What I remember is that I was coming here for graduate school, and my plane was incredibly late, so there were people who were supposed to be picking me up at the airport but didn’t show up. I arrived in Cedar Rapids at 2 in the morning and had to go to Iowa City, which was some 20 or 30 miles away. And you know… nothing is exactly functioning at 2 or 3 in the morning [laughs]. So, I was very fortunate to find people being very friendly – some guy over there, who happened to be going to Iowa City, helped me figure out how we would get there, helped me find a room for the night. Actually, we shared a room and he wouldn’t let me pay for it – which was very good because I didn’t have very much cash on me.
And the morning basically [involved] going through to the university and going to the international student office, who [noise from recorder] had set up a temporary accommodation for me, and walking around the university and meeting other foreign students and getting an orientation tour. That’s pretty much it. That was my first day.
One of the things which struck me repeatedly in my first days over there was how foreign American English sounded. You know, I had been brought up speaking English and did not expect to have any language problem at all, but the colloquialisms often baffled me. Something as simple as – what we now take completely for granted – but a question like, “How ya doing?” [Laughs] Then, to think to myself, “How am I doing what?” [Laughs] The idea that that was just asking about how are things going, in general, or the French equivalent of, “Comment allez-vous,” or the Spanish… what is the Spanish?
Interviewer: “¿Cómo está?”
Yeah, “¿Cómo está?” You know, that there was an American equivalent of that, which you don’t really have in [Indian] English, that was just one of many such colloquialisms which tended to take me aback, make me pause, make me think about what it was they were meaning – things which one now very much takes for granted.
There were four other students, all of whom were starting in the graduate at the same time. So we were all new, nobody had met any of the others before, so we were all sort of thrown together. There was myself, three Americans, and a Japanese girl. And I have to say that the people who were already there – the three Americans – they were just incredibly helpful. You know, you come from India… I had come with two suitcases. One had clothes and shoes and things like that, and one had books. And of course, you’re going to be living in an apartment, you have to acquire all sorts of things, [and] I had no transport. These people, classmates of mine, they drove me around [and] showed me which stores to go to, where you could buy things without spending an arm and a leg, because I had very little money. So, I have to say that I found people incredibly helpful and very generous in those first days. And some of those people are people who became close friends and whom I’m still in touch with, after many, many years.