Saturday, September 09, 2006


With today I complete exactly 5 years of stay in the USA. Five years! FIVE years!?! I can't believe its been that long. I still feel like it was just a little time ago that I landed as a wide-eyed, fresh-off-the-plane master's student. But, when I think back and look at how much I have changed (for better or worse) since that time, I feel like, maybe, just maybe it is possible that so long a time has really elapsed!

As I wrote last year, this whole going abroad to study was something which I never considered seriously till the time my GRE scores came out. Even then, me coming to Davis, California, to study was hanging in the balance for quite sometime as I debated whether to work and then study or study and then work. My parents had made it clear that they would back any decision I made 100% - no questions asked. So my decision was mainly upto me.

I finally chose to go to the USA to study. I still can't believe that my parents agreed to send me off to a country where the only relatives (two in number) I had were at least six hours away by flight from where I was to live!

A series of helpful people made the whole planning process easier. My close friend from undergrad, S, had moved to California and was staying with her sister M and family. M, who herself had been abroad since high school was warmly welcoming and emailed me detailed answers to even my dumbest doubts (I even had questions like whether it was okay to tie a clothes-line in the balcony :-D).

Due to a stroke of luck, I located my future apartment and room-mates in Davis from India itself. I plagued those future roomies (all were senior to me and had been in Davis for a year) too with tons of emails asking tons of questions - to which they replied with great patience (only later did they tell me how they were beginning to worry that they had chosen a pest as a future roommate - LOL :-D).

By the time end of August in 2001 rolled around, almost all my classmates starting their Master's program that year in the USA had already left for their respective destinations. Since University of California, Davis (UCD) has a quarter system, school started only in the last week of September for me. So September 9th, 2001 was set as my departure date.

By the time September 8th rolled around, all my shopping, packing and farewells were done. I was to leave by a very early morning flight on September 9th. So, late evening of September 8th, my immediate family as well as most of the members of my extended family had turned up at the airport. I guess there were about twenty people just to see me off. I would have enjoyed the party if not for the fact that I would be leaving it soon :-(.

As the time approached for me check in, I took one last mental photograph of everyone and waved one last goodbye before stepping into the airport. For company on the plane, I had two more guys, T and C (I had found them with the UCD graduate secretary's help) who were also going to UCD from Chennai. But I barely knew them and did not make much conversation. The long flight to San Francisco from Chennai had a stop-over at Singapore.

I guess I had the most difficult time on the stretch from Chennai to Singapore. Thoughts tumbled around my head as I questioned my decision. Oh, I would be so far from home! I would miss everyone so much. I did not know anyone at all in Davis. How was I going to manage? How would the new place be? Would I be able to make friends? Oh, maybe I should have just joined work instead. And so on. Waves of homesickness swept over me. I sat wide awake and miserable on the plane as passengers all around me snored.

Once we touched Singapore, we had a long break. In those days, airlines were still rich - so the Singapore Airlines had offered us free accommodation at a posh hotel for the duration of the stop-over. We took a prepaid taxi to the hotel. I was exhausted by that time and just nibbled at the food in hotel buffet (I couldn't identify most of the food stuff anyway). Then I had a nice shower and sank into the bed for some much needed sleep. Unfortunately T and C wanted to go around Singapore and so I was soon woken up by their knocks on my door.

We did not see much in Singapore though and soon it was time to head back to the airport. And then we were on the flight to San Francisco. On that flight, I was just beginning to convince myself that I might be able to cope well with all the changes when the captain announced that the flight would be landing in San Francisco in an hour. All at once, irrationally, I began to hope that the plane would make a u-turn and go back to Chennai! Landing would mean that the fact that I had left home for a new country would be established irrevocably.

Oh well, of course, the plane landed in SFO. T, C and me all cleared immigration and went through customs without any difficulty. And then I officially stepped into San Francisco, USA. Before I could orient myself to my new surroundings, I could see a figure waving excitedly at me. And my undergrad friend S ran under the rope cordon and enveloped me in a big bear hug, "Archu! Welcome to the USA!". S had said she would be at the airport to receive me - so I knew she would be there. Still, her exuberant reception and her genuine happiness at seeing me perked me up immediately and made me feel so good!

And then she got hold of my luggage cart and started maneuvering it towards the exit. As we walked, S added, "M and P are waiting for you". Sure enough, there stood S's sister M and M's husband P with huge welcoming smiles on their faces.

I was so touched, I could have cried. You see, M was about eight and a half months pregnant with her first baby at that time (she had a baby boy exactly 10 days after I landed). In spite of P and S urging her to stay at home, M had insisted that I would feel better if I saw a whole family waiting to receive me. And so they had all traveled the 30 mile distance from their house to the airport to meet my late night flight. It had not occurred to them that I was actually only S's friend and that I had never met P before and M had met me exactly twice before.

At that moment, I knew I would survive. No matter what was in store for me, as long as there were such kind people in the world, I would do fine. And, with a little more courage, I took a deep breath and got ready to start a new chapter in my life.


Shilpa said...

I remember all the shopping that u did in India for your 'US stay'. I think P and I wore some of your 'new' clothes as we liked them so much.

Its hard to believe that 5 years flew so fast.

U had told me abt ur welcome and your first day. hey, hv u written about the suitcase incident when you went to the new apt ?

PRIDERA said...

God bless noble people like S, M and P ...I am sure you would have got so anxious if they didn't come to receive you on time.
Hope you have had an enjoyable stay so far in the US

Archana Bahuguna said...

congratulations ... very interesting...please continue!

Archana said...

Shilpa - yeah, I remember how u guys raided my closet :-)) - I still have pics with Pra's "special" accessories ;-)! Amaam ya - five years - so long :-((! Suitcase incident???? Idhu enna pudhu kadhai?

Pridera - I know - God bless them :-)! Yup so far its been a roller coaster ride with a lot of fun :-)!

Archana - thank you :-D!

Prasanna said...

Lol! Even now that picture is one of my favs ...

Saranya Kishore said...

Hey Congrats Arch! :--) I myself completed 5 years last month. Its sure is a LONG time and a big chunk of your life.

The pain of leaving India the first time, and the second time while in Grad school - unbearable. But I am glad we are past all that.

Do write more of your experiences. Nice read! :--)

kuttichuvaru said...

pretty much similar thoughts :-) jus change the dates to 2003 :-) but the few hrs post-landing in the US is an altogether different story!!

Archana said...

Prasanna - LOL :-D - yup, yup, thats a cool pic ;-)!

Saranya - thank you :-D! I know - I guess we all got to do a lot of growing up here :-)!

Kuttichuvaru - that's true - for the first few weeks after landing, time was a big blur. There were so many things to do that there was no time to think!

rads said...

I remember my first flight here. It's exciting :-)

Am sure you realized that you just traveled 2 days before all hell broke loose. wow. That must've been something.

Floridora said...

Beautifully written. A moving story. So glad you took the big step.

Shilpa said...

wasnt there some confusion when u had to lug the heavy suitcases up to ur apt ? and the apt manager also said something...don't remember the details...

sirpy said...

Oh, wow... Sweet beginnings, eh...? Nice write up.. And am waiting for the suitcase incident too, if possible... :)

Thanu said...

That was exactly my thoughts, u got here and 9/11 happened. If u were flying during that time, family back home would have been so worried

Deeps said...

As Rads and Thanu already mentioned, my first thought too was that you landed in US and then 9/11 happened. Your parents must have been really scared!

I was in India at that time and thought whole US was under attack. So we called up cousins in CA and made sure that they were ok. It was only later we found out that New York and Washington are really far off from CA {grins sheepishly}.

Anyways Congrats on your 5 years :). I have only been here for more than an year now, but you did remind me of my first flight to here. I was alone on the trip and joining my hubby then :).

Archana said...

Rads - yup, I sure remember that - what a way to remember my the year of my first trip to the US :-(!

Floriora - Thank you :-D! I too am glad that I made the decision to come here :-)!

Shilpa - Ohh, that was the other story I blogged about. Basically the apt manager thought we did not speak English after we had spoken English for some 2-3 minutes :-))! And yeah, the apartment manager's husband carried two of our suitcases, one in each hand (weighing 32kgs each) and carried it upstairs effortlessly while we were struggling with one suitcase a person :-O!

Sirpy - yup, thank you :-D! Yup suitcase incident was just what I have written above. The English incident was funnier :-D!

Thanu - I know! My family was worried sick as it was! A couple of my international batch mates were actually on flights at that time - it was a week by the time they found their way back to Davis after all the re-routing.

Deeps - Like you said, to people in India, California and NY don't seem like two different states far away from each other. Everyone was simply panicking. I remember the frantic phone calls!

Viji said...

wow! wonderfully written...

//All at once, irrationally, I began to hope that the plane would make a u-turn and go back to Chennai!//- ROTFL!!!!!

Bharathis said...

With due apology to the readers of this blog that we are trying to convert this site into a family affair, we the parents may provide the other side of the coin on the day of her departure to the U.S., in 2001.

After seeing her in the escalator for the departure gate, we returned to our cars without looking at each other.Had we done so, we would have noticed tears in each other's eyes. After starting the car we didn't speak any word for sometime. To ease the situation our first daughter (Archana's elder sister who had come from Bombay specially to see her off) tried to start some conversation. Till we reached home we were wondering whether we did the right thing in sending her to U.S. we reached home by midnight and tried to sleep but could not. We went up to the open terrace and started waiting for Archana's plane to fly over our area. After sometime, a plane resembling Singapore Airlines(at least that is what we assumed) flew above our building. We saw that and with some kind of satisfaction returned to our bed.After about six hours, our cell phone rang-perhaps the eagerly awaited one-and we grabbed the cell to hear Archu's voice from Singapore:-) This caused another round of discussion (many more took place the whole night) about Archu's going to USA. The next call came from M that Archu has reached SFO safely.
Perhaps, after her successful and useful stay for five years in the U.S.A., we feel whether we were more sentimentally disturbed than warranted. But then, we are all human beings and we have our feelings!
- Dad

Archana said...

Viji - :-D - I really wished that :-)!

My dear parents :-D - I remember - it was so difficult that day. I remember your mail about you looking at the SIA plane too :-). Hard as it was then, now I am glad we made this decision!

Prabu Karthik said...

>>All at once, irrationally, I began to hope that the plane would make a u-turn and go back to Chennai

to be honest, i could relate to that very well :)

Prabu Karthik said...

in the sense that i too have such irrational thoughts!

dinesh said...

I enjoyed your post. But I enjoyed your dad's comment even more. Because the series of events outlined by him and more importantly the emotions that accompany those events were so similar to how my parents would react. Like, not talking to each other till they reached the car, one person trying to break the uncomfortable silence, watching from the mottai maadi for the flight, and waiting for the phone call from a stop over point and so on ! Brilliant !

dinesh said...

One minute ku engappa pesina maadhiri irundhudhu. Thanks ! :)

Archana said...

Prabhu Karthik - so nice to know I am not the only one who comes up with weird thoughts like this :-D!

Dinesh - my dad is pleased with your compliments :-D! I guess all parents go through a similar set of emotions when leaving their kids and I guess kids go through another similar set of emotions! All I know is both sides feel pretty bad.