One Month in the USA

Today makes it exactly one month since I arrived in the USA! Pretty exciting!! Now this post isn’t going to talk about the whole crazy, stressful and somewhat enjoyable path to me landing the internship and also not about my work here. Maybe, I’ll get to those things sometime later. I’m more going to be talking about my life so far here. Now let’s get to it!

I landed at Dulles International Airport on June 23rd and was exhausted from the long flight from Dubai International Airport. This fourteen hours flight has been the longest I’ve flown so far. Well everything went along smoothly except the fact that I had to pay to use the trolley for moving my stuff around. Who does that?!? You can’t even let weary passengers relish in some comfort without charging them for it?

Anyways, I was lucky to get in contact with a guy who is doing his masters from the University of Maryland and he was able to come and pick me up. Not only did this save my cab fair but I was finally able to relax and let myself lose after the flight. I was in the USA! Hurray!

Thanks to my friend who picked me up I got in touch with more wonderful people. It hadn’t even been a single day since arriving and had already made many friends. Hanging out with them feels like being a part of a big Indian family with an American twist! Haha! Sounds crazy right? Even I wasn’t expecting everyone to be so warm and welcoming to a complete stranger they had just met. Getting adjusted to the american society and culture wasn’t difficult and everyone filled me in with the to dos and don’ts. I’ll get to some of the striking social norms later on.

I live in a small single room in College Park near the University of Maryland campus with another housemate who occupies the larger room. He was a masters student here and is working. The room is decent. I have a mattress to sleep on, a table and chair and a partially filled cupboard for my stuff. Now, this is the first time I have lived completely independently. Yes, living in the dorms at IIT Roorkee is also somewhat independent but we don’t have to worry about food and cleaning there. Everything is provided conveniently. All we are expected to do is to wake up in the morning and worry about going to class and study and, I am embarrassed to admit, I fail miserably even doing that! Here, I have to worry about getting the groceries, cooking food, cleaning up after me, cleaning the common areas of the house and also work. Now all this may sound easy and not too difficult on paper, and I admit it isn’t. hard Cooking food isn’t exactly tough (unless you are planning to prepare 5 star restaurant grade food or something). The biggest problem I face is leaving some fruit or vegetable lying in the refrigerator for too long only to find it rotten and smelling horribly. Not only does this end up wasting money but my motivation to cook also drops to zero. And the funny thing is that only those ingredients go bad which I had planned on using. Ah, the irony! The other chores aren’t exactly difficult either; it’s just that they take time to do. Time which I feel like I am “wasting” which I could’ve used for something more productive, like work? Who am I kidding! I already know I would still end up wasting this extra time without the chores. My three years so far at IIT Roorkee are enough proof of that!

The city is peaceful and not so much of a happening place compared to how American cities are depicted in movies. Although, I’ve heard that the night just before the day I arrived, there was gunfire near the campus. Yeah, you could imagine how spooked I was on hearing that and compound that with all of the fantastic stories I’ve heard of gun violence and crime in the USA; I was grinning from ear to ear from nervousness. The university campus is huge. I found the IIT Roorkee campus decently large enough but compared to this it is tiny. Now, I don’t mean to condemn our IITR campus, it has a charm of its own. The campus is filled with a myriad of trees and there are many large fields. Two building that really stood out to me are the McKeldin Library with the lucky statue of the Testudo (the university’s mascot) and the marvelous glass structure which is the Brendan Iribe Center which also serves as my work location.

So far I have only been to two other cities: Washington DC a couple of times and Philadelphia for a two day trip. The trip to Philly has definitely been the highlight of being in the USA so far. The trip was wonderfully packed with amazing food, music, sleepover, an almost road trip like atmosphere, and I got the experience American history first hand which happened to be quite interesting contrary to my previous beliefs.

Now some of the differences I found compared to back home:

  • People like to small talk. Not sure how true this is in general throughout the USA but I have encountered it a lot so far. The most striking is when I went to order a coffee at Starbucks. Back home, if I go order a coffee, the most conversation I would have with the barista is me giving the order or if I come regularly and become known to the people working then maybe we’ll engage in some small talk. An anecdote of my first time ordering at a Starbucks here: when I went ordering for a coffee, the first question the barista asked wasn’t “what would you like?”. It was “How’s your day been?”. Now I was taken aback. I was in the middle of saying my fancy order which I had repeated multiple times to myself so that I don’t embarrass myself while ordering, “A grande blo…”. This is followed by an awkward silence for a few seconds which feels like minutes and then I just continue by repeating my order in a gauche manner,
    “Hot or cold?”
    “and what size would that be?”
    Result: I end up embarrassing myself anyways.
    I am proud to say that now after a month of living here, I’ve gotten the hang of all this casual conversations and am not fazed by it.
  • Using a torrent can get you in serious trouble. Many people I’ve met have advised me to never think about using it here in the USA. The cops will show up at your door. I finally realized how game companies are actually making money! I haven’t met many, if any, who actually buy games in India.
  • Did you tip? Now tipping isn’t enforced legally but you are still expected to tip and not just any amount. The minimum I’ve seen is 15% of your bill. The bill you get actually comes with tipping options specified and that’s what the minimum is always set to. If you don’t tip, the waiter/waitress may actually confront you asking, “was there anything wrong with my service?”. But, after going to a couple of restaurants, I realized that these waiters are actually working hard and providing good service and in the end earn their tip.
  • Expensive! Everything feels and is a lot more expensive. If ever plan to eat out, a single meal would cost a minimum of $10. That’s around Rs. 700! That is double the amount I spend in India when eating out with another friend! However, by now, I am sad to admit, $10 doesn’t even feel like a lot of money. It’s a good amount but it doesn’t feel like how Rs. 700 in India feels like. TL;DR I spend a lot and should really start budgeting.

So this pretty much sums up my whole American experience so far. It is exciting and comes with its own set of challenges. If anyone read this all the way to the end, really appreciate it. I hope I didn’t bore you! Also, if you found anything interesting and want to know something more, or maybe if I naively wrote something erroneous drop a comment or get in touch with me through the contact page. I haven’t been writing for while now. This post also marks the end of the long hiatus. You can probably expect more posts from now on.

Mohit Jain

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