The first few times I was asked “How’re you doing,” I would stop in my tracks, feel pleased about how interested in my life this kind person was, take a few seconds to gather my thoughts, start a monologue about my health and happiness and promptly come to a halt when I saw the other person walking away. First lesson America taught me: “How’re you doing” just means “Hi.”
Thankfully, the other lessons were more easily learnt. Being a graduate student in Ann Arbor really takes the shock out of ‘culture shock.’ People are friendly, the infrastructure is great, and years of watching reruns of American sitcoms on Indian TV have made understanding the American accent easier. Sometimes, it feels a bigger surprise that transitioning has been as straightforward.
I spent more of my undergraduate student career being socially awkward and often a little out of place in my circle of acquaintances. However, it appears that birds of a feather flock to graduate programs together–it has been a pleasant discovery that my colleagues in my program are more like me than most people I knew during undergrad. They have quickly become friends, confidantes, and Harry Potter movie marathon-buddies. On the other hand, we share the quirks of our own cultures (though parents across the world are the SAME), complain about the governments of our countries, and find that we are always learning from each other.
Living in another country, however, has changed my life in certain ways to which I am still getting accustomed. Night is never quite ‘night’ to me anymore; it’s when a large part of my world wakes up and becomes available to reach out to. ‘Home’ is now more a concept than a place. When you return once a year, the place you call home has changed in ways that don’t match your memories of it. It’s a strange sort of limbo, one that I suspect may not be restricted to international students alone. It is two things that make me acutely aware of my living in a new country: when I sing an Indian song and no-one around me completes it, and on the eve of an important cricket match about which the whole of Indißa is excited.
But problems have solutions. And that’s why my unassuming roommate is slowly being converted into a cricket fan. His Bollywood music education is next.