As Sai Shethabhish Naidu Palla packed his hopes into a suitcase to move from Hyderabad to California, he knew he could count on one person to help him stateside — an influencer named Yudi J.
Just like Palla, the American Dream is still alive for thousands of Indians. But the messenger has changed — it’s no longer stories from faraway relatives or Bollywood films, social media influencers are the ones driving the ‘Let’s go to the US’ bandwagon. Indian influencers like Yudi have inadvertently stepped into a gap they didn’t even realise existed and are creating content centred around moving and living abroad in Western countries. From lifestyle to higher education to immigration advice, their content is fuelling aspirations and expectations about living in a foreign country.
“Based on the comments I receive, my followers are definitely interested in the kind of life I live in California,” said influencer Aaliyah Kashyap. “Whether they find it aspirational or not, I think seeing a real perspective of what life is like as an Indian abroad is interesting.”
The path to the US today is paved with uncertainty, money and high expectations. Education and immigration agencies — along with stories from the diaspora — are usually the first introduction young Indians have to the logistical issue of moving and living abroad. But now, social media content is providing a concrete base for Indians to plan their journey overseas. Whether realistic or aspirational, this content has clearly struck a chord.
“Yudi gave me a blueprint on what my efforts should be like from starting to end,” said 24-year-old Palla, who attended California State University and now works at Google in the Bay Area. “Watching his content made me feel confident and comfortable.”
These influencers aren’t the first of their kind to move abroad, they’re just the first ones to document and share it. Videos like ‘A day in my life in New York’ get thousands of views — it generates hope.
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Living the American life
When Aanchal Agrawal posted an Instagram reel saying that she’s finally moving to New York City to study, her DMs were flooded by people saying that she’s living their dream. “From women stuck in bad marriages to people who thought they were too old for further studies, I got so many messages,” said Agrawal, an influencer who has nearly 3 lakh followers on Instagram.
“I consciously wanted to show people what life was like in New York,” she told ThePrint. “I only started my YouTube channel when I moved, and ever since I have come to New York I have recorded every day of my life. I think it adds some value because it gives people an idea of what life is like here,” she said.
This was certainly true for Palla as he consumed Yudi’s content. “His content was extremely helpful. He has videos explaining legal stuff, has suggestions on what to bring to the US, and gives advice on things like how to file your taxes,” he said.
Indian influencers and content creators in the US tend to touch on different aspects such as their lifestyle, higher education, and immigration advice. Not to be confused with Indian American influencers, who occupy a space of their own in the social media arena, they largely cater to an Indian audience and curate content to engage them. This includes documenting typical experiences as a foreign student abroad, like locating the nearest desi grocery store and attending cultural events organised by local desi organisations.
Influencers like Kashyap — who talks about packing packets of Haldiram’s aloo bhujia so she can snack on it in the US — make lifestyle vlogs about her life as an Indian student in the US. With over 1 lakh followers on YouTube and 2.6 lakh followers on Instagram, everything from her budget to her boyfriend (and her dad filmmaker Anurag Kashyap in New York) has a place in her vlogs.
“Life in the US is definitely portrayed a certain way in television and films. I wanted to live that life too,” said Kashyap. Besides vlogging her daily life, she also creates branded content — Kashyap works with international brands like Lounge and Fashion Nova, even though over 65 per cent of her audience is based in India.
According to her, when she started her YouTube channel, there existed the pressure to portray a perfect life — a life in which she worked out regularly, had a social life and ate healthy. Now, however, she describes her content as “more real”.
“When I first started vlogging, I’d only film exciting things like a beach day with my friends, or a weekend away. The videos I film now are more real and mundane — I don’t want people to think that I don’t have boring days too,” said Kashyap.
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The pull of higher studies
Painting a perfect picture comes at a price, which influencers like Kashyap today are consciously trying to avoid.
There’s no foolproof formula for success in the US, which has a complicated immigration system that’s suspicious of Indian students — some of whom have resorted to fraud to stay in the US. Educational consulting companies don’t always make the process around going to university transparent either. While the process was never questioned earlier, there’s now a major demand for a step-by-step plan for “making it.”
Influencers like musician Avanti Nagral occupy an important intersection here. As an American citizen who was raised in India, Nagral offers her nearly 6 lakh (combined across platforms) following highly specific advice as someone with one foot in both countries.
“There’s no access to that kind of information. And even if it is, it’s from folks who’ve only lived in the US, so it’s not relatable. Translating that is useful,” she said. Her education content — which she creates alongside her music and her content around sex education — includes everything from resume writing tips to YouTube videos titled ‘India to USA: DON’T MAKE THESE MISTAKES!! | Tips from a Harvard grad’. She also makes it a point to interact with her followers and talk about higher education on all her platforms, and receives the most engagement on her Discord server.
“The fact that I was able to attend colleges abroad didn’t mean that I was smarter or more hard-working than someone else, it meant that I had more exposure and access to these opportunities,” Nagral, who attended Harvard University and the Berklee College of Music, added. “And so it became important to me to bridge that gap.”
Education startups have also picked up on the potential of working with influencers. Leverage Edu, a startup that helps students apply to universities abroad, works with around 1,500 influencers and content creators, including Nagral. They hold virtual university fairs on their platform UniConnect every week that multiple influencers often promote.
“It’s great because it makes people aware of new and better opportunities for their careers, about a borderless world, about our service that seeks to help them become global citizens, but at the same time it’s a double-edged sword,” said Akshay Chaturvedi, founder and CEO of Leverage Edu. “There’s no regulation, so if we have a creator talking about university X or opportunity Y that doesn’t have credible research behind it or isn’t coming from a trusted brand, then that could also hurt students,” he added.
According to Chaturvedi, there are three main kinds of people who apply to study abroad — those focused on universities’ reputations, those focused on the course of study and, the largest set of people, those who want to move to a specific country. Around 60 per cent of applicants usually belong to this last category.
The US has always been a destination of choice — but potential immigration issues tend to discourage applicants. That’s where influencers like Yudi come in.
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The accessible dream of immigrating
In Yudi’s case, his drive to create content came partially from his own need to access such information. His channel, which he started in 2018 and now has over 2 lakh subscribers, revolves around the achievability of the American Dream.
“I wanted to inspire people with my story. I never imagined that I could be here — I grew up in a Mumbai chawl and now I’m living the life I dreamed of,” he told ThePrint, adding that he thinks his followers see his channel as being more inspirational than informative.
“There’s definitely an aspirational element to this,” said Viraj Sheth, who is co-founder and CEO of Monk Entertainment, a digital media company that focuses on talent management, influencer marketing, and social media management. Monk Entertainment works with several Indian influencers who live and work abroad.
“Influencers like Niharika NM, Ruhee Dasani and Aanchal Agrawal all operate in the US even though their major base is in India,” said Sheth. “And it comes through in their content, aesthetic, locations, diverse friend groups, and how they’re balancing their life…all this adds to their content.”
But Sheth doesn’t think the trend will stick around if influencers rely purely on their life abroad as a source of content. “It’s picking up, but it’s not something someone should base their content around. Otherwise, content becomes repetitive.”
To avoid repetition, Yudi has expanded his content to go beyond his own experiences and often interviews Indians exploring different kinds of career trajectories in the US. He has detailed videos on how to apply for different kinds of visas, the kind of preparation required before job interviews and conversations with professionals highlighting different ways to approach the job market in their sector.
“I got lucky while applying for my H1B visa because my workplace helped me. But there’s a lot of misinformation and misconceptions, especially from consultants in India. They don’t know what the ground reality is like here, so I feel like my content fills that gap,” he said. “Since I’ve gone through this process, I was able to make it simple for people and their parents to understand it.”
Watching Indian content creators navigate their life in America also helps Indian students feel a sense of community, especially if they live in small towns without larger desi populations. Yudi himself has interacted with his followers, and has driven across towns to help someone feel less isolated.
Yudi noted that he’s aware his life comes across as incredibly aspirational since he now has a successful career, is married to an American and recently bought his own house. There’s also something about settling into a foreign society well enough to date outside your nationality or to be able to experience different cultures that is aspirational. But he says his story only proves that if he can do it, so can others.
“My goal is not to get people to move to America. I think people can live a good life wherever they are — so when I try to show them my life, I hope that they see the work I put in to build the life I want,” he said. “I hope they see that hustle in me.”
“When I create content, I don’t want my followers to see me as a God. I want them to see God in me,” he added.
Guides to the American Dream
Living abroad? Check. A high-paying dream job? Check. A group of fun friends? Check.
These ingredients — coupled with the promise of a work visa or a green card — still form the basis of the American Dream, even if the dreamers themselves have changed over the years.
“My dream was to have a good job at a big company. I would say my move to the US paid off — all those basic things I was dreaming of have definitely come true,” said Palla, who moved to the US in 2019 and graduated in 2021.
For Srushti Hebbar, a New York City-based graphic designer, the definition of the American Dream has changed in the last six years she’s lived in New York. “It’s now about true freedom and being able to be yourself without any judgment, demanding what you deserve, and just so many things I would never consider openly discussing with friends or family back home,” said Hebbar.
“In my early 20s, I was more fascinated by the things I didn’t have, and that seemed impossible to achieve in the near future — a glamorous lifestyle, luxury holidays, amazing fashion in cities like London, New York, and Paris,” she added. “None of this was relatable, but it’s who I aspired to be someday. It was the life I wanted and it was so attractive to me because it looked so exclusive.”
But now, as a 30-year-old with a job who can afford most of the materialistic things she was fascinated with, she also looks for content she can relate to. The content she consumes now revolves around relatable causes and actionable steps, like following influencers who talk openly about sexuality and modern marriages, or making it big in any industry as an immigrant.
“I think that content can be aspirational, inspirational or relatable,” said Nagral, adding that content that falls into one or more of these categories is usually what drives engagement. Today’s audience is increasingly personality-driven and so authenticity almost always wins.
It’s still a delicate balance that influencers have to strike. Agrawal, who knows her current life as a graduate student in New York comes across as exciting, shared that she was recently feeling embarrassed about openly talking about her housing struggles online. But when she did post about the difficulty of finding a New York apartment, the floodgates opened and help came pouring in from local followers.
And the charm of living in New York makes things sweeter, especially as it has helped her sustain her life there. “Thanks to the people who gave me the privilege of their attention, I’ve been able to continue generating content,” she said. “I don’t feel the pressure to make relatable content, but I do feel that whatever I share online is something people seek.”
“But content is always a little aspirational, don’t you think?” she added.