We’re Not In India Anymore

I had never withdrawn money before coming to America.

That is neither representative of a typical twenty-year-old in India nor does it mean I was a brat demanding money from my parents whenever I needed it. It just means I came from a cash economy where I didn’t need a card, and that my dad never trusted me with a debit card anyway.

It doesn’t stop there. Learning to live in America has given me a lot of firsts. The third world and first world problem tropes feel very warped in my head.

Think about it. If I were living in India right now, chances are I’d still have the comforts of house help for cleaning the dishes, mopping the floors, and perhaps even preparing all three meals for each day. My only concern in life would be my job. Sounds comfortable, right? The catch is that I’d be living with my parents and/or living off of my parents. So I would never know what part of that comfortable life was my own doing and what life skills I was capable off.

Life in America? I work, cook, do my own groceries, clean, maintain friendships here and relationships back home. There is no house help because who can afford that anyway? I recently also made my own furniture because apparently, that’s what life is like here, and basically live a fully-functioning life at the cost of extreme exhaustion. I have to stay on top of my game to make sure I don’t starve to death the day I come home from work late and there’s nothing in the fridge ready to eat or to cook. I also figured out the tax paperwork of a whole new country and filed it on my own for two years in running. It’s a lot of work. A lot of my time of day is gone not investing in my work and in furthering my career, which makes me question how productive you can be here. Where did the first-world luxury go? And if I do have a semblance of first-world luxury, then what does it enable me to do?

My mom laughs every time she hears about how I keep up with life here.

20180704_213830[1]

The 4th of July fireworks remind me of home and Diwali.

The reason I bring up all of this is because I’m starting to feel like the excuse that I didn’t grow up here is getting old. It doesn’t work anymore. It’s still a 100 percent true and still 100% explains a 100% of why I don’t have the same experiential education like most people do my age. Like when I was supposed to pack up my desk belongings in a cardboard box because my office was moving to a new space and I felt like I didn’t know how to do it because I didn’t grow up here. It felt completely dumb to think that because I just had to tape the cardboard into a box, but never having done it before and never having seen my parents pack things to move in a cardboard box to move before (not in my conscious memory), I felt like this was not something I knew and it wouldn’t be something I would have to deal with if I was still in India. Why I feel dumb about using the growing up explanation here is because I should know it, right? Or everyone has to learn it or do it at some point. So I should stop using that explanation as an excuse for everything.

And that’s when I realized. A lot of experiences in my adult life are happening for the first time now and it just happens to be in America. It would be done differently, sure. But I’m still growing up… Can I still say that when I’m 24? Well, let’s say, I’m still experiencing new things.

On that note, I’ve also come to the realization that it may also be that India is also doing things differently from how I’ve known it to be. Because my knowledge of India is now three years out of date and I have no way to keep evolving it unless I go back to live there for a good, long period again. So my knowledge of India is embedded in nostalgia. And that’s soon going to be too old to be functional. *Gulp*

Moving to another country has both, short-term and long-term consequences. I’ve seen the short term stuff. But I’ve always seen India as a given constant of my life. I guess this is the beginning of the long-term consequences and part one of the realization that I’m not in India anymore.

 

Advertisements

Tourist-ing With a Tourist

The fact that I haven’t been to many iconic spots in New York City doesn’t strike me as odd as much as it does to my friends. Perhaps because everyone who moves to New York generally covers them all in the first couple days for the Facebook and Instagram likes. My friend asked me how to get to the Statue of Liberty and I still don’t know.

But I covered one spot last weekend. My friend was visiting and of course he wanted to see everything iconic. And this time, I was surprisingly enthusiastic about it. Why? Because going to the Top of the Rock was actually exciting and it was my birthday and it’s okay to do these one-off things.

The verdict? It was TOTALLY worth it.

20181110_190807[1]

See what I mean?

We decided to go here instead of the Empire State Building because we wanted to *see* it along with other things. And while we didn’t get to see Central Park because it gets so dark by 5pm, it is visible from there, not from Empire State. So Top of the Rock wins. It’s also cheaper.

After going here, I was also open to watching a Broadway show. Those are so expensive but what the hell, right? Also, I now know that you have to book a tour to the Statue of Liberty ahead of time and you can’t just show up like I prefer to. I hate waiting in lines.

While I didn’t end up going to a Broadway show, I did book myself a visit to the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. It’s got an exhibition going on: “Harry Potter: A History of Magic. Perks of living in this city. Can’t wait! I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

p.s Now that I’m actually open to touristy stuff, maybe you could write to me asking if I’ve checked out the things you’ve been eyeing, and maybe I would have. If I haven’t, maybe I would actually be open to it, and I’ll report back to you. Try me.

 

One of who?

In America, my first instinct was to blend in. That seemed easy.

Life in Delhi is very diverse economically, religiously, linguistically, and you can insert endless criteria here. When you grow up with the background I did, life is quite cosmopolitan. An English-medium school to teach me impeccable English, parents to keep me grounded in all things Hindi (movies, music) and “Indian” (culture, etiquette) and friends to show me the “western” world I can access with English (music, sitcoms) and more. With this cosmopolitan upbringing, came this sense of pride that I can fit in anywhere I go, naive as that perception I might have been. But it holds true, at least on the surface of things.

I got to America and I counted on this cosmopolitan, international component to help me blend in. I was one of them.

There were little things that gave me away, like when I said “thrice.” And admittedly, I felt flushed every time words gave me away. It wasn’t about being American, it was just about being similar.

But then I saw my other non-American peers being so completely different, making fun of America and being comfortable with it. I felt surprised, not just at their attitude but also at my reaction that was amazed and impressed that there was a space to do that. As I got closer to my British and Australian friends, I realized how we were a little more similar, and I also felt more comfortable in standing out. I was not like one of them and it was ok. I didn’t have to be. This gave way to a stronger understanding. I wasn’t one of the British and Australian folks either.

I was my own person. And I felt very comfortable with it.

Time passed and with that sense of comfort, I realized I wasn’t looking around and really noticing the company I had. In most rooms, I was the only Indian girl. Race is a whole different conversation to be had, but with me, I brought a completely new set of references, culture, problems, opportunities, perspectives. Everyone talked about being a 90’s kid, but when they were referring to singing along Madonna and TLC, I thought about dancing to all the songs of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Dil Toh Pagal Hai. I wasn’t able to establish kinship with anyone based on what I know and where I came from. Perhaps, that’s why conversations and coming across as one of them was important so bridging the gaps became more of a joyous activity than hard work.

Maybe all my woke friends will feel differently and slightly judge me for this but as a twenty year old coming to America, I really didn’t think I was very different and it didn’t matter too much that I was around a very American, pre-dominantly white circle of friends for the longest time. Today, I feel differently. I still value each and every friend I have made along the way, but having Indian friends around means so much.

I recently celebrated Diwali with Indian friends and I felt like I was with a family. I wasn’t explaining what we do in India, we were all together celebrating the day that we all knew was important. I have celebrated four Diwalis here and this one was the first with Indian friends and the best I’ve had.

aviary-image-1541653847902

My friends really went the extra mile

Every day, I value being around Indian friends more. I don’t know why I didn’t seek more out earlier. All is not lost yet, I’m glad I came around.

You’re In New York! Watch the Live Shows

Yesterday, I was watching “Friends” for the umpteenth time and Chandler says, “You know, we don’t take enough advantage of living in the city.” I feel that’s right. A friend, who was visiting from India, asked me how to get to the Statue of Liberty and I had no idea. I have never been to Top of the Rock of the Empire State Building. You might think it’s weird, he definitely thought it was weird. But for people who live here, that sounds about right. It’s not like I don’t want to or that I actively avoid it, I just haven’t found a good time to do this stuff. I’m just not a tourist.

But this year I tried to change that. I like listening to live music and going for concerts. Being in the city gives me a unique opportunity to literally see anyone I want to. From Beyonce to lesser known artists who haven’t yet toured out of the country to John Doe, who the world is not ready for just yet, everyone is here. And I just don’t do enough.

I went to watch Novo Amor for a secret show (thanks, Spotify) at Rockwood Music Hall. It was also his first ever show in the U.S. He is brilliant and the atmosphere he created with his music was perfect. I recommend that you go if he’s ever performing in your area.

IMG_20180817_125317_999

Novo Amor at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York, New York

 

Then I may not have seen Beyonce perform but I did go to watch Ed Sheeran for a very public show with thousands of people at the Metlife Stadium. I knew very few songs by him, which was a surprise because his music is everywhere. I knew some stuff but I was pretty behind everyone else who was singing along almost every song. But it was a good show.

20180921_210033

Ed Sheeran at the Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

I’ll go for another show by Mitski in the coming month at another venue. It’s exciting.

I also really enjoy standup comedy. I’ve been to shows before but I went to my biggest every recently. I watched Hasan Minhaj at the Carnegie Hall in New York City right before he wrapped up his tour and launched his show ‘The Patriot Act.’ He is so, so good! And the cherry on top is how I don’t have to work to relate to his experiences because as a brown man, his experiences and his culture are like mine. So for once, a show in the west, is talking about things I know and a culture I grew up with. It was pretty awesome. My friend sneaked a pic after he was done with his act and saying his thanks.

IMG-20181018-WA0041

Hasan Minhaj at Carnegie Hall in New York, New York

Since I moved, I have been incredibly responsible about finances. I have this awful habit of guilt tripping myself for wanting to spend the money I don’t have on recreational activities. How dare I, right? So I did’t.

But a friend keeps telling me to go for broadway shows (you know who you are) and I keep saying I’ll do it when I have money and maybe when I’m stable in life. But then he got really annoyed one day, and he did this very smart thing of showing me the incredible amount of restrictions that lie in my future life, “When you grow old, you will have back and knee problems or have a husband to take care of or children to raise. Then where will you travel? What will you do? You won’t have a life of your own.” I’ve never stopped thinking about it. I think that’s scared me enough to calm me down and have a little fun.

So I may not have covered all the touristy spots in the city but I have started doing what matter, little by little. Taking advantage of the city, in the ways I can.

I Went To Texas Twice

Texas was that part of America where, in my head, things could not get more stereotypically American. This year, I went to the state twice! Once to Houston and then to Austin. Boy, was I right!

First, the food portions are huge. I couldn’t finish it in one meal. Mind you, I’ve been in my stress eating phase and I can take on some big meals but I ate, and then some, and even so, there was food left for a second meal. Exhibit one: A chicken fajita at a restaurant in Houston.

20180809_210824

From left: The big plate of chicken, the rice next to it, the beans next to the rice, the tortillas that you can’t see because my phone can only capture so much in the frame are all mine. I didn’t know what I was asking for. And it didn’t cost an arm and a limb.

This entire spread cost me under $20 and I’m pretty positive it was under $15. I am gawking because in New York, I would one, never get this much food and two, if I did, I would have to pay at least $25. This is when I came up with a rule of thumb for Texas: Only order things under $10 if you want to finish it in one go.

Another thing, the Mexican food here is stupendous! They call it Tex-Mex. When Chipotle introduced Queso on its menu, I tried it and it was awful. But Texas has Queso that is to die for. I kid you not. I have also never had Tortillas so warm, fresh and soft before.

IMG_20180915_164139_600[1]

Torchy’s wasn’t kidding about how good their queso is.

A special mention to the Horchata I had there.

20180916_1251241.jpg

I would go back for the Horchata I had in Austin

If you’re in Austin, you should also go to Voodoo donuts. They have really fun options and they’re really good!

20180916_134807[1]

Americans don’t lose an opportunity to flaunt their flag wherever there is space. Even if it is a 500-watt lit up installation in a donut shop, where it probably doesn’t make sense.

Other than food, I also saw men in cowboy hats in Austin. I didn’t think people would actually go around doing that, but they do. One of my Uber drivers was wearing a cowboy hat. A passenger who shared my Uber was wearing that. No big deal.

They’re also very Texas proud. So the local radio plays obscure country music, which I couldn’t get myself to like. The Marriott Marquis hotel in Houston has a Texas shaped lazy river.

Except for the rare people who give you a stink eye as they walk by or stand next to you in a line, as it happened at Voodoo donuts, people are generally nice, surprisingly nice. They have a ring to their voice when they say thank you. When I came to America first, I was struck by how people asked you how you are. I thought that was nice. But I guess that’s also formal, when you compare it to Texans who seem to mean it instead of just saying it.

They are weird about women, though. Right next to the Voodoo donuts place, where there are many young and old families coming in, there is a place called ‘Bikini Bar’. And right at the entrance, there were waitresses standing in their underwear with menus. The whole place was completely open, no doors, no walls. Just open windows. Inside, there were all these men sitting yelling at the TV screens watching some match and drinking on that Sunday noon, while the other waitresses fetched them drinks in their underwear. It was really weird. Other places have this too but this was very jarring and so, it stood out.

20180916_143447[1]

No brownie points for what the “view” was supposed to be

American football is a big deal in all of America. But apparently, it’s not just professional teams. People also really, really care about college football. If you’re thinking it’s just students, you’re wrong. While I was visiting, the hotel prices were shooting up the roof because my visit coincided with the college football match game. The University of Texas was playing against University of Southern California. Apparently, people from all over the country who were either currently studying at USC or were alumni of either colleges were coming for this game. I’ve never really seen a whole city painted orange before. Orange is the colour of Austin’s team, The Longhorns.

In India, people would think it’s *just* college and not a big deal. Gosh, let the kids live and play. But it’s broadcasted on national television. I don’t understand why but it is really important for people, it seems. In fact, on my ride back to the airport, I pooled an Uber with these two men who were pretty bummed that USC lost. I like sports but not enough to make a trip to just watch a team play, let alone a college team. So, I think people really care about college football.

While making my way around the city, I saw these crowds of people everywhere just heading in the same direction from miles and miles away. If there was a cluster of people somewhere that was not moving, they were still wearing orange jerseys and blasting music so loud because it was what they called “a tailgate”. A tailgate is a special word for people drinking before a game. I think it specifically applies to football games because drinking before any other event is usually called “pre-game.” It got the name because people often just park their truck-type cars with people and drinks loaded in the truck part of it and then just drink up until the game starts.

All of this is so weird but so much fun. It’s quite a sight. I’m glad I went to Texas. On to the next state.

 

 

People change, accents change

This week, I came across a clip of Satya Nadella talking. It’s not the content of the clip but his speech that led me to write this post. If you don’t know him, he is the CEO of Microsoft. He was born and raised in India, then went to America for higher studies. You know, basically my story except I’m not the CEO of anything (yet) and I’m also not an engineer (very important).

The reason I dwelled on this clip was because I heard him talk and I thought to myself, “He sounds British. Was he raised there or did he live there for a long time or something?” I had not heard that or read that anywhere in all of the coverage on him when he took the helm at Microsoft. So I googled it and sure enough, nothing about England came up. I wondered for a second before the reason dawned upon me. Of course he sounds British to me now.

This is exactly the response I got from people when I first came to America, “Are you British?” or “You sound British, not Indian.” And I used to silently judge the people who said this to me because they were so unaware of how Indians could sound. I judged them for being so caught up in stereotypical portrayals of the Indian accent, like Apu from The Simpsons. I rolled my eyes when something different from that stereotypical accent immediately sounded British to them. And yet, I found myself doing the same thing.

15397965776491489249518

Satya Nadella

What does this say about me now? I felt ashamed of even trying to come up with an excuse. Because how could I forget? Not just about the different ways in which Indians talk but also about my own experience. How could I not connect the dots immediately?

To be honest, I am still not over it. Self-accusation is hard.

Anyway, here’s the thing. I live around Americans who sound a certain way. The other accents I hear around me frequently are British and Australian or very Delhi-Indian. Then I see different types people of Indian-origin around me. They have American or British accents as well. I am attuned to that. My Indian friends almost become outliers in a sense. They’re people I talk to once a week, perhaps. I fell victim to the dichotomy of accents. American or British. Every other accent is an outlier, and exception. (I know, I know, I’m terrible for saying this. How could I? Still trying to get over it.)

I’m susceptible to accents. Satya Nadella is not. Clearly. But I remember one particular time when I had to call countless sources living in places that are not regularly exposed to different accents. I didn’t have time to make them understand what I was saying because I was on deadline. I also remembered being hung up on because the 311 operator didn’t understand what I was saying. I couldn’t allow that. So I put on an accent. Many times, I left voice messages and two of them, when returned, asked for “Katy” and “Judy”.  But perhaps that’s where the more solidifying change began.

When I went to India to visit last year after a period of over two years, I don’t know why it matters to me so much, but I decided I will make a conscious effort to talk without an American accent. I was sure I would slip in the Indian accent anyway, but just as a conscious measure, I wanted to make sure I sounded like nothing changed. Ten minutes into reaching home, I sat down with my parents and two relatives, whose visited coincided my arrival. One of them was quick to point out that my accent had changed completely. And I responded saying there was no way, especially now that I was paying attention to how I was talking. I looked to my dad to back me up on this, especially given how I talk to my parents every week. And he didn’t even look at me once and told them, “she won’t realize it now, but give it a bit more time and the change will be even more starkly present.” To this day, I don’t think I was talking in an accent in that moment, but it was still striking to me. I guess it matters because it is such an important indicator for where I am “originally from”. To my parents, it shouldn’t look like I went too far away or forgot where I am from.

Accents are indicators of where you’re from, where you’ve been, if you’re susceptible to sounds and accents around you, if you’re nicely etched in your roots. “Where are you from” has become a difficult question. I’ll always be originally from India but what are you asking me? Where do I live? Where was I born? The city that is home? The city I now call home? Which city do I home? I haven’t answered that for myself. Or maybe I don’t want to. Maybe I’m afraid to. Who knows. Right now, I my accent indicates I have lived in America long enough. But I slip into that tendency to switch. Make me talk to an Indian friend and it’ll sound like I never left.

But accents are also an indicator of the fact that you assimilated. And I am not apologetic about that. I didn’t desperately work on, but it happened. It’s not assimilation bit I think about. It’s what someone asked me, “Once you go American, can you ever fully go back?”

To use the phrase that many “experts” use and journalists hate it when they use it: it remains to be seen.

Why do people go Apple Picking?

It was two years ago when I first saw a friend’s Instagram story of his girlfriend juggling apples in an orchard. They were visiting upstate New York to pick apples. I had never seen that before so I didn’t care much for it until it started popping up a bunch on my feed and everyone in the universe was going to pick apples. And that was not what it is called. They say they’re going “apple picking”.

Now, in this advanced age, where technology delivers things to your door and so many people don’t even get out of the house to see the sunlight — and then die because their bones snap — why would people go to orchards to pick apples? There are markets for buying these things. If you want to get fancier, there are farmer markets in New York, once or twice a week with fresh produce. You get the point. I think this is one of those things people would call “bougie”. Even if they don’t, I will.

But here’s the thing. I’m here and if I don’t see everything that Americans do, am I really partaking in the culture? So yes, I went Apple Picking.

20181007_161549

And yes, these apples were green but it’s an orchard so there were several kinds.

But God is in details. If you really look at the picture, you’ll see I have an apple in my other hand, which is half eaten.

So when I say I went apple picking, I mean I rode the train upstate with some friends, picked two apples and ate them both. I also took pictures of my friends picking apples.

20181007_161458

She is an Aussie so she was fake apple-picking like me. But I did a better job at looking like I mean business.

But it’s not as boring as it sounds. If it doesn’t sound boring to you, then you should know that it sounded boring to me when I first came across the concept.

The orchard we went to had a Fall festival going on. So I ate corn, enjoyed the harvest festival, played apple cannon, took pictures of a lot of orange pumpkins (very American) and tried different things like pumpkin cheesecake and jalapeño jam. My friends picked apples for real and collected them in a bag to take home. It was a huge sack. It would take me 365 days to finish that bag.

20181007_140140

20181007_143639

I have videos of my friends doing the apple cannon game but this little guy learnt in front us and he was killing it. Also nobody took my picture when I took a shot so bummer.

What did I learn? I definitely think it’s a bougie activity. If you’re not a regular fruit eater or an apple enthusiast, you should just land upstate and then do all the things I did. I think I got the whole experience of apple picking without the headache of not knowing what to do with a whole bag of apples to worry about it at home. And I wasn’t alone. While the Americans in our party split the apples between themselves, my Australian friends and I were happy not have a part in that. So it’s definitely an American activity and I’m not alone in not understanding why it makes sense.

But it was fun. Especially when you think you’re gonna be alone and bored in an orchard but you land in a festival so there’s more things to do and it works out. We definitely spent 3/4th of our time at the festival and maybe 30 minutes at the orchard. So it worked out!

Where Have I Been?

I’m still in New York but I’ve been extremely busy. Some of you may know that I work as a journalist in the city and I produce podcasts for a living. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to use that skill to produce something I was passionate about. So, in January this year I started working on an independent podcast project.

The idea was simple. There is a lot of conversation happening in America around race, community and identity but there’s not much depth to the perceptions and conversations around the Indian American community. We’re either the cab drivers or 7/11 workers with thick funny accents or the highly educated and highly paid professionals in the Silicon Valley. None of that applies to me in its entirety and I was sure that I was not alone. So, I joined forces with another journalist friend, Vishakha Darha, and decided to tell the story of the Indian diaspora in America.

You’ve been reading my blog about how culture and life goes in America for an Indian woman, now listen to this podcast that will show you the larger story of Indians and Indian-Americans in this country.  I’d love to hear some feedback so drop it in the comments below. And if you like it, please share it with friends and family. Our community’s story needs to be heard!

//html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/6883394/height/360/width/640/theme/legacy/autonext/no/thumbnail/yes/autoplay/no/preload/no/no_addthis/no/direction/backward/

Paris is Always a Good Idea

Seems like finding a decent place to live and a reliable way to communicate is getting harder in all international, big cities. Moving abroad is hard and the reasons to get scared are a million. Tanya Ghosh is an expat in Paris, France. She studied at Science Po and then started working there. Whenever things got tough, she would go to La Tour Eiffel at the stroke of the hour and the La Dame de Fer never failed to inspire her to fight another day. This is her account of life in the city.

I never planned on Paris. I didn’t know anyone in France and I barely remembered any of the French I had learnt in middle school. I simply wanted to go to a university to study a subject I had started falling in love with and learn as much as I could. I chose to have a simple goal and deal with everything that came along with it.

Paris problems

Very often, that involved learning when to leave your pride at the door and wear your patience as an armour.

I learnt how to speak a completely new language by forcing myself to communicate in French whenever I was lost on the streets. I learnt the art of infinite patience when dealing with the French administration- the country is yet to discover the art of email. EVERYTHING comes by post, which means there is continual paperwork and everything is up to the almighty ‘La Poste’ – from receiving your bank account number to communicating with the prefecture (the French district office) about immigration papers.

If all else failed, you could always complain with your loudest voice and create a scene. The French respect rude behaviour, but only if one is rude in French.

Finding good housing in Paris is hard and you need to be sharp about it. Rent is often astronomical, even for box studios which aren’t the most accessible by public transport. Many landlords ask for a French guarantor who can guarantee rent payment or demand 2-3 months of rent as security deposit, which is just as hard for a foreign student.

My craziest stories about Parisians are from my apartment hunting days. I was searching for a new apartment through the French version of Craigslist called Le Bon Coin. I came across an entire universe of people who wanted to find ‘companions’ for themselves. In other words, they ask you for sex in exchange for a place to live. I respected those ads which outright demanded that exchange and you would know what you were getting into if you decided to respond to those ads. But I came across several people, including young women with seemingly legit ads that sneakily asked for a ‘private relationship’ once you expressed an interest in checking out their apartment. My advice to anyone moving to France: look for an apartment only when you know you can vet both the apartment and the person renting it out to you. It helped immensely that I was looking for an apartment while I was already in the city. I could inspect the apartments before making a commitment and spoke decent French to make sure there were no misunderstandings.

 

Paris building

Typical Hausmannian buildings in Paris (I lived in the attic room of a building like this)
Source: http://xpertexture.fr/haussmannian-building-17/

 

I was lucky, I found a great apartment that I loved, and more miraculously, a landlady who spoke English. You must know that my ‘great apartment’ was a 12×12 m room with a shared toilet with another 10 people on the 7th floor of a building with no elevator. But it was incredibly well located, and I can now brag that I lived in a typical Parisian Hausmannian building in one of the most elite districts of the city.

There was always the constant struggle of living my life in my fourth language, finding out how to navigate simple administrative tasks in a foreign country and simultaneously trying to live your best life. But the view of La Seine still wins me over and yes, Paris is always a good idea.

Losing Potential

Recently, I spoke to an immigrant from Brazil. He had a lot to say about moving and working in America. This bit touched a nerve and stuck with me:

“My first six months in this country were the worst six months in my entire career. I felt like a fraud. It feels like nobody wants you to succeed. They want to prove that just because you had success in other places, it doesn’t mean you will have success here. There is a pride here that America is a different game altogether. The way you talk and explain your ideas matters a lot. Unless we as an industry understand how to be more welcoming to foreigners, we will always lose six months to a year of their potential. The American market is so used to having people with good English and ready to work that they are not used to having to make a little effort to understand what people are trying to say. I tried to explain things in the first six months that people weren’t willing to try to understand. Partly, I couldn’t communicate [perfectly], but they didn’t listen, either.”

I have been in America for long enough to have been through the same and seen others go through the same. When I came here, I worked how I knew best but I understood long after, that in ways I had lost six months to a year of my potential while at school, trying to understand what works in America. I’m glad I had school to figure it all out, but it still makes me sad. My English was good to work, yet there was a lot I didn’t know and understand.

One of my professors probably didn’t appreciate me as a student in the class because I never asked for a meeting and I never updated about my assignments until they were done and submitted. The problem was that we were never expected to do that in India. We only always submitted assignments and that was the end of it. The fact that a different work relationship was expected of me was never communicated to me, and when I understood it, it was a bit late.

Another professor sat me down and explained to me why things I found astounding about people and society in this country were not uncommon at all. What I considered to be a “finding” wasn’t going to raise any eyebrows. What should and shouldn’t surprise me, where I should and shouldn’t waste my time asking questions was something that took me time to understand.

I can’t talk enough about the culture of networking here that remains a huge puzzle for me. The whole idea of meeting some stranger over coffee so that they would know of your existence and probably give you a job in the near future or some time down the lane sounded callous. The idea that I needed contacts in a newsroom and that my application was not good enough to stand on its own was something that I found humiliating because the Indian culture taught me it meant I was incompetent. I had to unlearn that and replace it with another lesson about America. The process of networking is based on an understanding that hiring someone through a recommendation or personal acquaintance means the new hire is more likely to be reliable and an asset to the team. It’s better than taking a chance on someone completely new, who nobody knows and you only guessed they’re good by interviewing them and looking at the work they curated for you.

The biggest hurdle is the visa issue. A lot of places which are right for you and which you’re right for won’t have you because of the paperwork you come with. Not going into why, how and the complexities, the bottom line is it is a setback. You may think you’re making real and concrete progress at work and in your career but you may be asked to look for a new job because of your visa status or you may be deprived of certain jobs because of it. It’s like starting from scratch every single time.

While I’m having a great time in this country and I’m happy it’s worked out, there have been big compromises. It’s also true that I felt like I had lost my step professionally. At times, I also felt like maybe I was wrong and I didn’t have what it takes to be a journalist. “You can’t do this here,” is something I heard many times.  Maybe it’s also a New York thing but it’s true that America prides itself on being a different game altogether.

Honestly, it is.

What helps is going to school to soften the damage of the fall. It helps to talk to people. Don’t always go to them for work. If you’re anything like me, it’ll feel bad and you won’t get anything from it. The cold emails would feel weird but you’ll be surprised how open people are to listening how you’re doing at school, what projects you’re working on, the questions you’re struggling with. If you’re not at school, they would love to know about you, give you any advice or tips that they’ve found to be useful. If you think certain set of people can’t help you or understand where you’re coming from, then find the people who can. It might be a smaller set, but you know who to look at when you do.

Will it prevent you from losing that time to show potential? I don’t know. There are only ways I can imagine that I could have done differently. Maybe that’s the key. I’d like to be optimistic.