The Atlantic

Stuck in an American Retail Job With a Foreign MBA

In a new book, a journalist reflects on working as a salesperson in small-town Virginia when he first arrived in America.
Source: Jeff Chiu / AP

Coming to the U.S. can knock immigrants’ careers off track for years. For new arrivals, integration is often an important part of achieving financial stability, as studies of upward and downward economic mobility have documented.

Deepak Singh grew up in northern India. He had a bachelor’s degree in commerce, an MBA, and a job with the BBC World Service in his hometown of Lucknow. Unexpectedly, he met a young woman visiting from western Pennsylvania at a local library; the two fell in love, got married, and decided that Singh would move to Virginia, where she was attending graduate school.

In his new book, May I Help You?: An Immigrant’s Journey From M.B.A. to Minimum Wage, Singh chronicles his move to small-town Virginia, where he started working a job in retail. The book reads like an ethnography, documenting Singh’s work experience, his colleagues, and his surroundings, and includes reflections on how the job taught him about American mores and norms. Though Singh was doing minimum-wage work, his book

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