Annie grew up in Kerala, the southern most tip of India. In the mid 1980’s she turned 21, graduated college, then, as was common among her peers at the time, got a masters degree in Economics which promised job and financial security. She got married to Joe, who was in the Indian Air Force, had two sons and settled into a life in which they moved every two years to a new Air Force base. This wasn’t a stress to her, however, as it might be to some. She saw it as an adventure.
Because she had to move every two years, teaching seemed like a reasonable job, so that’s what she pursued. She worked hard to get her teaching license, traveling and staying in a hotel with two young boys and a babysitter in tow to pass the exams needed to get licensed. As soon as she started teaching, however, she realized it wasn’t for her. In fact, she hated it.
In an entrepreneurial spirit that would be passed down to her children, she started a school for young kids, ran a small event management company, co-owned a traveling boutique. Not finding the right thing, she landed in a medical transcription course and found herself fascinated by learning about the medical world.
Then, one ordinary day, a few months after she started her new role, shortly after her husband had ended his service with the Air Force, Joe called to her from the other room.
“Honey,” he said, “do you want to move to America?”
There was a job posting in a newspaper in Bangalore, India, where they were living at the time, for a position in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, where Annie’s brother lived. Annie, who had never been to the United States, who had, until very recently, not traveled much outside of India, replied “sure, why not?”
She always had an adventurous spirit and her father, who had passed away recently and who she respected more than anyone, had encouraged her to travel abroad with the family while her boys were growing up.
And so they started giving away their things that had been accumulated during 14 years of marriage- new furniture and cars, pots and pans, clothing, jewelry, books.
They boarded a plane to America with their belongings in suitcases and landed in Boston, MA on October 13. The next few months were up and down. Joe started working and Annie settled in as the boys started school. At first it was a hurry to put things in place for their new home, but as soon as things calmed down, the shock of moving to a new country set in. She didn’t yet have her drivers license and was living in the suburbs. The contrast of the sheer number of people you see when you look out your window in India (lots) vs America (barely any) was startling, she told me. She felt alone all day by herself, stuck inside her home.
Things changed when she, after three attempts, passed her license test. It gave her the freedom to go out during the day, drive her kids to school, shop, meet new friends, interact with her new community. She started to think about maybe going to school to become a pharmacist, but quickly realized how many years upon years of school it would take.
About a year after they landed in Boston, the software bubble burst and her husband lost his job. They weren’t worried- this had been an exciting adventure and they could always return to India. They decided to travel around to a few east coast spots before they returned and were planning their last few weeks there when Joe was offered a new job in Delaware.
So they moved, this time a shorter distance to Newark, Delaware. Annie, anxious to get involved in the community, joined the Red Cross. They invited her to sit in on board meetings, trained her to be a disaster volunteer and a CPR instructor. She loved volunteering there- she felt that work was impactful and loved the social aspect. She made two life-long friends and the three of them would teach one another different dances—dancing being something that Annie missed desperately since moving from India.
She was still waiting for her work permit and decided that maybe during this time she could go to school. She thought about what she had liked- learning about the medical field; and what she was good at- connecting with people. She wanted to do something that was purposeful but also that was good at—really good at. She had a gift for helping people, for seamlessly embracing people’s stories without judgement. That’s how she found herself choosing social work, enrolling in an evening master’s program, starting while her oldest son was in college and her younger son in high school.
Her new role as a student of social work fit like no other job had. In a school internship, she worked for a hospital, doing home visits for the elderly. Annie’s supervisor at the hospital internship recruited her to work, saying they would keep the position open until she finished the program. It was like she was made for the role.
She graduated with her masters in social work, with a concentration in mental health. Today she has been working for the same hospital for 11 years. I asked her what she liked most about the role.
She told me: It aligns with my values, what I like to do in life. But most of all, every day I get a second chance. I might be busy and distracted while talking to patients one day, but the next I have the chance to do it all over again, the opportunity to maybe help someone else.
Would you make the same decisions all over again? I asked. Move to another country, change your life completely, start a career after your kids were grown.
Absolutely, she said. 100%. The kids have benefitted so much. I’ve found something that is so solid, it’s been such a blessing.
She also reiterated what I’ve heard over and over from asking people about their lives, about visiting new places, moving far from home.
I was worried when I moved because of what you hear, but I found that people were so welcoming and friendly. I was surprised about that when I moved. There wasn’t such a gap, such a divide between different countries, different cultures, she told me.
“People are people everywhere.”