The first time I ever took a flight was when I left India to come to the US. This was the beginning of many firsts for me. First paycheck, first credit card, first time using a can opener, and the first time I felt like an adult. I started my life in the US almost 15 years ago in a suburb of Philadelphia and since then I have lived in the East Coast, West Coast, and now in the Mid-West area called the “Third Coast”. The most consistent experience I have had here is meeting amazing people: truly awesome, inspiring people.
Like my Masters advisor. He had an ongoing bike race with my co-advisor to see who clocked more miles on their bikes over the summer. It was on their respective websites and they were competitive about it too! He had a party at his home and invited my labmate, a really sweet Chinese girl, and me. On the dinner table, amongst a variety of delicious looking dishes, I was pleasantly surprised to see Chana masala, made at home by my advisor and his wife. He proudly shared that he went to the Indian store and picked up “MDH Chana masala powder,” which the store guy recommended highly.
I piled the chana on my plate and proceeded to stuff my face with it. The pungent masala burnt my tongue as I could feel the cinnamon and cloves hit my nostrils and tears started welling up in my eyes. I tried my best to hide that it was way too spicy for me. I smiled and said, “Wow, thanks so much for making this!” They looked happy and started eating. Soon I could see my advisors white skin go red, and beads of sweat started trickling down his balding head. “Wow, I gotta say, I can take only about a teaspoonful of that powder, I think”, he said wiping away the sweat. “Yes, that would be the right amount,” I said and hoped it would be construed as being helpful. “What!”, said my advisor’s wife, “ I dumped the whole box in, like a jar of spaghetti sauce!” Everyone laughed out loud. It was my first dinner with an American family and it was a blast.
I moved to Los Angeles after my Masters for my PhD program. I met so many wonderful people in LA and that includes my husband! In my first semester in grad school I didn’t have a car, which made getting around anywhere beyond a one mile radius not only difficult but also dangerous sometimes. My lab was close to Taco Bell and this was bad news for my wardrobe. I mapped out a public transport route to Santa Monica Promenade, one of my favorite places in LA, to buy a new (read bigger) pair of jeans. The route was going to take 1.5 hours each way with no room for error.
A Korean-American girl who I shared TA office hours with saw me print out the route, laughed and said, “I will drive you there in 20 minutes.” It was a super fun shopping trip which ended with her getting her ears pierced on an impulse. We celebrated over pizza and have been great friends since then. I had my first Thanksgiving dinner with her family, was a bridesmaid at her wedding, she flew to India to my wedding, and we had both our kids a few months apart. She was my first non-Indian friend and she still is one of my dearest friends.
Three more cities, a job, a wedding, and two babies later, I continue to meet interesting, smart, and genuinely nice Americans who have made me feel at home here: a neighbor who invited us to a pie party on Pi day so we can meet everyone in the neighborhood, a mom at my daughter’s daycare who reached out to ask how my daughter was settling into her new class, a colleague who brought his pickup truck and helped me move a couch when I mentioned about it in passing, and many more such gestures of friendship and kindness. This is not even counting all the wonderful fellow immigrants from all over the world including India who have been like my family. My experience in the USA can be summed up in a Dr. Seuss line:
From there to here, from here to there, fun people are everywhere! – adapted from One Fish Two Fish