My name is Sona G.
INTERVIEWED BY Kamala Gururaja x 26

"It’s okay if you don't fit in, just be yourself and eventually it works out."


DEPARTED FROM
Mysore, India

ARRIVED IN
New York City, New York

YEAR
1994

AGE
21

NOW LIVES IN
Seattle, Washington

What brought you to the United States?

I came here to pursue my Master's.

What mode of transportation did you take and how was your trip?

I took a flight from New Delhi, India, and I don't remember where I stopped over actually, maybe somewhere in Europe.

Who, if anyone, met you when you arrived?

My mother met me. Though my brother was also here, so I don't remember who picked me up, I think maybe both.

What were your first impressions of the country?

It was a bit crazy because I arrived in New York City, and everything was very new to me, and it was a big city with a lot of people and a lot of skyscrapers, so it was quite a bit of a change.

What did you do on your first day?

I remember that the next morning I had to go to my master's program, because I was already late because my undergrad was delayed due to something that had happened in my college. So my first day, I think I just came, I ate and I slept because I had to wake up really early the next morning and get going.

In your first couple of weeks here, what were some learning experiences you had about the United States?

So a few things. One, it was really liberating for me to be able to go to college in modes of transportation I was not used to, like taking three subways to go to Columbia; it was really fun especially seeing the diverse set of people on the trains. My master's program was an eye-opening thing, because most of the people were working, and I was not. So even though most of my classes were really late in the evening, I didn't really have friends to hang out with initially because everyone was working, and I had just joined the program, and it was a new city for me. So it was hard to make friends, and I think that stayed for a while. But, I loved the variety of food (I'd also started getting into drinking coffee) and it was exciting to hang out and be independent in a big city like New York.

What was the biggest difference between America and India?

The program I was doing in computer science was definitely far more advanced than what I had been studying in India. I think India was a few years behind in terms of technology at that time, though right now, of course, everything's caught up. So it was a little bit of a learning curve initially to get to this level. The college atmosphere was also very different from my college atmosphere in India. It was very professional and very businesslike in Columbia versus in India, where it was a little bit more college-like. In terms of the big city atmosphere, I'd always been used to a big city, so I think that was okay, because I grew up in a big city so I loved that there were people all around me. Of course, the food was very different, but I loved the food, like the pizza and all the fun baked goods.

What was the most difficult aspect of being an immigrant?

It was hard because at least in the university, there were groups of immigrants who would group together and study and I could never penetrate that initially. It was hard because I was the outsider. So initially, when we were forming project groups and study groups, it was really hard for me and I would feel very alone. And that also stayed, especially in terms of the Asian communities, because they all stuck together to some extent within their communities, so that was hard. On the streets initially I never felt anything, but later on life, you feel it. Initially, maybe I was protected because I was staying at home. But the main difference was in college, I think it was hard to make friends and to be known.

What was your favorite part of being in America at that time, what struck you as the best part about life in America?

Definitely the education I was getting, it was really high-end. I really liked what I was doing; I was studying computer science, it was still a new field back then. My department head, now a Turing award winner, had authored “the book” on computer algorithms and I was learning from world renowned professors, a very inspiring setting indeed. Working in the city and being part of the upbeat diverse culture that there was at that time. Also, some of the newer sitcoms that had launched were so fun to be able to watch, like Seinfeld and such.

Compared to the perception of America, in India, what was life like--did it meet your expectations?

Early on, no, because it was lonely. I thought it would be friendlier, and I'd be able to make friends outside of my immediate community a little bit better. But once I had a job it became a lot easier and then it felt more normal. But in college, it felt rather lonely, maybe because it was a graduate program, it was very hard to make friends because people had their own groups of people that they hung out with. And I'm a very open and extroverted person, so for me, it was very difficult to not be able to have groups of people to interact with, or go out with, so even though I ended up making a few friends, it wasn't the same as being part of a larger group. But later on, once I got a job, I think it got a lot easier. But still, there was this casual, sort of meeting up in India that I miss here; even now, I would say, after so many years, you never just drop into somebody's house. You have to call and say, can we meet, can we make an appointment. I still miss that casualness, between family as well.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to a new immigrant coming today?

Be prepared to not be included initially and don’t get hurt by it. Make some friends early, take some initiative before you come to connect with people who you may work with, or you may study with, to form some friendship or some contact, whether it's a professor or whether it's your colleagues or peers, that helps for sure. And then I would say, not losing your own individuality is super important. It’s okay if you don't fit in, just be yourself and eventually it works out.

And overall, are you happy that you came here?

Absolutely. I think I have a fantastic life. I love my job. I work in engineering and build products and services and I get to lead in my own way.. It's very exciting. I love my freedom and I feel good about being here. I have my family here, even though my parents are in India. Even though I'm a woman in tech, and yes, there's very few people, very few leaders, all of that, I still feel I'm in a better position here from a career perspective. From a family perspective, yes, you miss interaction with your family but, I still think coming here was a good move for me.


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