Terrifying Experience After Landing in US Changed My Life for Good

Raghuram Sukumar Student Stories 27 Comments

SS has posted the following experience in the comments section of this blog post After Arrival in U.S.

Landing in the US, now that I look back, it was a terrifying experience for me actually.

In retrospect, I think I should be proud.

There was no senior to pick me up.

I got my own taxi. I had found an apartment through craigslist. The next morning I woke up and walked to the university byasking random people for directions.

Man, first month. I was scared out of my wits. The first thing I bought in the US was a $1.10 mini bottle of Coca Cola. American coins don’t have their value clearly shown on the face like Indian coins and there was some confusion as I tried to count the $1.10.

It was so hot and I was walking back after having found the university, which turned out to be a good 3 miles from my apartment.

Yes this meant walking 6 miles a day for the first one month. And I didn’t know a single soul in the whole city.

I am a stubborn ass :)

The experience made me a new person. I didn’t call home for a whole month after I reached (only emailed).

I was incredibly lonely. But, I managed to become infatuated with the one person I met, a 60+ Indian American lady.

It was an unconventional choice but I pursued my first “love interest” ardently. Like most Indian geeks, I had not known love before I came here. In retrospect again, it was sheer madness.

Five years later, things have improved a lot.

I got my PhD. I have been all over the world now and now I am never scared to find my way in foreign countries. It all comes naturally to me now. I can now chat up people of any nationality and speak a whole bunch of languages.

But man oh man! I was scared shitless the first day.

It’s embarrassing to admit in retrospect, but walking back the first day in the heat, I saw “Made in India” on one of those gutter lids on the pavement and actually began to cry.

Oh and please do not depend on the International Office people to help you.

Maybe it was just my university, but the International Office people were the most ill behaved people I have ever met.

As years passed, I realized that going to the International Office would actually depress me, because I had to deal with the scowling folk over there who treat international students like we are living on their personal charity.

You will get accustomed to the new scenery, the strange birds, the strange sounds (like church bells).

Enjoy the process and learn from it.

The immigrant experience is something different, something no non immigrant can ever relate to. This is why I would personally recommend that in pursuing any potential love interest, give major preference to fellow immigrants (not necessarily from India), but immigrants nevertheless.

A native born American, no matter even if he/she is ethnically Indian, will never see America the way you do.


It’s always good to see such experiences. Thanks to SS for sharing his thoughts.

Relate d: My First 70 Days in USA


    1. Varun,

      Experiences differ and so do opinions. It was awesome of SS to open up and share his feelings to rest of us. Kudos to you, SS. I guess iam pretty much lucky to have a family to take care of me here. Reading HSB gives me a whole new perspective about the experiences of Indian students here. Thanks HSB !!!

  1. Wats written about International Students Office is not appropriate. It can be possible for some university but not for all. US universities are responsible and they help International Students a lot may be because International Students pay more than the residents.

  2. I don't think immigrant experience is something very different than non-immigrant one….. Non-immigrants face more hardships. Immigrants have all the facilities and privileges like the other citizens or residents whereas the non immigrants have no such thing. Both equally feel homesick. Both equally new. But non immigrants suffer more than immigrants.

  3. It really is an inspiring life experience…dazzling and terrifying..!!

  4. A really nice article, well written and most likely to help candidates going to US for the first time

  5. thanks for sharing ur experience with us 🙂

    It would be helpful in future 4 us

  6. Excellent! Thanks HSB for this post.. Please give us more of these experiences…

  7. Hello sir,

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.

    I guess I get a bit afraid when I think of all such things happening to me in my initial days.But still as you said it would be a great experience and I am looking forward to experience all this new stuff which we Indian students are unaware off.

    thanks again :).. keep up the good work and we would love to hear some more from you !

    1. You are right…it absolutely sounds funny and silly. I was just 20 years old at that time and US started like a rude shock for me… having gone to one of India's top schools and proceeding to one of the world's most famous univs for my phd, I had always been treated as special… However, in the US, no one is treated special and people dont give a damn about you if you are poor…and that is what grad students are.

      You think what I wrote above is funny? Wait until you hear how I made a big fool of myself trying to put a letter into the letterbox, or didn't know that I should keep the shower curtain inside while bathing… and this one is my favourite…I got together all the spices I could find and cooked Indian food for a week but it always tasted bland and weird…until I realised that I had not used salt 🙂

      1. Ahhhh hehehe The best 1…. "salt"… ;)…. haha . I guess now,why my mother keeps on forcing me to learn to cook atleast basic vegetables and daal… ;).

        It helps a great deal … i can say now.. coz dere it must be tough to get some Indian food.?

      2. SS , your post gives a whole new dimwnsion to what people think about the universities. It scares the hell out of me thinking of it and at the same time it familiarizes you new things and hardships you may have to face. And i seriously hope i dont forget to add salt 🙂

  8. W0w! I had never thought my comment would stir so much interest on HSB. I was just 20 then and quite intimidated by things. Anyway, I would call it an overwhleming experience rather than a terrifying one. Be prepared for a few surprises and embrace and appreciate what is different about the US. It taught me a few things about India too, giving me an external frame of reference.

    My advice…depend only on yourself. Don't get into the group mentality, dont hitch rides from people you know or take help from other people. America makes you into a stronger individual.

  9. Thank you very much for sharing your experinence.It has prepared me to make up my mind to encounter difficulties while heading for US

  10. hi ,

    thanks for sharing ur experience with us…..infact this helps us to prepare ourselves for any kind of circumstances we might face there….

  11. yes i will thank for ur experience i will be mentally prepared for this type of incidents

  12. Hello SS,

    It was really a beautiful experience and thats what u can learn from USA.

    "Being individual" its not possible here in India.Many external factors affect our strength.But there we can surely improve our thinking if determined to live life .

  13. learnt something new from this.,,, otherwise everyone else tell only the brighter side no one is redy to share their problem …..

  14. SS has posted a nice experience and it shows the non-bright side of education in US. It does exist and is true. However, you can avoid some of his bad experiences.

    Considering that SS is working now and did his PhD here, it is understandable that the situation back then was quite different from what it is now. Now, with the help of internet, you can avoid lots of problems that SS faced. Eg- SS found and booked an apartment through Craigslist and realized that it is 3 miles (5km) from campus. To avoid that, use applications like Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Mapquest etc. and search for an apartment close to campus. Do not trust the advertiser on Craigslist! He might say that it is 5-min walk to campus, but it might really be 30-min. He just wants to get his apartment sold/rented. In wake of the scams through Craigslist, it is actually recommended not to 'book' an apartment and arrange for payment while in India without personally seeing it. Even Craigslist website carries a disclaimer and advises not to do so.

    Before you finalize a university, see whether you like it or not. If you did not do your university research before applying, followed a list sent by seniors/friends and received multiple I-20s, ponder over the university choices now! University campuses can be small/large, urban/sub-urban/town. If you have spent your entire life in a city, are you willing to move to a campus which is in the countryside? SS found it quite hot in his first few months in the US. Check the climatic conditions in the city/town that you are headed to. Does that suit you? Not all of America is snow and winter all the time – rather, it is the opposite! Do your little bit of research on the city/town you are going. Wikipedia articles are sufficient for general information.

    Most universities these days have Indian/International Students Associations. Search for their webpages online. Read information provided by other groups also (eg- Iranian Students Association) – most information will supplement your knowledge about your university. You should also read about information by other groups from universities in the same city as your university – they might have a different story to tell about student life. These university groups have a presence on social networking sites – Facebook, Orkut, Twitter. Join them and read the updates and information provided (However, don't beg for information from every member of that group; it is annoying to the current students).

    What SS experienced about International Students' Office is a particular case and should not be generalized. The people who work in these offices consider themselves as counselors and are usually helpful in nature. I visit my international students office just to have a random chat with the people who work there. SS, unfortunately, had a bad experience.

    I am dating an American girl (ethnically white, US citizen) and we both love each other! We don't let our ethnic differences come as a hindrance in our relationship. We ensure not to boast about our own cultures. Nothing is more annoying than a person ranting about his country and his life there, unless the other person is genuinely interested. So don't bore her by telling her about your rich culture and heritage and how things are different there. Don't curtail your love by limiting yourselves to only 'immigrants'. Although it may sound cliche, love just happens, like it happened to me 🙂

    Be well-educated and aware about what you are venturing into. Things have become simpler due to the power of the internet. Put it to good use. You have already taken the first correct step by visiting HSB.

    1. Andy,

      I just want to clarify that when I mean the "immigrant experience" with regards to dating, I didnt mean to say that I wanted to talk on and on about our "rich culture and heritage" and incidentally, I dont agree that our country has a rich heritage, if we did, India would be the superpower and not America.

      What I meant to say is that all immigrants, of all origins, Indian, Israeli, European, Russian or otherwise, share the common experience of being transplanted from their countries of origin. It's a sense that we share. I have been with native born Americans and at some level, there is always a disconnect; since native born Americans cannot fully appreciate the multi-cornered perspective that comes with immigration.

      For instance, I happen to be very political and American women don't understand why I get worked up about American politics since I am not American. They also do not understand why I get worked up about Indian politics since I dont live in India.

      It's true you can't plan for love; but I think my significant other, who happens to be Israeli, just like other immigrant women I have known, understands the way I think, even though Israel is so different from India. Americans can never appreciate this.

      And fortunately, a majority of Israelis agree with my politics 🙂

  15. @SS , amazing experience. Thanks for sharing. Ya now you can find it hilarious but it sure was scary when you went through it. Thanks to your article many students including me have been encourged further to face anythin. Such articles should be posted frequently.

    Once again awesome article 🙂

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