In 2008, the allure of coming to the United States seemed like a two-way street for Chinmoyee Datta. The US would get a qualified teacher in a district that couldn’t find enough instructors and Datta would get to experience an entirely new country.
Kolkata-born Datta had been teaching at a Catholic school in a large and growing education hub in central India, the city of Jabalpur, for 11 years. Her husband was a principal at a government school. Like her, he had job stability and credibility in his profession. Their son would soon be in fourth grade.
After attending a seminar in Delhi about the cultural exchange program and discussing it further with her family, Datta decided to apply. She didn’t think too deeply about employment visas or green cards, or what it would mean for her as an Indian citizen to make a new life in America. She had no idea she would become one of tens of thousands of Indian nationals in the US on H-1B visas waiting for legal permanent residency, or that her son would face his own decisions about what path he would take to stay in the country that would become his home.
The idea of seeing a new part of the world seduced her. It’s only a few years, she thought. Her brother-in-law in Texas, who first brought up the idea of teaching abroad, helped her file paperwork with a private recruitment company and took care of all the fees. A superintendent at an interested school district in Mississippi soon interviewed her on the phone. His questions rolled out in southern drawl, a kind of English Datta had never heard before: What are your strengths and weaknesses? How will you approach cultural differences? Given their backgrounds, do you believe the kids can learn?
She won over the superintendent. He offered her a position teaching middle school math at Durant Public School District, in Mississippi. Datta had never heard of the place, but if she needed to, she could call on her brother-in-law for help. She accepted the position. She applied for a J-1 visa for long-term cultural exchange visits, submitted the necessary fees and prepped for her pending arrival to Jackson, Mississippi, about 65 miles away from where she would live.
Her husband and son decided to follow, a year later. Datta’s father, curious about his daughter’s future whereabouts, searched all over Kolkata for a map of Mississippi. He eventually found one and saw, with satisfaction, that Durant appeared to be a big city.
It turned out the map was misleading.
Read the rest of the interactive story, with visuals by Karen Pulfer Focht, on PRI’s The World. It originally published on February 13, 2018.