, passion and patience.

Follow your dream what you want to be, some or the other day it will come true and you will be thanking God.

Mansi Jindal

Sneha Rajendran’s story

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Sneha

After completing my MBA in India, I started working in the talent management function of one of the consulting firms and I completely enjoyed my work. My fiancé at that point in time was working in the US. Having completed his Masters from one of the top universities in the US, his preference was to continue to work in the US. Thus I was faced with the question of what I was going to do when I join him after marriage. Although it appeared there were several opportunities at the work front within my company, things weren’t that easy to come by.  There were complications with respect to not having the required number of years of experience, visa sponsorship and the like.  As the next step I tried directly applying for openings in other US based companies. Despite having the qualifications required, the major challenge I faced was getting an interview call. I tried several avenues – direct application in a company’s website, employee referral, Linkedin but there was no positive response. This is when I took a step back and tried to ascertain the reason for not getting recognized in the applicant pool. I spoke with several people and a common theme that emerged was – having a US degree facilitates the job search process. As a general rule, companies preferred students graduating from US universities vis-à-vis someone with an equivalent non-US degree.

Subsequently, I looked into programs that matched my background and that were relevant to my career goals. I also geared up for the application process – acing GMAT, getting recommendations and writing a convincing statement of purpose. I reached out to students across different B-schools and got a thorough idea about the expectations of the admissions committee, student life in the US and opportunities that open up at graduate school. This entire information gathering excited me and made me want to pursue an advanced degree. After an exhausting two months of essay writing followed by interviewing, I made into the MS in Management Studies program at MIT Sloan School of Management. The announcement of the admission results coincided closely with my wedding dates and it was the best wedding gift I received!

From my experience, I would say, there is no one simple formula that works for everyone.  There are several opportunities both in industry and academia in the US. It is important that one exercises sufficient due diligence and identifies the path that works best to accomplish his/her goals.

Sneha Rajendran

Daiana Stolf’s story

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Daiana

When I first stepped in Cambridge, in October 2011, I had the best impression I could: it was unusually sunny and warm, everyone was out on the streets wearing skirts and short sleeves and happy that fall had not fully arrived yet. However, my time there was limited – I had only a week , since I was still committed to a PhD in Biotechnology and Bio engineering in Switzerland. Unfortunately, I could not stay to see the changes in weather. Up to that moment, I had thought about quitting my PhD several times. I was not satisfied at all with what I was doing as it was exhausting, disappointing, and recognition failed to cross my way. I was simply drained. However, I did go back and stayed for a few more months, insisting that it was the best thing to do. Except that it was not. In February 2012, I finally had the courage to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life: I quit. After facing what was my 6th move in 6 years, I filled up two suitcases and, with all the hope in the world and my F2 visa in hand, boarded into a plane towards Boston. My “intuition” proved to be right. At that first visit, I had taken the opportunity to visit schools and get information about courses and activities available to partners. And what I found was a myriad of options to engage. I had no doubt about it: my time in Cambridge would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new, improve my skills and prepare myself to the next step of my life: a career change.

By the end of March, I installed my belongings at 24 Peabody Terrace. My partner had been there for 8 months already, as he was pursuing his MBA from Harvard Business School, and I started to meet his friends and colleagues. The beginning was tough, as whomever I met would ask the fatidic question after the first few moments of small talk: “So, what do you do?” It was a moment I wished with all my heart that I could say: “Oh, I will work at XYZ Company”, or “I have been accepted at XYZ Program”. I wish I had a work permit. I wish I had something planned. But I did not. The long explanation about my story would take place, and I usually left with the feeling I had to figure out what to do soon. Not for the sake of telling others, but for my own peace of mind – after all, a career change when you are 30 does not seem common or, even worse, easy. But I trusted that somehow I would find myself.

I started searching for classes at The Cambridge Center for Adult Education and found out several interesting and inexpensive courses of short duration. In three months, I learned how to play the guitar, deepened my knowledge on photography as an art and was led to realize the connection between mindfulness and creativity. The latter course was particularly enjoyable, as I broadened my understanding about meditation and how it could benefit several aspects of my life.

As summer was approaching, and knowing we would spend some time in São Paulo as part of my partner’s internship program, I did some extensive research on the possibilities available at Harvard University Extension School (HES). There, I discovered I could take part in several outstanding programs, taught by Harvard Professors, earn a certificate, meet different people coming from diverse backgrounds, and get out of the “Business School bubble” for a while. Since I was running away from the technical field (as the Dentist and Researcher I have been in the past), I decided to embark into a new challenge, the Certificate in Strategic Management. But wait! I still had to do the required tests. Harvard being Harvard, one of the best universities in the world, you would imagine that a rigorous selection process would take place. Indeed, English proficiency and critical reasoning and writing tests had to be done. With this final OK, there I was: waking up at 6 am when already in São Paulo in order to secure my seat at the desired classes and register for the fall semester.

The experience of studying at Harvard was intense, but at the same time rewarding: exceptional teachers, eye-opening readings, valuable peer-to-peer discussions, extensive and practical group projects, new friends from every corner of the world. It was much more than I had imagined. Besides, it provided me with a novel perspective, abundant knowledge on a new area, and the hope I would be able to combine my past and present experiences in a unique job position in the future. Needless to say, I strongly recommend it to anyone! Not bad at all to have those 7 shiny letters sticking out of your resume, right? 😉

My time in Cambridge was intense, and studying at HES consumed most of it. However, this is a highly intellectually stimulating community, and there are unique opportunities to engage as a partner. You can keep yourself busy by subscribing to several clubs of interest at the Business School, and by participating in lectures, events and gatherings. I had partner friends helping to organize important events such as the annual Marketing Conference, for example. Others took the lead in the organization of social events of the Latin American Club.  Stay tuned and you will be able to watch amazing people speak at Harvard and MIT, such as presidents, celebrities, thinkers, authors.

On the charity side, you can get involved with volunteering programs all around Cambridge and Boston. I did such a thing, although through online tools, for an NGO in Brazil I had discovered during the summer internship. And last but not least, you can start your own blog or, why not, your own online business focusing on a product or service that speaks to your heart? Mine is an admissions consulting firm dedicated to facilitate the life of talented, ambitious, young Brazilians who dream of studying in top schools abroad. And, guess what? It is growing!

See, the sky is the limit, and you should not restrict yourself due to a piece of paper saying you are not eligible to work in the US. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved within the community, and there are several people out there to help you too. The important thing here is: keep your mind open, look out for opportunities and do some networking. In no time you will be engaged and busy with whatever choice you make.

To finish, what better words than those of the late Steve Jobs about connecting dots…

“[…] you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Good Luck!
Daiana Stolf

Aishwarya’s story

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Aish

Having never moved out of South India till 2012, I had an opportunity to come to US in September 2012 as a newly wedded wife on F2 Visa (Dependent of Student). My husband was doing his Post- doctoral program in MIT.  Qualified as a Chartered Accountant (CA) in May 2012 in India, I had an idea of doing CPA in USA which is similar to Indian CA.

Soon as I landed in US, I had to face lots of challenges in the well developed hi-tech country both in terms of my social and personal life. Adding to it, my plan of clearing CPA also had lots of issues. The course of Chartered Accountancy is one of the most prestigious courses in India but it not recognized here in US and like every other commerce graduate I had to go through the pain of evaluating my foreign education with the agencies identified by states. The procedure for enrolling in CPA exam is itself difficult. Every state has different education criterion and before enrolling you have to meet the requirements otherwise you will not be eligible to take the CPA exam.  The first and foremost step is to identify the state that suits you the best according to your education qualifications. Every state has different criterion for eligibility, so you have to decide on the basis of your own research. The following link has the eligibility criterion for every state. http://nasba.org/exams/cpaexam/.

Once the state is identified, the next procedure of evaluating the foreign educational transcript begins. These agencies evaluate whether you have completed the required coursework for the state you are applying. These agencies will directly send evaluation report to the state you applied. If found eligible, you are ready to take the exam, otherwise you have to take accounting courses in the community college. The process for enrolling for CPA is time consuming; it will take on an average of 3-5 months. Sometimes it becomes frustrating as states keep on changing the requirements. Though it was depressing, I still applied for evaluation to NASBA evaluation agency for the state of Massachusetts to find out my eligibility to sit for the exam since I also had a bachelor’s degree in commerce. The response from the evaluation center was also affirmative as they asked me to proceed for my exam application. It was a motivation for me to start my serious preparation for the exams. At the fag end of my preparation, I applied for the exams but my application got rejected. The reason for the negative reply was the requirement of four years bachelor’s degree whereas I had a three years bachelor’s degree in India. That response made me very nervous and discouraging especially after having done two months preparation for my exams. Still, without losing heart, I have applied for another state through FACS (Foreign Academic Credential Service) for the state of Montana where there is no bachelor’s degree requirement. I am waiting for a positive reply from them while keeping my fingers crossed.

 Apart from the urge to do CPA, as a non work-permit holder, I also had an interest in volunteering and freelancing. Very recently my spouse has incorporated a start-up on his own and hence without doing much of research work in freelancing, I voluntarily started exploring my skills and knowledge in his company. It is a mutual benefit for both the company and me since they were also in need of an accountant. With a new and different environment, I find my work to be very interesting and challenging. As of now my life is filled with lot of uncertainties but I hope I am flexible enough for the upcoming changes and challenges so as to utilise my skill and knowledge to the fullest extent.

 Few learning for the spouses on dependent visa:

 1. Have multiple options regarding your career and education before landing US and don’t stick onto only one.

2. “Patience produces roses”. This is true especially if you are in a situation as mentioned above. Being aggressive and in a hurry may not help.

3. Finally enjoy many firsts in US. Relish exciting experiences till your career life gets settled and before it becomes a routine and mechanised life.

Best wishes

Aishwarya

Prerna Dublish’s story

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Prerna

“I will prepare and someday my chance will come”- Abrahim Lincoln

United States of America, the land of opportunities as people call it and how true that is. But one does not tend to feel so when one is in a state of transit and shock. I was one of the many women who had a successful independent livelihood in India. I was working as a Senior Software Engineer in Larsen and Toubro with almost six years of work experience. I had to leave all of it to get the family united as my spouse was doing a Post Doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I was in a state of mixed feelings – on one hand getting to US ushered excitement in me but on the other hand, the very thought of being a “dependent” (Well that’s the name for H4 visa!) shook my confidence.

It’s been almost five months since I have moved to US and I gathered myself very quickly. I wanted to constructively exploit the time I was getting, so got involved in many activities. I started learning Italian language as being multilingual is always beneficial for you and your resume. I also joined Yoga classes and have plans to join dance classes too. As I knew driving is an essential requirement to feel independent in US so I started preparing for my driving license, which requires passing two tests in Massachusetts. These things kept me occupied.

Apart from inculcating my hobbies, I focused on building my technical skills too. There are excellent free courses on sites like edx and coursera. They comprise of lectures, assignments and major projects. Some of them are also certificate courses. I joined a few courses on these portals and soon was so busy that I had my mind occupied all the time and all the negative thoughts started wading away.

Being connected to universities like MIT, Harvard gave me a plethora of opportunities. I accompanied my husband for talks from few of the eminent professors and went for a couple of meets. The next best thing that came to me was the group called MIT Spouses and Partners. I went on day tours with some of the groups there which not only gave me the opportunity to explore Boston but also helped me to gain confidence of traveling alone in this new city. I went for their weekly meetings and gradually started to eagerly wait for these meetings. Meeting people from all across the globe is a wonderful experience in itself and is something I did not do in India. Through these meeting I also made wonderful friends, like Shruti, who guided and shared their experiences of being in USA. Shruti also connected me to some of her contacts. This helped in growing my circle of acquaintance.

Since I have been a part of IT sector for so long, I always yearned to go back to work. However, the time was not right when I came to US as no company was willing to sponsor H1B visa and hence, I had no choice but to wait till next year. At the same time, I was bewildered that not many calls came my way from the job portals where I had uploaded my resume. I knew one of the reasons could be my visa limitation. But, I realized that the other one was the format of my resume itself only after attending one of the sessions conducted by MIT Spouses & Partners. I learned that the protocols followed in US are very different from that in India. And believe me, the moment I made changes to my resume, I started getting lot of calls from employers. This was a big boost in itself. I also worked on my Linkedin profile, an important professional networking site. I would advise all those who are in similar position as I am in, that networking is a very important constituent in US professional world and should be pursued actively.

I am also planning to join a certificate course relevant to my qualification in the coming fall in a University. This will help me bridge my career gap as well as hone my technical skills. Definitely it will be an add-on to my resume too. I also intend to volunteer since it will give me an opportunity to network with people. There are many sites as already discussed by Shruti and Ankita where one can look for volunteer opportunities.

So, I believe, at the end what matters is your attitude. Don’t lose hope and keep yourself focused and patient. Thrive for your ultimate goal of getting a job or higher studies whatever it maybe but don’t waste this break. Enjoy every bit of it. Give time to your hobbies and grow as an individual. Being prepared before coming to US is definitely better but even if you are not, as I was, you can do plenty of things over here. And it’s just a matter of time and commitment when you will start climbing your career ladder again and become an independent professional woman.

Prerna Dublish

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