My name is Rajal Kusumgar.
INTERVIEWED BY Alex Terpstra x 4

"So, the family and they wanted to take me to Niagara Falls, which was like I was in heaven."

Ahmedabad, India

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania





What do you remember from your first few days in the United States when you arrived?

Well, when I arrived, I, obviously I was only like 20 years old, when I came, and one of my friends, friends’ family, came to pick me up at JFK. And my first impression was looking at the airport, how huge it was, how organized it was, how clean it was, you know, compared to coming from India, where, in those days, everything was not so huge and humongous, right. So, and, and then from New York, we drove to Philadelphia, that's the people whose family who came to pick me up, they lived in Philadelphia. So, we drove and going on the highway, looking at so many cars, it was like culture shock, you know, looking at these huge trucks, which we have trucks in India, but not anything like here. You know, we have people power coming in picking up garbage in India coming here. I see those huge garbage trucks and heard about it, but I've never seen it. So, all those things were very, very surprising. Very amusing at the same time, you know. So those were my first impressions.

The next question is what made you immigrate to the United States?

I first came to a place called Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. And there was a Wilkes college. And that's where I got my admission, and I was on a full scholarship. So that's where I came first, and then I was fairly homesick, because there were no Indians around. I probably was the only, except one other, I was the only second Indian student. And there was an issue with the food, communication, language. So, it was hard. The first few months were very hard. So, I stayed there for eight months.

And then I transferred to Youngstown State University in Ohio, where one of my friends uncle was there, and I visited him and I talked to the Dean of Admission. And, and also stipend for, for as a working as a lab assistant. So, so, financially, it was easier for me to move. And I moved there. And then it was a lot of fun. Because it was a big university, lots of students, and it was not like a private college, it was fun, and I learned a lot.

What did you do on like, the first day that you arrived in the US? I know you talked, you said you drove to Philadelphia, did you do anything else on the first day when you arrived?

No, not the first day. But the first week, we started to travel to Niagara Falls, because the school was not starting for another two weeks. So, the family and they wanted to take me to Niagara Falls, which was like I was in heaven. I had heard about Niagara Falls. And a lot of people said they “Oh, they were there. But you know, we're not able to go.” And I'm here in my first week. I'm going to Niagara Falls so a lot of my friends were jealous that I was so lucky to be able to go to Niagara Falls so early in my, in my coming to US. So, it was fun, and then the following week I, I was suppose, my friends that I stayed with. They were supposed to drop me off to Wilkes College. But there was a car accident, and so I had to take a bus and I go to school. And the surprising thing was that I had to carry my own luggage. I came with a suitcase from India. And in India, you never carry anything you always have like help right household help and so but here I had to carry from bus station. I took a taxi and went to the school because I had, I had to go to the admissions office. And it turned out that I had to go and see a Dean of Science, which was on the third floor. And I had to carry my, my suitcase and my luggage and I still vividly remember like it was yesterday. So, and then my real challenging life began because I was on my own. I stayed with a bigger school because I was in graduate stage with the American lady, she was renting rooms. And I stayed in a room and I had had such a wonderful experience. So, I stayed as a paying guest. And that lady was so good. She, she was so worried about me, and that's where, you know, these are here and about the culture. But the similarity is, you know, how parents worry about children in India. It's the same thing here. Parents are as concerned about it, and this lady who was she knew that I came from India, and I was fairly new, and I was young. She literally acted like my mom.

It wasn’t easy to talk to people in India. So usually you communicated through, through letters. And she found out the address of my father, my, my parents, and she wrote him a letter without my knowledge. Saying that your daughter is fine, she lives with me, but I'm worried she's not, she's not eating much, and she cries a lot, because I was homesick. And later on, when my father wrote me, I found out that she was so worried about me that she wrote a letter to my parents. So, so people are people are nice everywhere. If you're nice, other people are nice too, you know that that's what I always believed in.

Yeah, so that's kind of a good way to lead into the next question. Um, what were some of the biggest cultural differences and similarities you noticed between the United States and India during your first like few days?

The similarity I told you, right, yeah, major cultural differences, the food. The differences are the food, the language, the television shows, right. I mean, I really didn't have that much exposure in the first few days to figure out what the cultural differences are. But those were the, those were the things I mean, I had to learn the American ways. I first, in my first month, my roommate at this lady's house that I was a paying guest. There was an American girl who was renting another room on the on the next room, and it was Thanksgiving coming. So, she invited me to go to her house. I stayed, I stayed with her for four days. I had been to a church, which I had never been to a church before. And I learned their family style, you know, their, you know, how the family lived together. And then that same fun, went to a went to a football game, which was also new for me. I never been to a football, American football. So, I didn't find too many cultural differences in the sense that I didn't have that much of an exposure. But I found a lot of similarities, you know, families were very tight. They were very friendly with each other. The parent took care of the children, and the openness I would say the main cultural difference was the kids in the America the way they talk to their parents. But it was different than what I would talk to my parents, I think that was one of the difference.

Did you face any like challenges or barriers in your first days in the US or?

Ahh, study was hard, that was that was the biggest challenge and the food. Other than that, I would say people were very nice. Everybody I met was very helpful. But not being, because I was strictly vegetarian when I came. I cooked it once and it, the whole house smelled for days. And so, I decided not to cook Indian food. So those were the those were the challenges, you know, understanding the teaching style, which is different than I was used to. But other than that, I mean, I can't think of any other challenges in those first few days. When I started working, it was a different story. With the first few days was relatively easy, I would say.

Okay, um, so next question is, did you have any presumptions about American culture that were challenged during your first days in the US?

Not really, but not like you can see the American or the American shows or there was no television. So, I really had no big conception or misconception about, about the US. So, I no, I would say, it wasn't a real surprise, because I came with an open mind. I was very excited to come. And because I had heard a lot about the education and how good it is and how advanced the country is. So, I was excited about it, so, I didn't have any other negative notions about coming to US.

So, the final question for today is what advice would you give to other newly arrived immigrants in the US?

Well, I would say that it's a lot easier for people coming in, versus when I came, or others came in the 60s and early 70s. And also, because people who come in, they are more versed in English because of the and they're more familiar with what goes on in the world with because of the globalization. So, I would say that they would have much easier time adjusting. come with an open mind, come with a lot of excitement and hope and work hard. I mean, if you work hard in this country, you always get the reward. So, you know, work hard, study hard, and play hard.