My name is Somasundaram Ilangovan.

"So, after I landed, I was supposed to be received by a friend of mine, but he didn't show up. So, I called him and he said, he was in a party. It was a Sunday."

Tiruchirappalli, India

Chicago, Illinois



Cary, North Carolina



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

My arrival was itself a big story [laughs]. Those days, we were allowed to have $8 and I checked and they said from Chicago O'Hare Airport to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston [Illinois], it will be $3.50 for the taxi. But it was a long journey for me from Trichy. I come from a village in Tamil Nadu near Trichy, Tiruchirappalli. From there I took a flight to Madras from there, Madras to Bombay, Bombay to Tel Aviv, [Israel]. In Tel Aviv, I had a terrible experience, the army came on board and examined every passenger from head to toe, including the shoes, socks, everything. And then from Tel Aviv to Rome. I stayed there all night, then from Rome to London and London to Chicago. The ticket was bought in Pan Am [airline] by the hospital, which I paid back afterwards. But in Rome, I had a good time they allowed nice hotel and all that, and there was a nice tour for $3.50. I took that then next day, I was in a shock. When I came to the airport in Rome. They said I had to pay $3 tax and there was no choice, then I paid it. So from my journey from London to Chicago, there was a nice lady next to me. She was talking all about Professor Annamalai in University of Chicago, Southeast Asian Studies, Tamil Professor.

So after I landed, I was supposed to be received by a friend of mine, but he didn't show up. So I called him and he said, he was in a party. It was a Sunday. He said, take a cab and come here and I will pay. I was afraid to go by myself in Chicago, especially, you know, all the things I heard about Chicago was not good. So then I called the hospital President, Sister Alfreda a very nice lady, very kind to me. And she said, take a cab and come here. Your room is all-ready - I could have asked her for the cab and she would have paid gladly, you know, but the pride, you know, did not allow me, you know, so then I went to have a telephone booth. I had $1.50 that is six quarters. I can make one call per quarter. So the first call, I found out the name of Professor Annamalai and called him. He was very kind and he said he will call his friend Mr. Balasubramanian, who was the President of Chicago Tamil Sangam, he will call you, He called me and said “I don't have a car. I'll get my friend and come and get you.” So Mr. Ganesan, had a car and they came and they looked for me all over. I didn't know O’Hare was that big with two stories. And it's like a city by itself. I was in the basement with a telephone booth. So they finally found me and took me home and took care of me. So my life started very nicely. Thank you [laughs].

My first day was fantastic. I went to the hospital, St. Francis Hospital, very nice in Evanston. And then when I went there, like an intern, you know, in India, we used to call the nurses sisters. Right? So, when I come here, I call everybody sister. Then I saw some nuns who are being called sister and the other people, they were called Mary, Nancy like that. Then it took me like a half an hour to realize, you know, and then I started calling Mary, Nancy and all that. But for one week, they all hugged me and say, “How are you brother?” I became very popular. I was the most popular intern at that time. There were people from all over - from Iran, from Thailand, from Philippines, India, Pakistan and all that. It was nice. It was strange, but I got used to it.

My story is strange. I never had any idea to come to United States. My friend, very good, good friend of mine, he made me apply for the ECFMG examination. And we could not take it in India. We had to go to Colombo [Sri Lanka] to take the exam. And then I had two friends you know my one of my teachers and one of my seniors who came ahead of me. And they said don't go to England, come to the United States if you want to study further. And they recommended St. Francis Hospital in Evanston. So that's how I applied like only like three or four hospitals, one in New York and a couple of them in Chicago and another one someplace else. I got admission in all of them, but I chose St. Francis Hospital in Chicago. My uncle who really was nice to me all along he was my hero when he told me, “Be careful in Chicago, everybody walks with a gun there.” [laughs]. But I didn't see anything like that, because it’s a very nice place to live and I had a wonderful time for 35 years.