Kinship: Academic Migration and the Impact of Distance on Relationship Bonding

In our second year Kinship: Comparative & Contemporary Studies module, students are introduced to key theories and debates in the anthropological study of kinship. This week we are featuring an essay from last year’s module by Sandesh Sangram Rai.
Sandesh Rai
Sandesh’s bio: I am an international student at the University of Roehampton from Nepal. I am in my 3rd year studying Anthropology.

Distance plays a vital role in relationship bonding. I am from Nepal and I have many relatives, as my father and mother both have six siblings with huge age differences. From a young age, I have travelled to different places inside or outside Nepal for my studies. As my parents were always busy with their work, the only option for me and my siblings was to stay as a paying guest in other people’s houses or in a boarding school. Lamb (1982) states that when both of the spouses are employed, the impact of work into the family becomes significant. Even though I have a big family, I never got the chance to get to know them or create a bond like others do due to my lack of presence and involvement in all family gatherings and festive seasons. This essay will therefore delve into how distance can change and influence the connection and relationship of kin, with reference to my own experiences.

My father is originally from the eastern part of Nepal and my mother is from the western part. As my father moved to western Nepal, married to my mother and settled there, I just know a small portion of relatives from my father’s side. I used to see my grandparents from my father’s side only once a year and growing up it just became less. I still have not met most of my father’s side of the family; as our home was in a different region of the country it was hard for us to visit; not being often in the house made it even more difficult to communicate.

I have changed five schools throughout my academic life in various parts of Nepal and India, as well as the United Kingdom. According to Kokemuller (n.d.), students face a variety of academic challenges from changing schools. As I grew up, it was hard for me and my brother to cope with all the changes happening because all the schools we went to had a different way of teaching and learning from one another.  I did my kindergarten and pre-primary in my home town, Pokhara. From there, I moved to Kalingpong, north east of India, for my primary education and stayed there as a paying guest for two years. There was always someone else to take care of us throughout our childhood.

Bentley and Mace (2009) suggest that in traditional societies there are always relatives to help parents to raise children, whereas in post-industrial societies, helping hands are often bought or provided by government. In my case, my relatives took care of me and my siblings and care was also purchased as we grew up. My parents used to visit me and my brother two times a year and take us back home on our long holidays, but it just became harder for them to travel due to political instability and rise of Maoists in Nepal. The whole country was affected by it: there were terrorist acts and protests was all over the country, curfews at night time and bandhs(shut down of businesses and vehicles with threats of violence) for days, which made the life of working class people very hard. Many news agencies called that phase, ‘the Dark time of Nepal’; Michael Hutt has explored and explained that time in his book Monarchy, Democracy and Maoism in Nepal.

Due to the high risk of travelling, my parents moved us back to our home town and we joined the school there as day boarders. Staying as a day boarder, I was at home but never got the feeling of being with family because I never used to have time to be around them, and rarely saw my relatives except on very special occasions; I also used to miss a lot of family events due to my schooling. Family events and gatherings are really important inmy culture due to the tradition of being around with family at the time of festivals and happiness – and Nepalese people have countless festivals!

After the political situation in my country stabilized, I moved again to Kathmandu for my secondary education and was in boarding school for five years. Seeing my parents once a month and my relatives once a year became a routine again and people outside my family were influential to me rather than anyone from within the family. Spending most of my childhood as well as my teenage years away from the family and relatives have created a gap in the relationships. I was well aware of the family values and the social stigma of the Nepalese society, but surrounded by same age group and a limited number of adults made my whole knowledge about the society more of conceptual than real. As my parents are from two different caste backgrounds, I ended up just having a vague knowledge about both caste groups.

In Nepal, people connect and bond better with each other when they have a common culture and are from a similar ethnic background. In the Nepalese community, it is an advantage if one has knowledge about their culture and can speak their ethnic language properly, and in my case not having time to be around my kin and learn my culture was a drawback in terms of socializing.But on the positive side, I was always surrounded by a diverse community away from home and, as we all had the same issues, there was an understanding among all. The diversity among boarding school students in terms of age, personality, family situation and cultural background creates a series of experiences, attitudes and responses among each other (Davis, 2001).

For my high school, I went back to my home town and stayed with my family, which gave me a chance to understand and connect with them and my relatives. From a child development perspective, socialization is normally taken as the parents’ responsibility in teaching their children how to act in ways that are acceptable to the society’s culture that they live in (Grieshabar, 2004). When we returned back home from boarding school, my parents made us aware of certain rules and cultural traditions but it really was hard for me and my brother to cope with. As a result, we were rebels for a certain period of time. I often used to have arguments with my parents due to having differences in views and ideas, but being close and around them allowed me to understand the value of my culture and family itself.

I come from a background where family ethics and culture means a lot. Relatives and kin always stick together and are an important part of an individual’s life. During this period of time, I went to a lot of family gatherings, social functions, got to know my mother’s side of family closely andwas able to build a friendship with the cousins who are of the same age group as me. It was important for me to build up these connections, in order to not feel isolated and also because of the desire to be recognized. Staying close to my family and relatives helped me in making these relationships stronger. The fact that I never used to see them or did not know most of my relatives had built up a barrier inside me, but to be around them, and share affection and care gave me an overview of what exactly family means. But this situation did not last for long – after I finished my high school I went back to India, studied IELTS (International English Language Testing System) in Siliguri and came to the UK to pursue my higher education.

After I came to the UK, the relationships that I created in the short period of time when I was around my family became difficult to maintain and we again drifted apart. Luchtenberg (2004) notes that external and internal migration is a worldwide phenomenon and how diverse the people migrating are now, compared to past. In being part of this migration, I did not expect the changes to happen in a short period of time, in the context of my relationship with family. As social media and phone are the only way to communicate when you are far away from home, I maintained contact my parents and relatives through various mediusms (viber, messanger and Watsapp), but the number of times I call my family has decreased compared to past. As I have not been back to my country for almost two and half years I rarely talk with my cousins and my parents, and we do not share information with one another like we use to when I was back home. I call my parents four five times a month and most of it is because I need their help; we do not share any updates onwhat is going on with ourlives until and unless it is veryimportant.

I share and rely on people and friends other than my family. One of the reasons might just be because of the fact that it is easy to share feelings with the people who are around me and are available, but also because I never had that connection and space to talk and share what I really feel with my parents. I have always called them only if I am in need of financial support or dealing with some problem – it might be because of the distance created from an early age through my education.  According to Goldberg (2014), as the children grow and mature, engaging and hanging out with peers and peer friendships becomes an increasingly significant aspect of their social world; as a result, eventually most children move away from their families and form their own relationships outside. So, it might also just be the current phase of life to be distant from my family.  Nevertheless, the distance has played a big role throughout my personal life because of the fact that I cannot feel easy and open up about my feelings with my parents and I am not close with any of my relatives.

We are influenced by the number of relationships that we experience in the present, but relationships in the past also have an equal impact in our life (Noller and Feeney, 2013). As the result of educational migration, I have had some good as well as bad experiences, but have always had problems with bonding because of not having long term relationships with anyone. After I go back home again, it will not take long to get the feelings of closeness and relatedness with my family, but there will be a drift of changes again from having personal space and living alone to being surrounded by family and relatives most of the time.

 

Bibliography

Bentley, G. and Mace, R. (2012). Substitute parents. New York, NY: Berghahn.

Davis, J. (2001). American Indian Boarding School Experiences: Recent Studies from Native Perspectives. OAH Magazine of History, 15(2), pp.20-22.

Grieshaber, S. (2004). Rethinking parent and child conflict. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Goldberg, S. (2014). Attachment and Development. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.

Kokemuller, N. (n.d.) The Negative Impact of Children Changing Schools.Seattlepi.

Lamb, M. (1982). Nontraditional families. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Luchtenberg, S. (2012). Migration, education and change. Abington: Routledge.

Noller, P. and Feeney, J. (2013). Close relationships. New York: Psychology Press.

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