I emigrated from India at thirteen, for the same reasons the thirty three million immigrants come to America: opportunity, freedom and success. Traveling to America was very exciting– but I never realized the culture shock that awaited me until I experienced it. The movies and the media’s portrayal of America as the beautiful, attractive and fun-filled country raised my excitement and I always regard America as the undisputed greatest country on Earth.
Although the process of coming to America takes endurance, we were not discouraged from following our dreams. My brother, mother and I traveled together to America. It was an excitement-filled experience to travel on an airplane, the very first time I had ever been on one, for twenty hours. The gargantuan Atlanta Airport with its long escalators and the perpetual flights left me speechless. The Airport in India, when compared to the Atlanta Airport, was congested and overcrowded for the size of the population. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to leave India to my new home.
Right before our departure to America, we were asked to participate in a Farewell Ceremony where many of my friends and relatives greeted us with their last goodbyes. A farewell cake, that said, “Happy Bon Voyage” was cut. This gesture touched my heart. By contrast to the grand impersonal Atlanta airport, the Airport in India was filled with my cousins, uncles, aunts, teachers, neighbors, and friends. Departing from India was a bitter-sweet experience, leaving behind the little world I’d always belonged to and the family I loved.
As the long flight came to a close, sleep prevented me from watching those first precious moments of landing into my long-awaited dreamland. Later, I realized that India is around eleven hours ahead of American time and I was undergoing a strange bodily change called “Jet lag”- a total change in my sleeping time. When we finally reached America, I first visited Wal-Mart. This visit gave me a paradigm shift in my understanding about the superstores. India also has huge malls and department stores, but they are only in the reach of the rich. Here the Wal-Mart caters to the needs of the common man.
The greatest culture shock of all came on my first day of school. I attended a public school.
The air-conditioning 24/7, the free meals and the free education were all part of my culture-shock. My school in India barely had fans to survive the heat, food was my expense, and I paid tuition fees every month. The sagging pants, unbuttoned tops and the pregnant students in school was the greatest shock of all. In most of the Indian schools, uniforms were too rigid with one common color and two different patterns: one for boys and one for girls, where the girls had to wear full-length skirts and the boys had to exclusively wear dress pants at or above the waist level. Exposure of body parts or even undergarments is strictly prohibited within the education community. Pregnancy in school is just intolerable and often times it is considered a sin. Coming from such a conservative background and experiencing an unexpected change in the learning environment was the greatest culture shock of all.
Although the school environment was shocking and often times very distractive, it did not stop me from leading a successful year. Although I was born in India; the American life and success stories attracts many people like me. Finally, I believe that “success doesn’t come to you; you go to it,” and made the right option to travel to America- the land where dreams become realities.
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