I first came to US in March 2005. It was my first time away from Indian shores. After graduating from college I had started working for IT services firm in Pune, India in 2002. This was the first I lived away from home. Three years down the line I had my opportunity to play a client interfacing role by moving to Minneapolis US. Something, that was meant to bring both money and career opportunities.
Even though I was brought up in a pretty liberal family and grew up watching western television, NBA, listening to Bryan Adams, Bon Joni, GNR, my first impressions can still be described as a culture shock. Though, an infrastructure shock more aptly describes it. I was amazed at the scale of everything, the roads, highways, the number of cars, Malls, numbers of stores, the downtown landscapes. The culture shock was more confined to the openness of society and what was considered acceptable.
Minneapolis was where I was going to be and as expected I was greeted by chilly pre-spring weather. I took up work with all excitement at both working with new and different people as well as enthusiasm stemming from a new role. Over the couple of years, my biggest lesson at work was perhaps the professionalism that everyone showed in how they acted and communicated. Though I always considered myself well equipped on the former, I developed significantly on the latter aspect. Outside work I was thrilled by the number and diversity of opportunities for entertainment. America is a much more open society than India which offered its own benefits and I came to like it very much. Like everything that has its ups and down but for now I was enjoying myself thoroughly.
Suburban life in Minneapolis didn’t appeal to me as much and I moved downtown. Though I enjoyed living in downtown much more, I realized that it had its own drawbacks. I then moved uptown which was perhaps one of the best living experiences I have had in my life. The big lakes close by provided ample space to run, walk or hang out. With plenty of small bars, cafes at stone throw and very diverse, open and young crowd, every day was exciting and fun.
Slowly but surely I got introduced to US consumerism. At first I was amazed at the quantities and numbers of products each individual buys and consumes. As time went on, I was appalled. Most people didn’t need as much but they used it anyway because they could! Having grown up with lot of poverty around in India, I felt that I had more appreciation of what it means to live modestly and within means rather than being extravagant. I ended up having many arguments and discussions on the topic with friends. Opinions were always divided.
My stay in US and increased dollar salary opened up opportunities for further travels. Within US I visited New York, New Jersey, San Francisco, Niagara Falls, Detroit, Las Vegas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Yellowstone, and places in Illinois, Dakotas, Minnesota countryside, and outer banks. I even went up north to Toronto and surrounding areas in Canada. Pretty soon I started looking beyond US shores and visited France, Spain, Australia in the last couple of years and while at Darden.
Having lived in US for couple of years I realized that higher education especially Business education was really good here and decided to apply to the top business schools in the country. Fortunately I made it to Darden and headed down to Charlottesville for my MBA. Darden experience was fabulous and enriching. I’ll skip the details here as I already have several posts on my Darden MBA experience.
Socially, however, Charlottesville was a very different experience than Minneapolis. I had encountered some bias or differentiation in the past in US but frequent and systemic way it happened in Charlottesville had a profound negative effect on me. In fact I have no come to believe and accept that outside the bigger cities in US which are cosmopolitan and diverse; people are very conservative in their beliefs and narrow minded in their outlook. I can also say that this is not a US problem alone and I have seen it everywhere I have been and I am pretty sure that India suffers from such prejudices as well. On the other hand on the issue of religious freedom, US is surely are far behind other developed countries. I would definitely contest about US’s secular credentials. There are so many references to God, Christianity and Christian beliefs in everyday life that it would be difficult for anyone of a different faith to not feel marginalized. I could be right or wrong about all this but I talk from my personal experiences.
On the positive side I really appreciated US entrepreneurial culture and economic freedom it provides to its citizens. There are but few hurdles to starting your own business and people seem to take that option more than anywhere else in the world. Once you been here some years you realize that why indeed US has become so prosperous. I admire the fact that US has preserved its founding fathers vision of individual rights and liberties. However, sometimes it takes the notion of capitalism too far and does not think of providing for the needy. I do not like how socialism is portrayed in the US and I hope thinking will progress in future. After all the underlying concept of socialism is equality.
Focus on economics perhaps leads many to develop the Winner-loser mentality. There is great appreciation for money and power. You are somebody if you have either or reflect it in some way. At the same time, you can’t get far unless you market yourself well. This is why people spend so much on appearance either personal or household. I would like to think or it is my opinion that in the East, at least in Asia, people are judged on action and character more than on appearance and this in turn converts to status and appeal. This however is broad generalization and like every such generalization somewhat inaccurate and definitely controversial.
It’s quite hard to cover over four years of my life experiences in one post. I have been blogging for about the same time and have written over hundred posts. So this is post is by no means comprehensive but rather the few things that come to mind immediately about my experiences here. The thing I cherish the most about my experiences here are the friends I have made and the amazing moments I shared with them. I have indeed learnt a lot and developed as a person both in personality and intellectual thought. I am certain this change wouldn’t have occurred if I was in very familiar setting I grew up in. I believe that diverse experiences are required to develop a person.
In conclusion I leave US with mixed feelings. I am certainly going to miss my friends. There are many comforts and opportunities that US provides that I am going to miss as well. However, the most comforting thing I find is to be close to your good friends and family. Since India is on the other side of the world, anywhere I move gets me closer to family. Nevertheless, I have more good friends in US than anywhere else in the world and I hope I can keep in regular touch with them and see them often. I am on the other hand excited for a new phase in my life, new adventures and opportunities. I leave with mixed feelings.