Family and Grit
by Jeffrey Chin, March, 2019
Immigrants, from across the globe, come to America for a variety of reasons, including: better opportunities, safety and refuge, and family reunions. Regardless of their different intentions, they all share an equal desire for the promise of a better life and future. The land of opportunities, as most believe it, is a common ground for cultures and a breeding space for new possibilities—a place where anyone, striving for improvement, can indeed improve their lives. However, many new immigrants, if overly optimistic, can overestimate the country’s value, underestimate its flaws, and mistake the U.S. as a perfected utopia. Similarly, Robert left his beloved home and family for the U.S., for better education, more job opportunities, and, more importantly, asylum from the persecution of the Maoist party in his country. Although Robert manages to immigrate to the U.S. successfully, he still faces many unexpected adversities as an independent immigrant, which challenged him both physically and mentally. Nevertheless, Robert still believes in the American Dream. Despite the traumas from Nepal and the obstacles as an immigrant, Robert is able to mediate his traumas and reshape his hardships into growth-supporting experiences, through grit and with the motivation of his parents’ support, which facilitates his development as an independent.
I met Robert on the sixth of November. He was from Nepal, a small country squeezed between the large masses of China and India. Robert describes his home as “a regional country… it has all the mountains on the top, like the hilly region, mountain region… like um… Mount Everest.” For sixteen years, he grew up in a small village in the Gorkha District—a small community where most residents knew each other as neighbors. He remembers growing up with his three other siblings in that village. Occasionally, he would reminisce over his fond childhood memories. Since then, Robert has pursued his studies earnestly: earning his degree and a job as a civil engineer. Unfortunately, Robert later had a problematic encounter with one of Nepal’s political parties, which threatened his life and forced him to migrate to the U.S. Before he filed for asylum, Robert first flew to Norman, Oklahoma with a student visa, where he studied in Oklahoma University for a semester. Then he moved in with his cousin in California and transferred to SFSU, then CCSF. During his first year in the U.S., Robert struggled a lot with his transition from Nepal. Alone and in a new country, there were language barriers and cultural differences, which hindered Robert’s ability to adjust. Nevertheless, with time and patience, Robert is able to overcome his challenges. He hopes that, one day, he will be able to cultivate a future for himself in the U.S., travel the world, and revisit his family in Nepal.
Subjected to the dangers of political persecution and his traumatic experiences back in Nepal, Robert was forced to leave his beloved childhood home, out of fear and dread for the Maoist party. From 1996 to 2006, the Maovadi Dwandakaal—a civil war between the Maoist Communist Party and the Nepalese government—plagued the country. A period of tragic violence, the ten years were troubled times for Nepal, where “more than 13, 000 people were killed during the years of insurgency,” before Nepal’s political parties reached a consensus to dissolve and replace the ruling monarchy with an “inclusive democracy” (Joshi 276). In spite of the massive political shift, subtle “low-intensity violence” still occurs between party members to gain or repress supporters (Joshi 278). During a political campaign, Robert advocated for Nepali Congress—a social-democratic party—in opposition to the Maoist group and their unreasonable methodologies. Although his efforts managed to spoil the Maoist’s chances of winning the voting majority in a local village, four Maoist supporters later confronted Robert. They awaited him and “took [him] to the side of the jungle and started beating with wooden sticks” (Robert) until he was unconscious. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the rights of all individuals, the Maoist members’ actions were obvious violations of Robert’s “right to freedom of thought” (UDHR Article 18) and “freedom of opinion and expression… without interference… and impart information” (UDHR Article 19). By expressing his different perspective and belief, Robert was severely punished for interfering with the Maoist’s political agendas. Since his trauma occurred, Robert now feels anxious, unsafe, and fearful about returning home, intimidated by the prospect that he still remains a wanted target by the Maoist.
Although Robert initially struggled with his new responsibilities as an adult in the U.S., he eventually manages to overcome his anxieties and worries, through his parents’ support and encouragement. Far from home, Robert was plagued with melancholy and past traumas, and often worried about his future and his parents’ health. Sometimes, “[he] couldn’t sleep until 3 am in the morning” (Robert). According to an article, which evaluates the effects of self-esteem and social support on college students’ mental health, a group of University of Cincinnati post-doctoral researchers found that “students who felt higher levels of family social support reported fewer days of mental health problems.” (Merianos et al.) When Robert was segregated from Nepal and his family, he suffered minor symptoms of depression due to his lack of family interaction, which occasionally hindered his performance. As Robert recalls, “I was thinking a lot bad things. Sometimes even giving up whatever I am doing.” Despite having friends, Robert is more open and trusting of his parents to understand his problems. Regardless of distance, the intimacy and trust between a functioning family provides unparalleled support, and creates an environment of acceptance, genuineness, and empathy: “My father had shared many struggling stories that made me wanna… not [give] up no matter what.” Although Robert felt alone in the U.S., talking to his parents, being genuinely heard and emphatically understood, brought him relief and comfort, and encouraged him to be more optimistic and resilient in the face of adversity, which reinforces his self-esteem and morale.
As an independent, Robert has very little time for leisure or recreation, which makes him socially isolated as a consequence to his priorities, obligations, and busy schedule. Between school and work, Robert rarely has the time to socialize and relax like his American friends. In the article, “ ‘Whether I like it or not, it’s important’: Implicit importance of means predicts self-regulatory persistence and success,” Clayton R. Critcher, an associate Professor from the University of California, Berkeley, analyzes the effects of unconscious goal-relevant evaluations on grit and success. Critcher found that “people pursue things that are important not necessarily for immediately realizable affective benefits, but because of the value of what can ultimately be achieved.” Since Robert never grew up with the same benefits of an American life, he is more ready than his American peers, who have both family and financial support, to work harder for his future, “support [his] family back in Nepal” and then “save some money to go to university.” As Robert describes it, it is this feeling that “I have to do something right now to have something in the future.” Additionally, he sees that time, money, and education were invaluable assets that must not be wasted on “short-term temptations” (Critcher 818), but wisely spent towards achieving a better future, as in Robert’s case: a well-paying occupation and a master degree in architecture. This makes Robert naturally hard working, but, sadly, socially isolated. Despite his grit and earnest attitude, Robert has to sacrifice many lesser, temporary pleasures, as well as his social life, to remain committed to his larger objectives.
Since international students are limited in employment options, Robert was forced to work at a low-end job; nevertheless, in spite of his initial disappointment, Robert was able to persevere and make the most out of his experiences. Although Robert’s student visa permits him to travel and study in the U.S., it also binds him to very restrictive rules on employment. As an international student, Robert can only work on-campus jobs in his first academic year, and any off-campus employment, after the first year, must still comply with distinct terms and conditions (USCIS). As Robert recalls, “I tried to look for the work but I was not accepted anywhere for not having a work authorization card being an international student.” This is problematic for Robert, who desperately needs work to support himself and his parents, and to repay his loans from Nepal. It was not until when he filed for asylum and moved to California that he found his first job as a restaurant busser. In “Employment and Education-Occupation Mismatches of Immigrants and their Children in the Netherlands: Comparisons with the Native Majority Group,” a study on the labor market and immigrant minorities in the Netherlands, Yassine Khoudja, a post-doctoral researcher in social and behavioral sciences, examined the disadvantages and education-to-employment mismatches of immigrants. Khoudja found that in many occasions, “educated immigrants [are turning] to the low-skill oriented ethnic economy to find employment [because] their skills are not recognized or made use of in the high-skilled labor market” (131). As a result, past educational and work experiences, like Robert’s civil engineering degree, are often neglected and not fully utilized. Thus, Robert was unable to find any qualified work: “I wanted to be in architecture but then I ended up doing like clearing tables and then doing dishes and everything.” He said that he was not enthusiastic about working as a busser and wiping tables: “I was like ‘oh no,’ but then I had no choice that time sometimes you gotta do no matter what you know to survive.” Despite his disappointments, Robert still maintained a positive attitude about the circumstances: “if you keep working, if you be honest and work your [hardest]… you will learn pretty quick.” Aside from being promoted, Robert’s consistent work ethics and positivity rewarded him with new skills and experiences. Although initially skeptic about working at a restaurant, Robert, nevertheless, took full advantage of the opportunity, and, by consistent effort, shown great progress and growth.
Through self-motivation and his family’s encouragement, Robert is able to conjure enough strength to overcome his physical and mental difficulties in the U.S., which conditioned him into a responsible, independent, and capable individual, and made him all the more wiser because of his experiences. Although some might argue that Robert should not have meddled with Nepal’s political affairs from the start, it is for the benefit of society that everyone should be able to publicly promote their opinions and beliefs, without fear or intimidation, to create a fairer democratic government. Additionally, although some might consider that persecution should not qualify for asylum, everyone, especially those exiled or coerced from their homes due to fear and danger, deserves the right to life and to receive assistance and refuge from neighboring countries. It is common that many immigrants who come to the U.S. do not anticipate the difficulties that await them; some may feel discontent, others may be dismayed, but those who persist will persevere and grow according to their experiences. By persevering through his hardships, Robert is an example of how life’s worst obstacles can help a person grow and mature.
Critcher, Clayton R., and Melissa J. Ferguson. “ ‘Whether I Like It or Not, It’s Important’: Implicit Importance of Means Predicts Self-Regulatory Persistence and Success.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 110(6), Jun. 2016, pp. 818-839.
Joshi, Madhav. “Post-Accord Political Violence, Elections, and Peace Processes: Evidence from Nepal.” Civil Wars, vol. 16, no. 3, Sep. 2014, pp. 276-299.
Khoudja, Yassine. “Employment and Education-Occupation Mismatches of Immigrants and their Children in the Netherlands: Comparisons with the Native Majority Group.” Social Inclusion, vol. 6, no. 3, Jul. 2018, pp. 119-141.
Merianos, Ashley L. “The Impact of Self-Esteem and Social Support on College Students’ Mental Health.” American Journal of Health Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, 2013, pp. 27-34.
Students and Employment. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment. Accessed 10 Dec. 2018.
UN General Assembly, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The United Nations, 10 Dec. 1948, 217 A (III).
Robert: I’m older than you for sure [laughing].
Jeffrey: [laughing] I. I. I know.
So yeah, um [pause] where did you grow up?
Robert: Um [pause] so I was born in Nepal.
Robert: It’s uh [pause] a little country in the middle of China and India. Do you know that?
Jeffrey: Yeah, yeah, I think I can imagine that. Yeah uh [pause] so, Nepal huh? What was it like living there?
Robert: Well living there [laughing] that’s a hard question I guess [pause].
All right so, this is a small country, um [pause] it has like, um [pause] Geographically, it is a [regiony] country in the world I would say, because it has all the mountains on the top, like the [hillery] region, mountain region, and (inaudible) region. So, you get to see like, um [pause] Mount Everest, it’s the top of the world.
Jeffrey: Oh, wow.
Robert: And then, you get to see like the 60 meter from the sea level, so this is very low, so you get to see very low and then really top. So that has a variety of lands. So originally I was from like middle of that area. So I’d say like [hillery] region, it’s called Gorkha District, so they have like seventy-five districts in our country.
Yeah, so it’s divided, so one of it is Gorkha, so I always grow up there. I was born in a village. It’s a little village, um [pause] I would say maybe sixty households, and then we have like same kinda last names. So my name is Robert Gurung, so we have like Gurung, all the Gurung people who live there like in the small village. That’s kinda cool, yeah [pause].
Jeffrey: So, so since you guys are in a small village [pause] most of you know each other.
Robert: Yeah, so for me cause I’m not sure, like, if I know everyone, but like most of our [pause] my, my father, he knows like everybody, I’m not sure if he [pause].
Jeffrey: He. He. He grew up like his whole [pause].
Robert: Right. Right. Right, cause um [pause] I’d say like um [pause] I spent like fifteen, sixteen years in that village and then I had to move to a different village to go to school cause that village didn’t have like higher education. So for the higher education, I had to go to a different place. So maybe [pause] I, I, I don’t know like all the people over there so [pause] that’s what happens.
Jeffrey: So um [pause] did you have any siblings growing up?
Robert: Yeah, so in my family, my parents, right? I have my elder brother, elder sister, and me, and my younger sister. So we are six.
Jeffrey: Six of you?
Jeffrey: What was like growing with two older siblings, and one younger sibling?
Robert: Well my sister, she used to love me a lot. I still remember like those days um, right now I don’t live with them. I’m the only person in my family who’s in the US.
Jeffrey: Oh [pause].
Robert: All of them are in Nepal, so I came as an international student. Um [pause] it’s been like four years I’ve been living in the US. Um [pause] growing up with them was like to remember the past it’s, it’s [pause] it’s tough to remember [pause] to recall them is like [pause] good memories. Right, but then, so [pause] yeah, those are all good memories, especially when you’re far from your family; you miss them a lot. But yeah [pause] was one of them. Me, and my younger sister used to fight a lot [laughing].
Jeffrey: Oh [laughing], yeah like the brother-sister sibling rivalry.
Robert: She is two years younger than me, and we were like kinda friends, but then right now, I feel her like gives you a fear, I would never fight with her something like that you know. It’s because I’m far from them.
Jeffrey: So you miss them.
Robert: Yeah I miss them a lot.
Jeffrey: Whose idea was it for you to come to the US?
Robert: Well, uh, first, two reasons I would say, um [pause] specifically for this project for you I’m gonna tell you all truth. So I’d say two reasons. Mainly, uh [pause] one, I wanna have a degree from the US universities, like that’s one thing; the other thing I would say, when I was in Nepal, um [pause] I was in one political organization that’s called “Nepali Congress.” So I was member of this trade union uh [pause] that’s a sister organization of Nepali Congress, and what happens is like [pause] in politics, you know um sometimes they fight between two parties.
Jeffrey: Like how it’s happening now in the U.S.?
Robert: Yeah, one way get out from that kind of environment, I chose to come to here um [pause] to the US because um [pause] if you come from Nepal you can file the application for asylum. Have you ever heard of the asylum?
Jeffrey: Yeah like applying for refuge, sorta?
Robert: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I did that, I’m doing that right now, it’s on the processing, um [pause] hopefully it goes well, I’m not sure [laughing].
Jeffrey: I hope all the best to you.
Robert: So, right now uh [pause] I was international student until last two years, but then I changed to resident. So right now, I’m resident because I file for asylum. So those are the two reasons I came to the US.
Jeffrey: So, speaking about education, what sort of degree are you hoping to get?
Robert: When I was in Nepal, uh [pause] I have my degree in diploma in civil engineering, um [pause] I finished my diploma in civil engineering; I work in Nepal like six months after I’d finished my school. Um [pause] that was pretty cool, made memories as well [laughing]. Um [pause] but then when I came to here [pause] so I came to the Oklahoma first. Uh [pause] it was the University of Central Oklahoma; um [pause] I came here December 31, 2014.
Robert: So I came to the U.S. 2014. I started studying University of Central Oklahoma for six months. Actually, I finished one semester; I had not chosen my major at that time. Uh [pause] I was thinking like doing something similar to engineering cause I have my civil engineering from Nepal, and I was thinking that that didn’t work at that time. I wanted to get a bachelor’s in civil engineering from University of Central Oklahoma, but then things changed um I have my cousin here in San Francisco, and I was talking with him, texting with him, and he was like, ‘finish one semester there and then you can come here and stay with me, and go universities around here,’ and I was like thinking um [pause] I said okay and he give me the idea to file for asylum also and then he did the same thing um and then right now he is a citizen right here, and then he has a family here and everything here, so yeah my family as well.
Jeffrey: Yeah so like, having family here is like really, really good as well, you have like the support, and like you won’t be like just here alone and then [pause]
Robert: That’s true, and to finish up your question, my education right now in City College I’m taking um [pause] classes for Associate in architecture. So I wanna get degree actually maybe bachelor degree from Berkeley or some other university. I’m just, I’ll just try, I’m not sure I can get in or not you know, that’s really hard.
Jeffrey: As long as you try right, do your best.
Robert: Yeah, I was thinking like maybe from next year. So I have one more year here in City College, so right now this semester also I’m taking all the major for my architecture. I have two classes this morning and [pause] yeah, so I wanna get a degree in architecture actually. I wanna be in architecture, that’s all hehe.
Jeffrey: Architecture sounds like really fun. You get to design stuff. Tons of your designs are like [pause] the people who use it really depends on you.
Jeffrey: You said that you came to the US in 2014, and you came here by yourself, were you nervous then?
Robert: Um [pause] well I was kinda excited on the first time because I had I was with one of my friend, who had like same Visa as me. We came to the same University, so I was with him. Right now, he is in New York. So we were in Oklahoma. We’re together, then he went to New York, and I came to San Francisco right.
Um [pause] I was excited because I wanted to see fireworks for the New Year you know, cause I came December 31; so on the day was the New Year. So I wanted to see that, but then what happened was [pause] so maybe what do you call jet lag or something? We slept all the day all the way. We didn’t see anything you know. That’s because like I think it was more than twenty-four hour of flight.
Jeffrey: Yeah, like a whole day. That was a whole day
Robert: Time was very different you know. Right now, in Nepal, it’s morning, morning 6 pm, 6 am. Here, just 4am, so like two-hour difference, yeah two-hour difference. Time got changed and we just slept.
Jeffrey: That’s disappointing to hear.
Robert: [laughing] Yeah, I was excited, I was nervous.
Jeffrey: Was there any trouble like getting here?
Robert: No actually [pause] it went smooth, it was pretty cool, cause my friend he was pretty smart I guess. Right now, I feel like he [pause] I didn’t do anything actually. He used to go to the place like in the airport also like he was ‘let’s go to that door now’ and I just followed him. He guided me a lot.
Jeffrey: You guys didn’t have any fireworks back in Nepal?
Robert: We have our new year also but then not like here, I’ve seen fireworks two times in SF [pause] but Nepal is like small and then not that popular.
Jeffrey: Ah [pause] In general, what do you like do for fun?
Robert: I’ll just tell you my schedule right now. I’m really hardworking person [pause] I’m working five days a week, so that’s full time. I work in the restaurant, and then I have two days of school here. So I have no day off at all, so that makes me like I feel like I’m a hardworking person. I feel like I have to do something right now to have something in the future. So you have to do something right now to get something in the future. So [pause] I’m just like managing all my time for my work.
I do full time work and full time study. So for the fall, I’d say like sometimes I go out with my friends. I remember last time, I have never been to club here in SF. I went with my friends from work, like all my co-workers. We made a plan to go to SF, City Night Club. We were checked in and we danced, dancing with our co-workers. It was pretty fun; we danced like four hours. After that it was two or one o’clock in the morning we started walking on the street downtown [pause] making a lot of noise, singing, and dancing. I don’t really go out [pause] so that was my first time we went out.
Jeffrey: Yeah, with your schedule, I can’t even picture myself doing five days of work [pause] and two days of school [pause] it’s stressful.
Robert: It’s hard, it is hard, you get to see less people doing that, and yeah I’m managing this. Sometimes I get stressed but then it’s been like used to. I’ve been doing this for three years because I have to support my family back in Nepal, and then I feel I have to save some money to go to university, for future. So I feel like I’m becoming an independent by doing this kind of hard work right now.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I hope so. Cause right now, you’re not just trying to build a future for yourself in the U.S., but, at the same time, carrying this responsibility for your family back home [pause] That’s quite an accomplishment by itself.
Robert: Yeah, and to finish your question, I like to do photo-shoot. Sometimes I have my camera I take pictures at like sunset usually [pause] I like to go eat, I like Japanese food a lot, and I like sushi. On top on that, I like Nepalese food, and then usually from work there’s like a lot of Nepalese workers. So most of Sundays we go out for lunch also [pause] we go to some Nepalese restaurant nearby.
Jeffrey: There’s like a small community there [pause]
Robert: There are a lot of Nepali people in San Francisco, I saw like last month there was a picnic for only Nepali people, so I get to meet [pause] I met all of the Nepali people. I was like, “wow there’s a lot of Nepali people here.”
Jeffrey: You were surprised by that?
Robert: I was surprised. I didn’t know that many Nepali people live in this area, but then I got to meet with them.
Jeffrey: Other than feeling surprised, is there anything else you felt?
Robert: I feel like I was in Nepal [pause]
Jeffrey: Like you were in Nepal?
Robert: Cause they were talking Nepali language [pause] and we had Nepali food [pause] it was like reminding me of Nepal. It was kinda cool.
Jeffrey: Since you’ve been here for a while, have you thought of going back to Nepal? Or [pause] have you been back?
Robert: Yeah [pause] oh, no, no, no [pause] I’ve never [pause] I wanna go back to Nepal. I can’t go back because I file for asylum, so there are certain restrictions. So if you file for asylum, you can’t go back to the country because I’m saying I have [pause]
Jeffrey: Some reasons?
Robert: [pause] Some reason. It’s like [pause] if I say directly, I am threatened; I have a death threat. So if I go back to Nepal, somebody will kill me, so I can’t go back to Nepal. So I can go back to Nepal, but then when I come back from Nepal, it’ll be like fifty-fifty chances whether I can get in or not. So it’s from the Department of Homeland Security, so they will check all the backgrounds and everything, so they have all my information [pause] I don’t want to get into trouble.
But then [pause] I talked to my family like every Thursday, so I have a schedule, after I go from school from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, every Tuesday and Thursday [pause] it’s kinda crazy. I don’t have class in this campus so I have to go to mission campus on Thursday and I have to go to downtown campus today Tuesday. So when I go home it’ll be like, sometimes 10 o’clock or 10:15 something like that.
And then I have a schedule like after 10:30 I talk to my family back in Nepal every Thursday. Sometimes I just text them, and sometimes I video call them, and then my parents, they still live in a village, so they didn’t have like Facebook [pause] and everything. So I have to call them through like the phone, just audio. They don’t have video access there but then with my siblings they live in uh [pause] city like capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, and then I talk to them on Facebook, sometimes Instagram; we do video calls, like every Thursday.
Jeffrey: Sounds like a lot of work. Compared to you, I should [pause] I should [pause]
Robert: When I started working there first I started working as a busboy, you wipe down tables, take the plates, and everything [pause] you wipe down the windows.
Jeffrey: Did you like doing that?
Robert: Well [pause] that was, I had no choice you know, that time. One of my brother’s friend, he brought me to that place, that has a lot of Nepali people form there, cool for me to learn new things.
In Nepal, I’ve never worked that kind of job, but here I started working like that. I had a feeling like “oh shoot I wanted to be in architecture but then I ended up doing like clearing tables and then doing dishes and everything.” I was like “oh no,” but then I had no choice that time. Sometimes [pause] you gotta do no matter what, you know to survive or to support family, or whatever reason you have for that, and I did like for three months and then I started learning hosting. Um [pause] they have a period system so you can make reservation by phone call and putting name on the system [pause] and then after three months I became a host at that restaurant.
Jeffrey: That’s great!
Robert: Then I started learning about food also. Cause I had to learn it, if I take a phone call to go order they would say this kind and this kind of food and I’m like I have no idea what is that even [laughing]. And I had to learn all the food and then I started doing food orders [pause] maybe around two months, and I learned all the food, and then my manager wanted me to be a bartender, at that time, and then I started learning a little bartender, only non-alcoholic beverages, and then I started mixing like drinks, all the drinks, and, after like one or two months, I learned like every the drinks they have over there.
Right now, I’m a pro like I do everything there; I know everything of that restaurant, what things are where you know. It’s because I’ve been working there three years, I feel like that’s my experience. Right now, sometimes I do, I work as a bartender, and sometimes I work as a server. I don’t do busser nowadays, because like maybe old maybe, at that place.
I’d say, if you keep working, if you be honest and work your hard or learn things, like ask somebody if you don’t know how to do it, you will learn pretty quick, if you want to do it. At that time, I have no choice so I had to do it so I did it, I’d say like I did pretty good cause that’s the only thing [pause] like off my income that time. I used to get hourly at very first, but then they like my work and they hired me as a monthly worker, and then, right now, they pay me monthly basis, and there is no risk they can’t fire me cause I know everything.
There’s no way they can fire me. They can’t fire me right now [laughing].
Jeffrey: [laughing] Because they’re too dependent on you huh? Because of your work skills [pause]
Robert: Yeah [pause] because I know everything[laughing]. Funny thing, I don’t drink, I never drink in my life, you know, and then I have to taste all those alcohol when I was mixing the drinks, so that was kind of fun. I still don’t like the flavor like beer, I don’t drink all the alcohol, but then I do bartender. But we’re not a full bar, we only have like wines, beers, and sakes, those kinds of stuff.
Jeffrey: Mhm [pause] So things are getting better as time goes along [pause]
Robert: Yeah, that’s true [pause] when I came here first, I knew nothing about the U.S., and I was not independent. When I was in Nepal, I always think US will be that big place, it will be hard for me to survive over there.
But when I came here, I realize like if you do, if you wanna learn something, just do it, don’t wait for tomorrow; just do it today or don’t waste time for doing anything else. So I’d say, always have a plan set for future, at least have one plan: what you gonna be, or what you’re gonna do in the future. That way you just work in that plan. Maybe, it won’t be tomorrow, but maybe [pause] step by step, maybe [pause] it’ll takes two years, maybe it takes five years, you’ll reach there you know. So, I’m on this step right now, working slowly.
Jeffrey: I understand that. Since you’ve been to the U.S., you’ve only been working hard, not wasting time, but spending most of it to support yourself and your family. Again, it’s impressive.
Robert: Well, I’d say, that’s because I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t have my parents to support me at that time. That’s what makes me stronger than I use to be before. If I was in Nepal, and I was with my parents, there would be no money, and then I would go out and do whatever I want to do. But then here, you don’t have your parents, and then [pause] but you need money to go out, to buy things you wanted to have. So for that, you need to work, that’s what the difference is, like you have parents versus you don’t.
I’d say it’s a good thing I came here because I got to learn a lot of things about life. If I was in Nepal, I use to be, I have my other elder brother. If I need something, I’d always ask him or my father.
But here, I don’t have them to support me but then, at the same time, I’m happy I’m supporting them right now, so in three years I have like made over thirty thousand dollars, and then we bought a land in Nepal. We’re gonna built a house like maybe single family house, we’re on plan actually, so that’s gonna be my last plan for my family. Then maybe I’m gonna design that house. But, for me, you sometimes gotta think about yourself too, so for me I always took priority as my family as first place and second, my future, my study, and [pause] friends [pause] I’d say, “Look my family comes first, my study second, you are the third.”
Jeffrey: So you would prefer you’d come to the U.S. rather than staying back home? Because I hear that you’ve learned skills that wouldn’t have been available to you if you stayed back in Nepal.
Robert: That is true.
Jeffrey: Um [pause] so before you came to the U.S. what did you expect it’d be like living here? Aside from the cities being really big and stuff like that.
Robert: Well, I think I come here and I might finish bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. I changed my major I’m doing architecture now. While I was in Nepal, I used to think like I’m gonna get a degree from there and then come back to Nepal and then maybe have this one business off my name. So I didn’t want to work for others.
Jeffrey: You wanted to start your own business?
Robert: Yeah, I wanted to start my own business, so I had a thought like I’d come here and finish my study, I’d get a degree, and go back to Nepal and have my own business architecture or engineering, design for people. But when I came here, I changed my mind, I saw a lot of better things in here,
Jeffrey: Ah [pause] so the U.S. widened your perspective a little.
Robert: Yeah, there is a term “U.S. is a land of opportunities.” I would agree with that so if you come here. If you wanna do it you can do anything you wanna do, but then if you be lazy then you can’t do anything. I was like well why don’t we stay here and then grab some opportunities and we can go back to Nepal later, but then have your plans first, make your future first, then go back to Nepal or wherever, but then my future plan is, I wanna travel the world. For sure I will travel the world one day, maybe after fifty or something.
Jeffrey: So would you say that most of the problems you faced here came from having to support yourself and your family?
Robert: I got quite lucky for that because whenever I came to SF I got in the top that was kind, so I would get money for there as a salary so that was not that hard. At the same time, I have my cousin and I was living with him. So he did support me until I get a job so it was okay for me for that part but then I’d say there are certain problems when I came to SF I had applied for the SF State University and CCSF I have accepted there and then I went first time we use to live in Chinatown but then we my cousin he bought a house in San Lorenzo last December so we moved there so I went to SF State from SF Chinatown and I had to use underground Bart, I had never used that before that was kinda crazy story there.
Jeffrey: Did something crazy happen the first time you take it; some crazy story?
Robert: What happened was I read all the instruction I need to get the ticket to go in, I did that, but then when I came back I went to the international office there I got my acceptance letter there, I was super happy. I took that Bart but then in that place I didn’t see like, I didn’t know I had to get the ticket again so I came back so they had, one stop at qualimeyer street or something [pause] somewhere [pause] and then there was a checking going on [pause] so the ticket was to go there but it was just one-way.
I didn’t know, it was my first time here, and my English was terrible at that time, I didn’t have good English. I couldn’t even speak up at the time, there was a ticket lady, some police officer or something, and then she asked me where was my ticket, then I told her like, “this is my ticket,” and she was like this is not your ticket. I had only this ticket with me, I didn’t have any other ticket, I told her this is my first time, and I had no idea what’s going on. I even told her this is my first time, I went to grab my acceptance letter from the university, and she was like if you don’t speak English, you should find you a language interpreter [pause] she gave me two tickets that I had to pay like one hundred two zero and one hundred two zero [pause] that was my worst expense I ever had here in the US, for that I could not speak up well that time, my English was the barrier I couldn’t say like whatever I wanted to say at that time and then yeah that was a really bad experience.
I’d say that’s a good experience also at the same time, I took it positive cause I got to learn new things new rules new regulations. After that, I look up what are the transportation city of san Francisco and one of that was Bart, Muni bus, and other stuff, the Cal train and everything. After that I never got into trouble. Right now I have a car I drive I know the rules and everything.
But then that experience taught me a lot. Sometimes you need to get into trouble, not a big trouble, but then do not make a double mistake, you can make a mistake once, if you make the same mistake again, that’s the biggest mistake. So you learn from some mistake, bad mistake and then do not repeat mistake. Even my manager use to say like if I break glass, “it’s okay to break glass, it happens sometimes, but then try not to break again, be careful when carrying it.” He told me “It’s okay to make a mistake the first time, but then same mistake shouldn’t be happening, so do not repeat the mistake, same mistake again.”
Jeffrey: So you’ve talked about how you felt in Nepal, but what about the U.S.? How do you feel now; now that you’ve lived here for four years?
Robert: I’d say It’s better, much better than Nepal, Nepal I’d say first reason [pause] so while I was in Nepal, I after I graduated from my school I worked six months there. At that time, I got I used to get fifteen thousand dollars a month [pause] but then right now if I compare that time and right now here, I get like three thousand dollar per month.
Jeffrey: Is the fifteen thousand in Nepali currency?
Robert: Yeah, Nepali currency. So here, fifteen thousand Nepalese rupees is one hundred and fifty dollars. That’s how much I got from Nepal, but then here I get like three thousand dollars. That is a very, very vast change, Nepal versus here working. And I would say I like it better here even though I have like much more expenses than I used to have in Nepal because I got to be an independent, so I drive car and I have pay for car insurance and everything.
If I was in Nepal, maybe I used to drive motorcycle under my parent’s insurance because that fifteen thousand rupees would never let me buy for me. But here I have three thousand dollars so [pause] I can put some of the amount for that. Yeah, so I’d say that that is the major point.
And other parts if I talk about technology US is much better than Nepal, even at my work most of my customer they are from Google, Facebook [pause] and then one thing I like better in Nepal is let’s say you and me are friends in here, we are really good friends but not like soul mates, what I have seen a lot maybe not all but most of them if you are friends with somebody here, they are not friends like from inside, it’s just pretend to be friends, they are friends but not real friends. But in Nepal, if you are friends with somebody like you can do whatever for him.
Jeffrey: Like someone you’re really connected with.
Robert: We connect our inside, we love them a lot but here you don’t get that and then one thing what I’ve seen here is strange is I tried to make friends a lot, but then their perspective and my perspective is like very different. So my first semester I tried to make like some friends and then even at my work I tried to make some friends and what I found was what they do is they want to earn money by working today but then Friday night they wanna spend all the money.
So what they do is they want to go out, hang out, they want to go to prom. But then for me, I was like, “No, I didn’t come to the US for that, I have some certain goals I have to achieve that.” Then I didn’t get like friends who has similar thoughts to me, so that’s why I don’t have a lot of friends if I have friends, I have only one friend actually right now he is from Nepal, he has similar like feelings with me. He is working hard for his future and family and everything.
So what happen was, I tried to make friends and they were like, so they get paycheck right usually we get paycheck on Thursday and the other day they wanna go out and spend all of the money.
Then one of my considerations is if I get paycheck on Thursday I don’t want to spend tomorrow and then get broke on other day. What I have like strong feeling about is I wanna have certain percentage of my savings for my future certain percentage for my family. But most of my friends they don’t think about that. So their perspective and my perspective are very different. I don’t wanna be friends with them you know. If I were a friend with them I have go with them, hang out and drink, smoke. And I don’t like that. That’s what happens, not making a lot of friends, I have certain friends at work, but then just for work, after work we don’t hang out.
They have different thoughts, they have different opportunities, but I do not. That’s why I’m working really hard.
Jeffrey: That’s good. You know, we need more hard working people.
Robert: For me if I see like somebody is doing something bad I tell them, you should be doing this. For like younger generation I’d always try to motivate them to work harder for the future.
Jeffrey: That’s kinda your philosophy: To work hard.
Robert: I wanna help people it’s because maybe I didn’t get the mentorship maybe I got to learn by myself doing most of things. But then if I see people struggling in their life I’ll always try to help them at least tell them, share your story. Your story motivates someone else, that’s a good thing about you, and you are the inspiration for someone else. That’s why I want to share my story.
Jeffrey: Oh, going back to Nepal, you said that the friends that you make there have very good connections. How is that so?
Robert: I don’t know [pause] maybe cultural legacy, I’d say like um our culture well, our culture we’re very rich in our culture, what happens is like if your parents have taught you that way, you will learn from your parents a lot. It’s kind of natural whatever your parents do, you wanna do that too. By seeing, I think that’s the reason what happens to the Nepali people, they wanna be connected soul to soul. But then here what I’ve seen is their parents really don’t care. With their parents or relatives, they should be doing but then in Nepal my parents and all the relatives, and their my relatives right now but here maybe they don’t care, maybe their culture is like that, I don’t get it. I haven’t got that part. Why is there so different between Nepalese culture versus the American culture.
Jeffrey: So Nepali culture place more importance in union.
Robert: For here, it feels so off. I’m from Nepal, in my culture, helping someone is a good thing, my parents have taught me to help somebody if possible. There are certain ways to help people. Just be honest in your life trying to help people, it just makes you satisfied. I would want to inspire them to work hard, have a plan for the future. At the end of the day, you are the one who will do for you, there is no one else. For me, I came from Nepal, nobody was here to do for me so I’m the only person who does for me. I’d say like always priority for yourself your health your food, and then priority your family, cause your parents I consider my guardians as my parents, and then after that your friends, girlfriends, or whatever. Main thing is be honest with everyone you try to help, like all the people in all possible ways. That’s how you can become pleased, how you feel satisfied.
Jeffrey: Hi Robert, how are you doing? I got to look through our conversation, and it made me even more curious about your story. Like you said, you were a part of Nepali Congress, but something about apposing political parties and environment made you apply for asylum. Were you persecuted or mistreated in some way?
Robert: Yes, I remember two incidents most; the first one is while I was in class eight: it happened in my school in my birthplace, Gorkha district of Nepal. As I told you earlier, I was a good student and also I used to dance from a very young age. I used to be first in our district dance competition. The Maoist party of our district got to know that.
One day, they came to our school in our assembly time at morning. The Maoist wanted to take all the students in their rally, especially me, but they didn’t know which one is me. Our socials teacher tried to speak up, but they showed the guns and pointed towards our teacher. All the students got scared and tried to run off the school. While everyone running here and there, one of my science teacher dragged me, and locked me in the toilet, and told me not to make any noise until he comes back. I was super scared.
After about seven hours, he came back to get me with my father. I was so thirsty at that time. I couldn’t even ask what happened [pause] later on, I got to know that seventy-eight students were captured and the Maoist had taken with them. Later on, I got to know that the Maoist wanted me to dance for their programs.
I have very bad childhood memories with them one day, I saw more than a hundred people with guns walking on the side of our house. They asked all the villager to give them food and bed; seven of them entered out house and searched everything inside the house. They asked my mother to cook for them ASAP. They put their guns in our kitchen. We were very scared, but we had no options; so we had to do whatever they said. My mother and father gave them everything they asked for. Thankfully, they left our village after staying two days. But whenever they come, we had to be scared of them [pause]
Jeffrey: That is absolutely frightening. I didn’t know that this happened in Nepal.
Robert: Yeah, there was civil war in Nepal for 10 years [pause]
The second one is after I finished diploma in civil engineering: I went to the village and helped local Nepali Congress party for the election campaign. I went to door-to-door and talked about how bad were the Maoist, and why they should vote for Nepali Congress.
On the Election Day, I was coming home from election booth, and, on the way, four people were waiting for me. They told me I am the main reason that they cannot get vote from our area; number one. They asked me to go with them [pause] they took me to the side of the jungle and started beating with wooden sticks. I still have a scar in my leg. After I got beaten up, I was unconscious.
They thought I was dead and left me in there. Some people found me, and brought me home, and my father took me to the hospital. I am still scared of what happened in the past. Yes, my life was in danger.
Even after that, they knew I came to the U.S., they ask my parents money. I told my parents not to give anything. Right now, the situation is better than that time, but they personally think I should be dead. So I am always scared to go back to my country. That’s how I filed for asylum in the United States. And here, Trump government always comes up with new rules, which makes it hard for the asylum seekers in the States. But I hope everything goes well with me. And thank you for asking me about my past.
Jeffrey: Of course, thanks for sharing part of your life, I know it’s especially hard to share such traumatic experience openly.
Also, if you don’t mind me asking [pause] When you came to the U.S., did seeing less people and stress from supporting your family affect you mentally?
Robert: If I understood you question correctly [pause] yes, I was mentally challenged a lot. When I was in Oklahoma, I used to hang out with my Nepali friends. We used to play basketball all day, sometimes watch movies, or play games with friends, but at nights, I couldn’t sleep until three am in the morning. I used to think a lot about Nepal, all the incidents and all the bad things. And I had to pay back loan. That was the main challenge at that time.
I used to believe in myself that I will be doing good in life one day. So, I tried to look for the work, but I was not accepted anywhere for not having a work authorization card, being an international student. I used to think about my parents and their condition. I was thinking a lot bad things. Sometimes, even giving up whatever I am doing.
But, whenever I talked to my parents, they used to advice me about not giving up in life. My father had shared many struggling stories that made me [wanna] struggle in life, not giving up no matter what, and not stop doing whatever I am doing. I thought of my parents and my future a lot.
So I would say to people that they have to talk to their parents everyday, especially if you are abroad, because they get worried about you as twice as you do about yourself. Finally, and fortunately, I came up with an idea of reading books, watching motivational videos. That helped me a lot to think positive in life. So I think now, I am a grown up man who knows many things about life. I do not give up in anything.
Jeffrey: It’s great to hear that you’re going strong.