Categorized | Taboo

Parental Leeway to Leaving the Desi Nest

Posted on 07 July 2010 by .

When I was somewhere around the pre-teen age, I was given seemingly useless advice from my dad about post-secondary education. He said when it’s my turn to choose which institution to attend, I should choose whichever one I want to go to and is best for me, even if it’s away from home. At the time, the only thing running through my mind was, “Let me at least finish high school first!” It hadn’t occurred to me that this was a ‘wow’ moment in the life of a South Asian girl; having my dad tell me that it’s okay to move away from home for school, without any sort of vocally expressed thought from my end.

Four or five years later, I had my eyes set on attending York University and not because of the journalism and social work programs I applied to, but because it was the closest to home so I would just commute there everyday via Go Transit. My father’s advice had taken a backseat in my family and obligation-oriented mind, but can you blame me? I’m the middle daughter squished in between two brothers…I had my list of reasons of why I should stay at home and my mind was pretty much made up, until I received a letter of acceptance from McMaster University one morning. Grudgingly, I told my parents I was accepted there as well and tossed the letter aside. But for them, the seed of opportunity was planted.

To this day, people are still surprised when I tell them that if my parents hadn’t strongly encouraged me the one time that they did to consider attending McMaster, I would have missed out on the best (so far) 4 years of my life.

I remember thinking to myself, before accepting the acceptance that after I finish university, there won’t be that many years left for me to spend at home. I’m a South Asian girl – we’re subliminally taught to think this way. Issues of transportation, residential expenses, roommates, and so on occurred to me but they didn’t stand out as much probably because there are so many outlets of working with these, like OSAP, bank loans, finding a job or two in the summer, students deals, etc. But there is hardly anything out there to help figure out how to balance cultural and familial values with one’s own desires for education and independence.

Well, nothing except parental advice and a slight push of encouragement, masked with permission. And who better to aid in such a quandary?

I learned a ridiculous number of lessons from my years at McMaster but this was one of the first and boldest of all. I realized that I had held a typical assumption about my immigrant parents; that they wouldn’t allow me to move away from home before I get married, live with my friends or even worse, with strangers who became lifelong friends.  I was passively going to attend a school for all the wrong reasons yet I didn’t realize it. I was so much further from South Asian and Western cultural integration than my parents, and unlike them, I was born and raised here. It was an instance of how things work out in light of coinciding values; family values were pressuring me to continue living at home but it was the value of education from my family that trumped the presumption in my mind about them.

So the tables don’t have to be turned, sometimes they already are.

Author: Poonam Patel

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