Diary of an International Student

By Soumya Rachel Shailendra '21

Understanding the enormity of the littleness that marks North America through an Indian student’s lens

Photographer: Alexander Thomas

Photographer: Alexander Thomas

It has exactly been 30 days, 4 weeks and 720 hours since I boarded a flight on the Indian soil to call this country my home. My journey is not an unfamiliar one to most Indians.  It is often undertaken by aspiring engineers, new brides and trapped artists. To my extended family, I was going to ‘the land of the free,’ a country which minted dreams in the spaghetti-like structures that touched the sky.  To my parents, I was simply dwelling in a land ripe with opportunities. However, to me, I was going to a country which was politically uninviting and racially threatening. On the twenty three-hour long journey, I continued to revisit the sweetest memories of the summer and questioned whether I would ever be able to call the U.S. my home.

Strangely enough, on arriving in a new country, it isn’t always the big things that surprise you; it is the small things. In the case of most North American countries, it is often the enormity of the small things that amuses me. My first attempt at engaging in American consumerism was when I tried buying myself breakfast at the airport. Unconsciously, my mind started converting each dollar to its equivalent rupee and soon I realized that I could not afford much. I settled on a muffin and a soda, and it was after three bites that I felt satiated. For a person who was used to seeing beggars on the streets before dinner time, it pierced me to waste extra food. It was here that I learnt my first lesson: ‘Portions in this country are huge, you need to monitor your consumption.’

My second lesson was not far away; it awaited me on the road. To me it appeared as an RTV, but to other Americans it was simply a car. Its structure was confused between that of a car and a bus. It would have been such a huge vehicle in India and could easily pack an extended family.

My third lesson in the U.S. came to me in the form of electricity and water. The conservation of water and electricity was necessary and important during my childhood. Our water and electricity supply was rationed.  It was only at specific times of the day that we received a continuous flow of water. It appaled me, seeing running taps and lamps that lay lit through the night in college dorms, while people in India brushed their teeth in darkness. Facilities here are eternal; rationing is not a necessity, but a choice.

The U.S. to me exists in the bigness of its smallness. I struggled to call it home on learning of the strangeness of each minute object. It was difficult to see running taps, while my family paid for each droplet of water they bought. It was hard throwing food into the bins, when 44% of children in my country are undernourished. I was uneasy seeing huge vehicles with just one passenger, when I travelled to school in a van with thirteen other children.

But even amongst all these paradoxes and differences, the U.S. gradually becomes home. It became home when I spotted the geese flying over the green Vermont mountains. It became home when my roommate invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her family. It became home when another brown student walked up to me and asked if I needed help.

It is true that the U.S. holds bigness in its smallness, but it is not only limited to goods, it also extends to the little acts of anonymous kindness.