Sometimes, years pass faster than days. And weeks pass faster than hours. I can describe exactly what I did in the past one hour, but when someone asks me to do the same for the past week, I am at a loss.
It’s been almost a month since I landed in New York City – the Big Apple, the City that never sleeps, the greatest city on earth where dreams come true. And I still miss India. When you leave your native country, you are not just leaving the geographical place, you are leaving behind the people that you have ever encountered there, every single place that you have visited that has your physical and vocal footprint and the sense of familiarity and belongingness. I wanted to shed some light on the major rite of passages that one would go through while entering a new land.
I want this to be the beginning of a series of articles to follow that describes the glamorous as well as not-so-glamorous parts of living the life of a graduate student.
Disclaimer: My views might be biased towards living in a big city and this particular article might not talk in depth about grad life (as classes began just yesterday).
- Socializing: You enter the event, grab a drink (read: non-alcoholic, for me), go stand next to strangers, wait for them to invite you in (which they will), introduce yourself and your department, and hope that the conversation continues for at least a minimum of 5 minutes.
Repeat this all over again.
I remember having done this more than a dozen times now in at least 5 events that happened, in 2 weeks. For an introvert such as me, this is a very daunting exercise. Being in a room filled with people is a fear in itself, and approaching strangers adds the cherry on top. However, I have noticed this: The beginnings are hard, you never know whom to approach. But if you look at the situation 30 minutes into the beginning, the atmosphere would have changed. Almost everyone would be having a good time – they would have either found their own friends or found people who they could connect with.
Overall, I loved doing it. Even though the conversations are superficial, it teaches you something. Disclaimer: Ending it is always scary.
- Diversity: There is only so much I can say here: seeing it cannot be paramount to saying it. When I take a walk down the streets (and there is SO much of walking involved here), I see people at least from 5 different countries within a stretch of one street. After a point, you do get used to it, but the excitement of talking to them never goes away, at least not yet.
One of my professor is Swedish, the other is Half-Morocco + Half-Greece, and one more is Indian-American. So, when they talk, you can sense the difference in accent and behaviour.
- Quality of teaching: I had a taste of the quality of teaching through the orientation classes. We have a Professional Development and Leadership course – simply mind-blowing. When you are in a classroom, you are supposed to feel alive. You are supposed to feel inspired. You should learn new things every minute. And these classes did exactly that. I hope I feel the same once the official courses begin.
P.S. The profs here come for drinks with the students.
- Independence and Freedom: Coming from a conservative south-Indian family, and having lived in a city such as Trichy for 4 years, freedom comes with some disclaimers. Roll-calls. Curfew. Restrictions on where you can go, who you can go with. The list goes on.
However, when you’re living thousands of miles away from home, all on your own, the freedom and independence is unparalleled. Often, people misinterpret freedom to mean ‘you-have-no-boundaries’. In my opinion, as you let someone become more independent, they become more responsible and less outrageous. I go for walks at 11 PM here along the riverside. Nothing can beat that feeling, ever.
- Schedule gone wrong: I already feel the pressure of time-management starting to burden me. When I landed on August 14th, I had a to-do list neatly written down on a tissue paper (couldn’t find normal paper on plane). And now, that tissue is stuck on my room wall, a memory of how it was when I had things go according to schedule.
The first week was a mess – I made plans every day, but something new sprung up and I had to make sacrifices. Time is a luxury here: You can only make sacrifices, you can’t make time. I feel now it has become better – but it’s only uphill from here.
- Learning on the go:
- You will find restaurants of every cuisine on the world in this city: It is an established fact that if you eat at a new restaurant in New York City every day, you can eat without repetition for the next 65 years.
- Fitness freaks everywhere: America is considered to be a country rife with obesity (2/3rd of adult population are obese and more than 1/3rd of people aged 20 and older are considered obese). However, at least in New York, I see people taking fitness very seriously.
- You meet the most unexpected of people with the most interesting stories at times – it could be in the metro (subway), in a restaurant or at a clothes shop (I met at all three places). People here like to live life to the fullest. They are not bound by cultural norms or superstitious barriers. At least most.
- Entering a grocery store is like entering a maze – a maze filled with a dozen varieties of the same product. And of course, coming from India, you find everything to be outrageously priced, and do a quick optimization of cost vs calories.
- Culture shock: Finally, the big one. This is something that every single of you will face, even those who transition from a very open-minded niche in India.
The biggest advantage that you can reap by studying in the US is to learn to mingle with people from other cultures. I still find it very hard, and am learning every day, piece by piece. My most favourite memory so far has been taking a walk with my friends late at night to the Hudson River, sitting on the rocks and listening to the water gently lull against the brightly lit landscape.
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