Coming to America

I was so excited when I landed in Washington, D.C. on August 5, 2009, after flying 18 hours from India. Looking out the window, everything seemed so clean and wonderful. I’d chosen to pursue my MBA at a university in Williamsburg, V.A., and I felt prepared for the new life ahead of me. I was looking forward to an accomplished, world-class faculty, diverse and international classrooms, a relevant and current curriculum, and an overall wonderful learning environment.

However, I quickly realized that I had overlooked one little thing – the weather. I never considered summer and heat in the U.S., and while I knew I would be arriving during the summer, I expected the weather to be around 85 degrees.

Boy, was I wrong! It was HOT, and the sweltering heat of D.C. was matched by the humidity of Williamsburg. Any time I complained about the heat, however, I had to explain that it never got that hot in Mysore and Bangalore, my cities. Contrary to popular belief, the weather in a lot of India almost never gets too extreme.

Because I was staying with a family in Silver Springs before heading to Willamsburg, I soon understood suburbia. I was used to living in smaller spaces and having easy access to anything I needed. I had read about the American suburbs and watched countless TV shows, but I had never fully understood the vastness and isolation until I lived in one. India doesn’t really have suburbs – most main roads have grocery stores and stationery shops that people can walk to from their homes, and bakeries and restaurants are nearby.

I also quickly learned that nearly everyone owns a car, and public transportation ranges from adequate to nonexistent. Williamsburg has good transportation because of the college, but for my first three weeks, I had to walk everywhere because the campus bus wasn’t running. At home, I owned a moped or took the bus. I don’t like driving, and after a year in Williamsburg, I still don’t own a car, but I’m not sure how I can be without one once I graduate.

The surprises continued – while buying a cell phone, I learned that incoming calls aren’t free! The patient man at the store had a hard time explaining that this was a common system in most countries.

I felt like it was one disaster after another at first. But it wasn’t all downhill there.

I soon noticed how relaxed I was while taking a bus or calling a cab late at night. Nobody leered at me when I walked by, and I didn’t fear being pinched, pawed at or followed when I got on the bus. I lived in a safe, working-class neighborhood in Bangalore and never experienced anything unpleasant, but even growing up in the relatively safe Mysore, I always had to be careful. Every woman I knew had been harassed at least once on the streets.

I love that I can drink water straight from the tap. Clean drinking water is a luxury in India. I always drank filtered water in Mysore, and I bought drinking water in Bangalore.

I love that most Americans are experimental and adventurous when it comes to food and trying out different cuisines. Before coming to the U.S., I’d only eaten Indian, Italian and Indianized Chinese food. I spent time in New York this summer and enjoyed eating out and trying various cuisines.

In my time here, I’ve learned a lot and grown from each experience – even the not-so-great ones during  my first few days. Most Americans are, much to my pleasant surprise, very accepting and open, and making friends was easy.

I learned that studying abroad and spending time among people different from me only gives me an advantage in the hyper-connected world we live in.

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Ashlynn Arias

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