Student Stories

This is What Really Stole My Heart About America

Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t smile at strangers.

I grew up hearing these golden rules everywhere I went. And rightly so. We live in a country where self-preservation is our duty. And so, it was with no surprise that by the time I grew up enough to realize my dream of studying in the US, these rules became a part of me. ( More in USA Lifestyle )

Gigantic huge buildings that touched the sky… Lights that never went off.. People who never slept.. Oh yes! I had watched each episode of ‘Friends’ a 100 times. I knew Penny (from Big Bang Theory) better than I knew my classmates. The Hangover showed me the dazzle of the country that never slept.

Was I ready for it? I’ve always loved living in smaller towns more than in bigger cities.. But hell yeah! I was ready for this!!

And so even as thoroughly scared and jetlagged as I was, I was shocked out of it when I changed planes at New York for Cincinnati. The plane barely held 40 people. And I had to duck my modest 5 feet 2 inches to clamber onto my seat.

We flew over miles and miles of empty greenery. WHERE were my lights and buildings and and and….???

airplane farms view

Over the days, I realized that everything I had ever imagined or learnt about this beautiful country, I had to relearn.

Yes, the roads were spic and span. But there were no huge buildings towering over them. Those buildings stayed restricted to the biggest cities and the downtowns of the smaller ones. Even malls were single storied.

Yes, the people were free to express themselves through their tattoos, hair color, clothes…or anything else. But they were extremely friendly and very, very polite.

Everywhere I went, people held doors open for me. At bus stops strangers chatted with me about everything ranging from the weather to how I was adjusting. It took me quite some time to shed my inhibitions about strangers smiling at me. But I’ve always believed in adjusting to new places and looking for the best in them.

So in a few days, there I was, smiling back at people and chatting incessantly with anyone who wanted to. However, I never did leave my guard down. And I would advise the same to everyone else.

What took me by surprise the most was the sheer number of people who are extremely conservative here. This is not what any of the American sitcoms or movies had prepared me for. A huge chunk of people frowned upon live-in relationships.

A lot of them are deeply, deeply religious. A number of families (especially from the South) still believe girls need not go out and work, if their husbands are earning enough. Premarital sex is frowned upon. Being a single, unmarried mother is a huge, gigantic taboo. Homosexuals are fighting very, very hard to be accepted by society.

And here are all of our Politicians and religious leaders blaming ‘Western Culture’ for all of India’s problems. Irony!!

But what was it that really, really stole my heart about America?

It was how accommodating most people are. It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what your skin color is, what you wear or how you pronounce different words… you will be treated with respect here. (There are always exceptions, but then again, there are bad eggs in every community/country/religion).

They will make an effort to learn about you, your belief and your culture, without scorning or laughing about the 100+ gods you believe in (If you follow Hinduism). I was not judged for any of my beliefs or opinions. Even though I am a non-vegetarian, every time I went out with a new group of people, they always checked to see if I was vegetarian before ordering food.

I’m still learning every day. But what I’ve learnt the best here is to keep an open mind, and to not judge people. We all have our different opinions and beliefs shaped by our families and our environments. Last Diwali, a number of joggers stopped and told me I was looking beautiful in my kurta. She doesn’t judge me for wearing a kurta…I don’t judge her for jogging in hotpants.

smiling jogging

I must say, it is refreshing to not have to watch out for men trying to touch me while walking down the road. I learnt during my four years of college in India to avoid eye contact with men on the road, to look away irrespective of whether they leered or smiled and to always, always try and maintain as much distance as I could from them.

What took me the longest to adjust to here was that if I did not smile and talk to the people on the streets/ lines/ elevators irrespective of their gender, I was being awfully rude. There have been times when someone politely asked me if I wanted to have a cup of coffee. If I smiled and said I was in a hurry, they always, always stepped back and wished me a good day.

My professors have treated me as their colleague from day one. My ideas are given equal importance. I can argue with them if I disagree with any of their thoughts. My timings don’t output does.

Have I not met any people I disliked? I wish! That would be a dream, wouldn’t it? But there are so few of them, that I don’t let it affect me.

People in the US are, on average, far more honest and ethical than most Indians. In fact, I am often dismayed at how many Indian students take advantage of the system here.

A lot of things in the US run on trust and honesty.

I know Indian students who not only steal and cheat, but are pathetic enough to brag about it. From watching multiple movies after having paid only for one, using the same reusable coke glass that restaurants give for over a month.. to insurance fraud and even cheating on exams… it is extremely, extremely sickening.


My advice to prospective International students?

Come with an open mind.. and you will learn something new everyday! Remember you’ve come to a different country because you think the system back home is not as good. Don’t drag our country’s name down the drain by being dishonest here.

Next – 3 Phases of Life in USA Explained – Education, Job and Family

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  1. USA is a huge country and lot of exciting things are here. From a tourist point of view, we see many beautiful places here. Toilets are clean, hot water is available, they take care that floor is not slippery and lot of respect is given to you if you are a customer. Indian students should also enjoy American food, although not much is there for strict vegetarians but for those people who have no problem eating meat etc. america has great food. You can be a proud owner of very good cars-something which is not possible that early in your career in India. Branded clothes, shoes and electronics items, even kitchen ware of really good quality is available in USA at much cheaper price then in India. Customer service is very good here, you are welcomed and greeted in Banks in USA while we are literally treated like TRASH in banks in India.

  2. no never…ur opinion is not true over here..americans mind their own business only when there is no point in speaking and doing anything with others…but, at times of helping, they are really a great helpers unlike ediot indians, who think of only themselves and try to kill others, let it be an adult or a young one studying….i hate india…ediot rascals…indians…america is much more better than india in every respect…go to hell india…tututut

  3. Well I had a different experience maybe because I was a male.Unlike in India students don’t interact with each other in class.There are always groups of white american, Chinese, Korean who don’t talk with someone outside of their group.I feel the streets here are more dangerous than in India even though the cops are a call away.But many times it is Indians who have come to my help.Americans hold the door for you, smile back at you but mind their business most of the time.

  4. I some how developed an opinion tht you must be intelligent or studious after reading this post. May be it is because you have excellently articulated your feelings in this post. Guess what !! i immediately did 🙂 i have googled your name to see if i can find your linkedin profile :):)

  5. nice post !! now i think i need to reconsider my perceived image of usa, which has been developed after watching american sitcoms and several movies !!!

  6. Superliked!! :)One of my friends is South African(my batch-mate), and I could see almost everything you have said similar to my observation, the way he lives, speaks, and raises questions,how he adjusts himself, his views, ideas everything…even the way he dresses up..I learned a lot frm him. This my experience cum observation. 🙂 similar to this blog which is very well expressed.

  7. Tired of these “My journey in the US”, posts. Comparison about culture, people, attitudes etc. have been done to death. I am waiting for a more imaginative post.

  8. very very very true. anything contrary to what is being provided might happen, but the matter presented is genuine.

  9. I enjoyed this piece a great deal.

    Rajarshi Ray writes: “if i don’t give you anything to eat for three days then you will steal my bread.”

    Or as Anatole France expressed it:

    “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

  10. If you meet a few Germans and had a bad experience, would you say that Germans are bad or Europeans are bad? I wouldn’t hold on to either of those views. (no offense meant for Germans or Europeans)

    Stereotyping based on meeting/knowing 50% of the sample size is probably fine. But equating it to 1.2 billion people based on a few thousand people you know, makes no sense.

    This is exactly the reason why one feels much better in US, because people in US (i have come across) don’t seem to exhibit the outspoken stereotyping attitude, which is a welcome change for anyone (not everyone from India) who has always stereotyped and has been stereotyped based on region/language/culture/religion/caste.

    Best thing for me, was that I got to meet a Indians from a lot more different regions in India, than I did, before coming to US. (and yes, I had to let go of many stereotypes I had wrt Indians from different regions 🙂

  11. [ 1 ] I must say, it is refreshing to not have to watch out for men trying to touch me while walking down the road.

    how would you like to explain the following?

    According to United States Department of Justice document Criminal Victimization in the United States, there were overall 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005.

    disclaimer : do not think that i am trying to justify / undermine the loopholes of the indian legal system.

    [ 2 ] People in the US are, on average, far more honest and ethical than most Indians.

    you have engaged in meaningless bashing instead of constructive .self-criticism. once again, i am not justifying the misdeeds. but, ironically, and incidentally – you are sounding judgemental here. you should have delved deep and tried to find the root of the evil. it is essentially socio-economic. if i don’t give you anything to eat for three days then you will steal my bread. marks, educational system, shortage of opportunities etc play the catalytic role here.

    the author is suffering from “honeymoon syndrome”. hmm! am i…? no it’s not a judgement! it is my opinion and you have the right not to buy it!!!!!

    1. Not just rape.. there is a huge amount of gun violence in the US too. Much, much, much more than in India.

      However, to me, eve teasing and groping is not the same as rape. I have personally not been touched or eve teased even once here in the 2 years that I have lived alone. Whether it was at midnight or during the day. That doesn’t mean it cannot happen. Just that it hasn’t happened to me.

      There have been days in my childhood when there were still 10 days to go till the next salary came in and there was no money in the house. However, I was taught that irrespective of how bad the financial situation, I must never, ever use dishonest means for anything in life.

      1. There are two kinds of people, those who get to go to United States and those who don’t. both find each other as their enemies due to some obvious reasons. Those who can’t make it to America have some suppressed anger about those who make it to America! IT’S A FACT! U have every right to disagree, but it won’t change the reality.
        Now, actually both the categories have “EQUAL” amount of anger / outrage /frustration / sad feeling / remorse / depression / helplessness towards a lot of things about INDIA, however those who can make it to America when try to speak what they observe about India as compared to America, gets lambasted with severe flak of anger and outrage. (yes, many times the way they speak about India cannot be called polite). Actually this rage is not much about the patriotism but the frustration that they suffer from that they are not in the Melting Pot (America). Because going to America is definitely a game of luck, merit and money which not too many are able to gather.
        Now, America is a matured democracy, it is the oldest democracy with abundant natural resources at the disposal, is ahead in every sphere of life and has acquired the status of super power thanks to highly intellectual immigrant brains and very diverse and enriched culture. Those who come to America are always at their very best and try to be more perfect as that is what America demands. Americans are the largest middle class in the world which is made to be honest by the stringent American laws and strict policies. You can’t even imagine buying a pirated CD of any software, say AutoCAD or bribe a cop or download an illegal thing from the internet for FBI would be at your door step next moment. (in vast majority of cases folks! ) American lifestyle even though very comfortable needs you to take huge efforts to sustain and thrive. It’s a land of strugglers. In America as long as you are an honest, hardworking with struggling attitude and has some spark in you, you have sky is the limit (not even sky is the limit actually). You can do wonders in America, THAT’S the REAL attraction that beacons all ambitious people around the world to the melting pot.
        India on the other hand has tasted freedom just some 60 years ago, ours is an infant democracy. We suffer from over population, poverty, illiteracy, limited resources, territorial enemies (thanks to British, Gandhi-Nehru group for dividing India in just 60 days and creating a permanent bleeding wound called Pakistan!). we freed from British and fall in the hands of Indian corrupt rulers who over the years exploited national income stashed it into Swiss banks, grabbed lands, favored selected business families to prosper by making them friendly policies and leaving a common man to his own fate after squeezing out of him taxes but not developing the due essential infrastructure, institutions and the environment. We have unimaginable giant gaps of understanding between different classes of people, some highy educated and some still fighting for the very survival. Level of uniformity of understanding and needs fluctuates greatly. That’s why we call it a chaotic democracy. We are proud of india for her golden past but we cannot afford to be proud for whats going on after the independence. Honesty, ethical behavior, courtesy etc. all are relative terms. Indians who know they are being exploited, unjustified tend to behave which might interpret as dishonest-unethical-rude behavior from the distance(America), but there is no choice! Yes, it has huge drawback, we are by our unjust deeds cheating on our own motherland, just because our system is corrupt that doesn’t mean we should also do unethical things, right? Not for Indians, this the way of life! I must have some jack everywhere I need my works to be done. If I try to live honestly and ethically I will find it extremely difficult to survive. We give bribes, use our connections to get crucial govt. works done, copy each other’s assignments, steal thesis on the internet for PhDs in India, buy illegal CDs of software, bribe traffic cop and do so many other things which are perfectly fine in Indian environment. In fact its now a general psyche to see first if any work can be done illegally and quickly and if not ONLY then we go to do it legally & ethically. So “Chalta Hain” attitude has infested among Indians in the past 60 years. Now it’s a systemic disease for that India needs another revolution, but not everyone is that patient and optimist about all this, so they choose easier (virtually) way to prosper like going to an advanced country like America and enjoy fruits of their efforts instantly raise the standard of living which would have gone wasted in India, whats wrong with that???
        From Indian point of view, going to America or becoming an American is somehow assumed as an offence as not everybody is really that fortunate to go USA. We have general psyche to criticize Western culture till out saliva dries but to justify/oversight uncountable demerits our own culture / psyche /mentality gives birth to. We are unwilling to accept that our system is defective at first place, forget about rectifying it. We are taught in out childhood as India & Indian culture is the ONLY best of all other cultures in the world. Our patriotism lingers around Cricket, bollywood, Indo-Pak border issues, past achievements from Sages to Nobel laureates and fictitious-misleading so called IT revolution. So we automatically start to treat others peoples below us until we learn in our college years that we live in the third world country where there are very limited opportunities and limited growth prospects for the equal amount of efforts. Then we give GRE and go to US. But then we SEE the REAL difference between these two countries some people get vocal some like to remain silent, some try to change the system within. Those who haven’t visited America ever, somehow expect those who are in America to stay mum or not to opine about India and her overall culture because as they say “ignorance is bliss!” One justifiable reason is “if u opt to stay out of this mess, you lose the right to criticize India’s problems & issues which I feel perfectly okay”.
        One funny thing happens to those who go to USA for few years. Yes, they run from pillar to post for every work, they become self reliant, efficient, smart, learn so many new and exciting things, learn to live life at fullest on a fast lane. In America they get huge returns for their efforts. Their lifestyle matches with Americans and funnily they all of a sudden start expecting the same from India! Isn’t that funny? Indians can’t see the hardwork and efforts of Indians in America, and funnily Indian Americans totally forget about Indian style of approaching any problem which looks like a snail’s speed to them!! Indian Americans get frustrated and spit venom on India, its been happening since as early as 1970s!
        Yes America has its array of problems they are also of a grave concern but as I have already mentioned in HSB’s some article which suffered “All-India-Outrage”; that there is no comparison between India & America. But yes, India is STILL a third world country (and thanks to politicians its going down straight to hell) and America is the most advanced country!
        Those who experience life in America need to tone down their fierce critical opinions about India until they do not bring some constructive chance in the Indian society by any means, AND those who live in India need to come out of their imaginary world and face the reality which is not hunky dory! Cheers!

        1. The way you expressed about the differences between the two countries is really great!!! This comment should be made into a new post altogether.. Very informative and well expressed..
          If I may add on.. USA has got very bad medical system.. Without insurance.. either you die of the illness or even if the doctor treats, you’d die working hard to pay all those bills.. Not to mention the waiting time here.. Let it be a saloon, spa, doctor’s place… You gotto take off for the day..

    2. Pure bliss…. I had exactly opposite reactions…when I came there I was robbed, ill treated and discriminated against…. I came with open mind and I left ruined. author is a woman and EVERYONE would speak to a women but to a brown man it;s difficult.

  12. This would have been a good post if not for the prejudiced comment about cheating and stealing Indian students. Cheating and stealing is not Indian by any means and practiced by all of mankind everywhere sadly. To demean Indians for that is utter shortsightedness. You would do well (and this would be an awesome post) if you think/thought beyond borders and boundaries. Enjoy your life here! 🙂

    1. Hi Dinesh! Thank you for your insight.

      However, this is what I have written: In fact, I am often dismayed at how MANY Indian students take advantage of the system here.
      Please note, I have used the word ‘many’ and not ‘all’.

      Also, this post post in a personal insight into my experience. And unfortunately, I have come across too many of my fellow Indian students here who are dishonest.

      I’m sorry if I offended you. But the truth is that since I am a very proud Indian, it hurts me more to see Indians students take advantage of the system.. more than it would hurt me to see people from other nationalities.

      However, it was very heartening to read your comment about thinking beyond borders. We definitely need more people to think like you. Cheers!

  13. Look HSB this kinda posts we need… i feel sad and disheartened when i find your recent posts that do not have anything to do with the soul of this blog..!

  14. Beautiful post..
    I know exceptions are always there, there might be some racism, some hatred, but the way you explained it, I hope that hatred or racism won’t be present.
    And Yes people do take advantage of the system there, I hope they stop doing that soon and realize that the world is one and we should respect it that way!

  15. USA is a very diverse country and everyone tends to have different opinions based on their experience. But I agree wholeheartedly with your observations and I wish us Indians could pick some of the better traits from the westerns.

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