iStudent Life Story Contest - Second Prize Winner
We were very gratified by the response to our story contest. You can look
forward to seeing several of the many fine entries we received published in
these pages in the weeks to come. This week, we present one of our Second Prize winners,
Franto Francis, from India.
By Franto Francis
It was a strange feeling - this awareness that I was different from most others around. That I stood out, when for most of my life I had belonged. That as I expressed my thoughts in language, my listener identified an accent.
The smells were different (cheese, red meat, and air-conditioning) and the smiles - though everywhere and sincere - were different too.
I had landed in Philadelphia in late July to a generous welcome. There where banners welcoming one to the city, and detailed instructions everywhere on how to get around. I discovered the next day that much of this outsider-friendliness was because of the Republican National Convention being held in Philly. I was a cheerful time nonetheless, and I felt good.
America was a lot as expected. Clean, silent and efficient. With lots of loud, good-looking, politically-correct Americans. Then began the difference. The doors and taps opened (to me) the wrong way. Cars ran and turned on the wrong side of the road. You had lunches in classrooms. You could not get a credit card because you had no credit history. You could not build credit history without a credit card.
One of the earliest adaptations I had to make was in greeting strangers. In the beginning, it seemed a bit unsettling when people I had never seen before would recite a "Hi-how-ya-doin'" on the street or in an elevator. I come from a culture where a kind of polite aloofness is usual. My initial awkwardness must have come across as rudeness. I soon realized that in America, affection and courtesy are highly verbal. It may have been going to an extreme, but for the next several days I would approach any stranger on the street with over-enthusiastic "Hi-buddy-how-ya-doin' ", or wait in anticipation in the library for a sneeze and shout out "Bless you!" whenever there was hint of one.
One of the more important aspects about life in America has been the multicultural experience. Interacting with new people and knowing about differing ways of life has expanded my sense of what is right. It was tempting to stick to people of my own cultural background. But I'm glad that - partly out of necessity, partly from curiosity - I struck up conversations, and then friendships, with many others. And the interesting thing after knowing so much diversity is the realization of how much alike we all are.
Then there was the fortune spent on long calls home. I'd never thought that I'd miss my country so much. I longed for family and friends, the sloppy old movies, and even the dust and noise. I'd hunt for restaurants, which served our kind of food, and spend hours on the Internet reading news from home.
In sum, just a few months in America as an international student have been about so many things: long hours and an informal academic environment, cheese steaks; weekend beer, crisp autumn leaves, the Jerry Springer show (!) and, of course, missing home.