Visiting Children Overseas? Here’s A Guide To Staying Happily Occupied

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Visiting children overseas? Why not use the opportunity to not only catch up on family time but learn new things and make a whole new set of friends? Here are some ideas of how Indian parents can keep themselves occupied while on long-term overseas visits.

Indrajit Chatterjee updated his knowledge

At 69, when many Indian parents visit children staying overseas to spend time with them and bond with the grandchildren, Indrajit Chatterjee decided to expand his education. The ex-IITian decided to put his time in Boston, US, where his son and daughter-in-law live, to even more productive use. He completed a course on Internet of Things from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showing that there is no age limit to updating knowledge.
What do Indian senior citizens visiting children overseas do to spend their time? Many visit for durations of two to six months and though the primary focus is to help out the offspring with childcare and home management, they are also left with a lot of time on their hand. Some senior citizens have used it to enhance their skills, find new friends or keep themselves engaged in social activities.
It can be an advantage for both generations, says Satyaki Banerjee, 67. “Our children are extremely busy and though they ensure we are being taken around over weekends, having something of our own to do makes us feel more energetic and removes boredom.” Banerjee and his wife visit their son in Manchester, UK every year. Two years ago, Banerjee took a course in photography being conducted by a local club. His wife Deepa, an avid knitter, has joined a crochet group.

Usha Rai learnt new painting techniques

Self-taught artist Usha Rai, used the two months spent in the US with her son and daughter-in-law to not only spend quality time with her toddler grandchildren but also on learning new skills with the brush from watercolour artist Michael Friedland in Yosemite.

“My son and daughter in law persuaded me to take the four-hour class with him and I was glad I did,” says Rai. “I learnt to sketch outside and paint with watercolours. Encouraged by her children, Rai also met artists in the US from who she found out about new art techniques. “It was a great experience,” says Rai, though she does admit her focus remains her grandchildren when she visits.

Pratima Verma, 65, feels that “happiness is a choice.” She visits her sons and daughters-in-law in California twice a year and stays for almost two months, during which, apart from being around at home if needed, she ensures that she keeps herself occupied. She’s a member of the Indian Community Center in the Bay Area, which offers interesting programs four days a week from 10 am to 2 pm. The center organises programs on current affairs, music, hobbies, Indian festivals, creative writing and even takes members of its senior program on local tours. Verma mentions that people can join hobby classes too if they wish. “There is a good Hindi library section with magazines and novels” that she enjoys.

Pratima Verma is a member of the Indian Community Center

Verma also meets up regularly with other senior citizens either living with or visiting their children at a local park. ‘We fix a time and enjoy being there sharing our experiences in life for almost two hours on a fixed day of the week.” Verma uses Uber to travel around when a family member is busy and unable to take a ride.

Deepa Banerjee carpools along with two other neighbours to the crochet club. “If you want to keep yourself busy, rather than be completely dependant on the children, options are always there,” she says.

We spoke to several senior citizens and their children and compiled a list of ideas you could look at the next time you visit.
Social & Spiritual: This is the most common suggestion. Join a spiritual group if you are so inclined. They have chanting and singing sessions and you are likely to find social connections as well. In the Bay Area in the US, many temples run very vigorous senior citizen programs including picnics and health checks. Sign up if it interests you.

Find volunteering opportunities: Sydney resident Mohana Dhoble Kannan signed up her mother in law for volunteering at the local church shop. “She spent 3-4 hours there and made friends from the community too.” Deepa Banerjee too has worked on making woollen blankets as part of a volunteering drive by her crochet club.

• Find a bus service for seniors: Mobility can often be an issue for older people in a new country so find out if there is a community bus service for senior citizens in the area where you live. Kannan did the same for her mother-in-law. “The bus picked her up from home and drove to the local shopping centre. She had a coffee and chat and made some more local friends of her age.” If the option of a bus service doesn’t exist, then daily passes for buses and trains could make commuting easier and give older adults a much-needed sense of mobility.

• Find the local Indian community centre: They often have interesting senior programs as Pratima Verma mentions above and could work as a great social network and activity centre for elders.

Join a library or book club

• Join the local library or a book club: Local libraries overseas, especially in English speaking countries, could be great sources of information with ample books and magazines on offer. “My mother is part of a book club a few blocks away from where we live. Initially, she was hesitant as she felt she wouldn’t understand foreign accents but over time, she not only understands and enjoys it but has also introduced them to Indian authors writing in English,” says Sneha Mehandale, who lives in New Jersey and has her mother visit often.

  • Use your skills to teach something: This may not be everyone’s cup of tea but is worth exploring. Many senior citizens are skilled in craft, music, art and several other areas that could be worth teaching the young ones about. Indrani Basak, a veteran dancer, has taught dance to her granddaughter’s friends over several visits to Netherlands. “It’s not a formal class, just a fun one to learn a few Indian movements, given the paucity of Indian art there. And it was my granddaughter’s idea! One year, they even staged a performance at a local Puja organised by the Indian community.”

• Join a course you are interested in: Find out if the local university is offering a short-term course you could sign up for. Or google your interest area and see if there are programs on offer by individuals, like Rai & Banerjee did.

Featured image: A group of parents at a park in the Bay Area, US. Photo courtesy of Pratima Verma

Did you know about the Non-Resident Indians Parents Association (NRIPA) in Bangalore? Click here to read about them

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About Author

Reshmi Chakraborty

Reshmi is the co-founder of Silver Talkies. She loves books, travel and photography.