My name is Sai Karuna Samudrala.
INTERVIEWED BY Nikhil Jammalamadaka x 10

Hyderabad, India

Des Moines, Iowa



What made you immigrate to the United States?
My husband, Sudhir, and I married in the summer of 2007, and we both came to the United States together. Before this, I had a demanding career, an active social network, and a busy life in Hyderabad, India. Immigrating to the States meant a complete life reboot, but I have never regretted moving!

Who met you when you arrived, and what did you do that first day?
I distinctly remember the evening I landed in Des Moines, IA, on June 1, 2007, after an extremely long and tiring journey on my first overseas flight. I flew with Northwest Airlines (which merged with Delta in 2010) as it was the only airline operating out of Hyderabad with a stopover in Amsterdam. One funny instance I remember from that evening is how I misjudged the time of the day from the brightly lit sky, only to realize it was way past 8:00 P.M.! I know it wasn’t a massive deal in hindsight, but it felt particularly surreal for someone who was used to night skies at that time.

Some of my husband’s friends picked us up from the airport and drove us to our apartment. They got us a simple takeout dinner and helped us settle into my new home. I clearly remember that the following day was Saturday, and we were invited to lunch by one of Sudhir's friends (and relative). Our drive to their place was my first–ever drive on U.S. roads, and I soaked in every sight along the way. Everything was so different that I felt I was reliving a page from my favorite novel. This memory is still as fresh and crisp as the bright sunny day.

What were some memorable experiences you had as you were settling down in the first few months – both positive and negative?
Honestly, I loved every moment of my first days of settling here. We lived in a modest 2-bedroom apartment overlooking a tennis court. Before my arrival, my wonderful husband had thought through every detail about the house and ensured I had everything I needed.

As I recall, we had a straightforward routine. Sudhir would leave early for work so he could also return early. After he left, I would learn cooking, watch television, or even browse mindlessly for hours - a welcome break from my previous busy life in Hyderabad. Sudhir would join me for lunch almost every afternoon, and we would watch a TV show. He would leave for work again, only to return a few hours later. Our evenings involved watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond or King of Queens, which we still love to catch up on when we find time. I was living the life of a relaxed homemaker, and I loved every moment!

We also traveled extensively in the first few months. We covered most major American cities within the first year – from Las Vegas, NV, to Orlando, FL. I fondly remember the Orlando trip, as it was my birthday surprise.

One negative experience I recall is when my purse was stolen. We were shopping at Walmart for groceries, and I had just stepped away from the cart when someone grabbed it and ran away. It took us a moment to realize that my purse and phone were in the cart that had been stolen. Sudhir ventured out to find and catch the thief in the dark, which stressed me out. Unfortunately, we never found the guy or the phone! Thankfully, it wasn't a smartphone, so replacing it wasn’t that disruptive.

Looking back on your initial days, what advice would you give to new immigrants arriving in the United States today?
First, don't leave your belongings in the cart unattended when shopping. Jokes aside, one needs to exercise the same care one typically exercises in the busy cities in India. The stores and streets in the U.S. may feel less crowded and less risky, but you need to take the usual precautions.

Second, the best way to learn about American culture is by watching Food Network, period! Nothing gets you introduced to American life like the food does. I gathered so much about this new culture and lifestyle by learning my way around their kitchen. There is something about the food that brings people together.

Finally, especially if you like reading, find a public library near you. Chances are, a library is only a hop and skip away; best of all, it is usually free. Libraries are also one of the best places to make new friends.