What brought you to the United States?
I was married to my husband, who had immigrated to the United States.
What mode of transportation did you take and how was your trip?
I came by flight. The trip was good. It was my first ever flight in my life, so it was an exciting trip. I brought my most precious possessions, a violin and all my medical books. Since I was stepping out of India for the first time, I was fascinated by the glamour and size of the Frankfurt airport where I had to stop over for a few hours.
What were your first impressions of the country when you arrived?
It was really good. Well, I was in Atlanta for just one day, so I didn't see much of Atlanta. But then, since my husband was actually living in Savannah, we drove to Savannah the next day. That was my first long trip by car. We generally travelled by train in India. Savannah was a small town, and I was coming from a big city, so the most shocking thing to me was the absence of people around me when I went out. Being at home, just by myself locked in was the hardest thing for me to handle. That made me homesick for a while. I did not have any family or friends in this country other than my spouse. Within a few months I got adjusted to this lifestyle.
What were some learning experiences you had in your first few weeks here?
Quite a bit, actually. The people I encountered were extremely nice and friendly. They understood my situation and were very helpful. They knew I was here very fresh from India. The culture in India was quite the opposite to this country. We generally do not talk to strangers in India. I enjoyed the fact that people were so open and friendly to everyone. I used to go to a hospital library to study for my exams. Once I was a regular at the library, everyone knew me and they helped me out all the time. I was fascinated by the easy access to the books and current journals. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Savannah. I am not a materialistic person. All the shopping and glamour in the malls didn’t attract me.
What did you find was the biggest difference between America and Hyderabad?
Like I said, the lack of people around me was the most shocking thing for me. Culturally, it was completely different. I grew up in a conservative family. I did not stay in dorms for college. I lived at home and went to college and medical school. In this lifestyle, I was somewhat dependent on my family and friends for all my decisions. My life in this country was just the opposite. This society requires independence and self confidence. This experience in America gave me the ability to understand myself, my passions, strengths and weaknesses. I felt like I came to know myself only after coming to America.
And what did you find was the most difficult part of being an immigrant to America?
The most difficult aspect as soon as I landed in America, was to adjust to this new culture, and new atmosphere. That took a while for me since I was homesick for some time. Mine was an arranged marriage and I was here in America having only known my husband for only a few months. I did not have any family or friends in America. At the same time, I had to also study for my exams to apply for the residency programs in America. I think this was the most difficult time in my life. I completed my exams and was offered a residency position at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. After I started my new job here in Houston it was nothing but complimentary, because people were extremely nice to me. Those were the good old days. But when I look at divided America now, I feel that those days may never come back. But I do believe that this also will pass and things will get better.
Before coming to the States, did you have any expectations or preconceived notions? What were your expectations compared to life here? Did it meet your expectations?
In India, of course, I heard about America as some place you want to live. The fact that everyone can own a car and live in air conditioned luxurious houses was much talked about. Of course, that is real. There is a lot of freedom for personal and material growth. I think this has led to so much privacy, that it inhibits spontaneous social connections. One day, I was surprised to receive a Christmas card by mail from my own friendly neighbor who lives across the street. I think this is personal privacy gone too far. On the whole, I think it was a very positive experience for me.
After being here for so long, have you seen any similarities between India and America?
Yes, definitely. The great similarities are that both India and America are “salad bowls.” People came from all parts of the world into India historically over thousands of years, and the same thing is happening here, though in a much later period. Both are democratic countries. Though this reality is shocking to America right now, we have already experienced it in India.
What do you think was your favorite part of being an immigrant here and do you think that's changed over time?
My favorite part is that after coming to this country, I really got to know myself. In India, you're always surrounded by people and your interests are kind of subdued. So only after coming here, I recognized myself. What I like, what I don't like, what interests me, my passions, all those things came out only after coming to this country. I do have a lot of positive experiences in this country.
What advice would you give to yourself, looking back on it, as a new immigrant to this country, after many years here?
I don't know if I will change anything, This was a process that I had to go through. But now I tell myself that I should be more involved in the community, to let people know who we are. I have that desire to do it. The divisions in this country are out of ignorance. So I do think that getting involved and letting people know who we are is important. And it is important, not only for me, but also my children and the next generation, for everybody to feel one in this country.
And overall, are you happy that you came here?
Yeah, I think so. I'm happy that I came here. At the same time, I'm not broken away from India, because my family is still there. And with all this technology and everything, this world has become so small, so I don't feel that separation at all. I'm really happy that I came here and I'm able to contribute something to the society.