Coming to America

“It’s not going to be as easy as you think,” said my father. I nodded in agreement.

We were sitting in our living room, on the other side of the world, in New Delhi, India. My visa application papers rested on the table, pompous in the knowledge that they were the centre of the conversation. If all went according to plan, I would leave for America in three months. My father, the ever-protective parent, was shuttling back and forth between paranoia and proud support.

I knew full well he was right. I had no idea what lay in store for me. But so many people do it every year; how hard can it be, I thought?

Very, as I now know.

It’s one thing to know what to expect. It’s quite another to experience it – migrate to a culture diametrically opposite to yours, experience the big changes, the small changes, and still stay focused on what your original purpose of migration was. In my case, it was to graduate with a Master’s degree from Boston University with flying colors.

A year and a half later, with a job under my belt and a ceremony less than a month away, I can safely say that I did manage to graduate – the “flying colors” bit is debatable. But none of that right now.

At this juncture, a lot of people ask me how I feel about my move, if I’m planning to stay on, do I like it here enough to settle here – the usual suspects. Yes, I like it here. I love the plethora of academic and professional choices I have here – in India, art appreciation is a rare, if not uncommon, choice of study.  I love that I worked as a writing tutor throughout my tenure at BU – a vocation unheard of back home. Heck, my entire reason for moving to this country was to study and practice public relations in a country where at least a minority of the population understood it, and didn’t treat it like the “shady, deceptive enterprise” that my professor thought it was. And I’m very, very happy I did that.

But like everyone else, my life is more than just my career choice. It’s also about the relationships I make, the ones I leave behind, the music I like, the food I eat, the brands I buy and those that I have access to. It’s about the spice in my food back home, the artificial growth hormones in the fruits I eat here, the capsicum that’s called “green peppers”, the big, fat Indian festivities I miss out on regularly, the American festivities I have learnt to appreciate — and much, much more. And while it’s a tradeoff, I do wonder still if it’s worth it.

It helps that America is a melting pot (the most clichéd description of the country is also the most apt). Everyone is bound to find something or someone they can identify with. And that’s what we do – we look for those restaurants, grocery stores, people and concerts that will help us recreate a part of our lives as they used to be, in a country where we have made new lives for ourselves.

“You have it easy. We had no way to make quick calls or e-mail when we first came. A letter would often take one and a half month to reach home,” says my grandfather, an American citizen who moved here in the 1950s.

I shudder at his comments. And then I send up a silent, grateful prayer for Skype, webcams and calling cards. Home may be on the other side of the world, but sometimes, I forget that. Thankfully.

Photo Credit: Sylvar

Puneet Sandhu Puneet works in public relations; loves books, music and rain; will talk to strangers on the train much to the embarrassment of her companions; and possess an appetite too big for her tiny frame. She is happiest when writing and running up phone bills she cannot afford.

View all posts by Puneet Sandhu

2 Responses to “Coming to America”

  1. Andreana Drencheva

    Puneet, great points. I don't think I would have come to study in the USA if there was no Skype, no Internet and no cheap flights, relatively. I can't imagine waiting a few months to get a letter from my parents. I can't imagine not being able to go home for years.

    The four years I've spent here were much harder than I had ever thought. No one told me I will miss certain dishes. No one told me I will miss speaking my native language. No one told me I will get homesick. But it has been a very rewarding experience and I am happy I received my education in a foreign country. I learned much more about my culture and myself during the four years I lived in the USA than during the 18 years of my life in Bulgaria.

    Reply

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