I was in midtown NY earlier this week and had a coffee with a young immigrant colleague who recently moved there. She asked me “How did you manage to survive here for so long ? I can’t seem to stop tripping over myself every step” . So I told her how my first week in this country played out – a story that might resonate with many others who came to this country at a young age.
I landed here by an Air India flight from Mumbai via London to JFK . And then I had to connect from LGA to Denver , and then by road to Colorado Springs . I must have flown at best 4 times in my life at that time – and never in an international flight. I was 24 at the time .
When I picked up my passport , Visa and $200 from TCS travel desk in India – I got some minimal instructions on what to answer the immigration officer , a warning that my connecting flight is from a different airport and so on . I was also told that if anything is hard to understand in the new place – the best people to ask are the cops in this country !
So I landed at JFK – goosebumps and all that – and the first words I hear from the immigration officer were “Is there anyone left in your village back home or is everyone here already ?”. This was directed to the guy from Guntur ( also from TCS ) who was immediately in front of me in the line . Goose bumps left me in a hurry 🙂
I got out of the airport – and the first guy I saw outside was a friendly Indian guy who told me his name is Hari. His speech went like this “I can take you to LGA – and it will cost you $200. Good thing you saw me – else someone would have cheated you”. I already knew from my research that he is quoting a high amount and decided to walk to the cop who was standing 20 yards from where we were . From the corner of my eyes – I saw Hari running like an Olympic Sprinter. The cop helped me get a cab and it only cost $30 or so to get to my connecting flight .
By the time I landed in Denver , it was really late at night . My manager who was supposed to pick me up hadn’t shown up . I had his phone number – but couldn’t figure out how to call him . Out of nowhere, a Hispanic lady showed up next to me and offered to help . She bought me a coffee, and using the change she got from the cashier – she called my manager from a pay phone , yelled at him at the top of her voice, and gave me the phone . He gave me instructions in a sleepy voice on how to get to Colorado Springs . The lady had already left by the time I turned around to thank her . I am convinced to this date that she was an angel !
In my infinite wisdom, I rented a car – only to find that it has no gear and no clutch ! And I couldn’t figure out how to roll the windows without the manual rotary control either . To make matters worse – for a few miles I drove on the left side of the road till I realized people drive here on the “wrong side”. I drove the car over a median and found my way to Colorado Springs and on to the motel 6 . One thing I vividly remember was a stretch of road where the street names were Arizona , California etc. i was quite impressed that US was so neatly organized that all it took for me to drive to California was to take this well marked street 🙂 .
The receptionist – Mr Patel – gave me a little package with the key and some paperwork and all . When I reached the room , I opened it and found no key in that package . I went back and woke up Mr Patel one more time . He patiently walked me to my room and showed me how to use the key card – which was pure magic to me ! I also couldn’t figure out how to handle the shower to get hot water – so I took bath by filling the ice bucket with hot water from the sink 🙂
The next morning I could not return the car to local Hertz location – after seeing cars whiz past me at 70 MPH. I waited till evening for lesser traffic to get to Hertz, and the manager even kindly waived the late fees . On the walk back to the motel – I waited 15 minutes to cross a Street because I didn’t know I had to press a button for the pedestrian signal to turn on .
First three days, I survived on McDonalds burgers – till a colleague who had been in Colorado for a long time took pity on me and took me home for a home cooked meal . His wife – who cooked that meal – was the second angel I met in 4 days . I don’t remember her name unfortunately, but the ONLY thing I brought back as a gift for someone on my next trip back from India was a Saree for her !
After three days I called my mom in India and told her that USA looked like India – there is no snow like we had seen in movies . It was June ! Snow did come – heavily – in August and I quickly realized it is a lot better to see snow in movies as opposed to dealing with it every day .
Thanks to my dear friend Kasi for sharing this photo of my first snow in Colorado Springs outside our apartment.
That weekend – another colleague invited me and a few other newly arrived young guys to his apartment for lunch. While we were eating, the door bell rang. His wife opened the door and it was a FedEx driver with a package for Mr Stevens . He had the wrong address – so the lady helpfully told the driver “Sir, there are no foreigners here in this apartment . Actually I don’t think there are any foreigners here in this entire community . We are all Indians here” . I will never forget the look on his face 🙂