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Becoming an American- the SIKH experience

Discussion in 'Sikh Youth' started by Gyani Jarnail Singh, Jul 26, 2009.

  1. Gyani Jarnail Singh

    Gyani Jarnail Singh Malaysia
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    Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jul 4, 2004
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    Becoming a Dukie (and an American)
    Published: July 17, 2009
    I was this young, turbaned Sikh guy heading to the U.S.A. with much enthusiasm for a top American university.
    I got here in December. There was a lull on campus and no students except the spectacles-clad and tired-looking Ph.D.’s. As I stepped into the library, I saw a young couple in a liplock. Back home, intimacy in public is still taboo and is limited to Bollywood stars. I had seen white people kissing only on the silver screen, and now it was right in front of me. I knew I had entered a land of broadmindedness, kick-starting my evolution toward the Western way of life.
    There were other alterations waiting in the wings.
    I was heading to Chicago for a couple of days before beginning my semester. At the airport, a young, beautiful American girl approached me with a smile that could have led me to give up my life. Rather than being impressed by my personality or looks, she was thrilled to see a fellow Dukie. I was wearing a Duke sweatshirt. But still, I got her company through my flight. My quest for another beautiful companion on the way back, by wearing the same sweatshirt, was thwarted by a hard-core University of North Carolina fan. Only thing he had to say to me, his tone threatening and desperate, was that “U.N.C. is going to beat Duke.” I was fresh to basketball and didn’t know much. I think the fact that Duke is always better than U.N.C. made him act the way he did. I defended my new school. I cooled off the situation by avoiding his further comments.
    But that wasn’t the best introduction to basketball mania. The fact that Duke students camp for months, in a tent city they call Krzyzewskiville, to get into games is so amazing for me. I thought cricket in India was popular, but the craziness here has made me realize the passion Americans extend to almost anything they do.
    My semester started and I learned about the honor code and networking, which were the soul of the orientation sessions. I have come to respect the ethical behavior of the American way of life, though some things in India just won’t proceed without breaching honor codes. In America, jobs are secured through networking and recommendations. This surprised me, but I now see that someone refers you because he thinks you are capable. But in India, a person who secures a job through a referral or personal recommendation is considered an undeserving performer who could not get through himself. A definite difference in approach between two nations that are supposedly going to be big supporters of each other in the future.
    There were other lessons.
    The basic chocolate cookie at our school’s cafe is for $2. Price of a couple of these could have given a full meal to me back home. I was still converting the dollar to rupees, which made me think of some of the purchases as insane. This ended when I secured my first on-campus job, inspired by the fact that even the kids of most wealthy Americans do odd jobs on campus to support their expenses. This is the biggest teaching that any regular, college-going Indian guy can learn from Americans. My appreciation grew even more when I realized that everyone was comfortable to talk about their jobs, as library stacker, museum security guard or paper feeder. If I did a job on campus back home, I might have hidden it from friends. As a side note, today I am big on cookies and put on 12 pounds in one and a half months.
    The hug is another story for me. Hugging a person from the opposite sex is so natural for any American that it almost embarrassed me when I wasn’t able to respond likewise when a couple of girls I hardly knew offered me a hug as a casual greeting. And to be honest, I actually thought they had something for me till I explained to myself that it is a regular American gesture and reminded myself of all the American movies I had seen.
    Though it’s been a short time for me at a top-tier American university, I have had the opportunity to see the party culture that the American student craves. The American passion is extended here as well, with young guys and girls passing out and losing control after consuming alcohol. Being a teetotaler, I have stayed away from drinks, but not from the joys, of the American celebration.
    Each experience has been giving me a new perspective of American life. The responsibilities that elders in India had taken care of are now being taken on by me. From getting a bank account to writing checks and leasing an apartment, from purchasing groceries to cooking to dropping tears and getting my fingers slashed while chopping onions, being here has taught me to take care of myself.
    This independence has almost made a man out of the kid I was.
    Harsimarbir Singh, Duke, master’s candidate, 2010, engineering management
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