This American Life: Head First Into the American Student Life | Anupama Menon

This essay is a continuation of Anupama Menon’s This American Life series. The first two essays can, respectively, be found here and here.

With no consideration to the 24-plus hour journey I’d had the previous day, Ajith woke me up before 8.00am. He told me that it was a “do or die” situation regarding scholarships for my MBA. Since I had come a week before the actual classes began, I had the opportunity to interview first at departments that needed a student worker.

The first time I stepped into the campus, my jaw fell open! The university campus is spread over a sprawling 235 acres, with multi-storied buildings and exquisitely manicured greenery alike. The entire city of Terre Haute is kind of intertwined with the University, and it is difficult to say where one ends and the other begins.

Ajith took to me to the School of Business and introduced me to the Dean. Ajith had his assistantship from there – which means they paid 90% of his tuition fee and then employed him as a student worker in their department which paid him a monthly stipend as a salary. They told me at the time that they did not have any more positions open. I wondered why they would have any position open ever – there seemed to be more workers than needed. Each professor had his/her own room – a far cry from the ‘staff room’ I had seen, occupied by a dozen lecturers at The Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering in Bangalore.

As we walked through the campus the rest of the day, with Ajith showing me the different departments and offices where I could apply for jobs or scholarships, I could not help noticing that Ajith was very popular through the campus. Everyone seemed to know him, everyone smiled at him, and every elevator trip was the venue for another friendly conversation. I was amazed at his level of popularity, since he was just a semester old at the university.

In a couple of days, I had to retract some of that admiration – I found that, in America, everyone smiles at everyone – the second your eye catches someone else’s, you smile. You say “Thank you”, “sorry” and “Have a great day” way more often than required and just glide through your day with smiles. I found this stranger than fiction – Smile at strangers?? Really?

I tried it once or twice on my second day and found that with absolutely no clue about who I am or where I came from, they returned warm smiles. For the first few days I had to remind myself to do it – then it slowly became second nature. So much so, that I continued doing that in India, when I went for my first vacation a year later. I smiled at everyone. Finally, at a restaurant in Bangalore, a lady whom I had just smiled at, came back, tapped my shoulder and asked “Do you know me?” – almost like I had violated her.
I realized that I had carried a bit of Americana back with me to India – just after one year of staying here.

Finally, after one week of completing numerous forms and attending many half-baked interviews, I landed a job – with the department of Public Safety in the University. I showed up for the job next day and stopped dead in my tracks when I found out what I’d be doing to get paid $5.25 per hour for 20 hours a week!!!

Continued here!

Anupama Manon is in her early thirties, cruising through life with her partner in crime, Ajith, and a five year old, Hari. She’s not ashamed to admit that she loves life, and likes to give an impression that she lives life on the edge. Juggling a zillion projects at most times, she finds that twenty-four hours in a day is definitely not sufficient. A market researcher by day, Anu recently registered her own market research consulting firm in London. She loves travelling, photography, reading, listening to music, watching movies, writing, her day job, and just planning in general – planning for anyone, anything, anywhere: birthday parties, potluck dinners, corporate events – you name it! She also hates cooking, and will do anything conceivable to avoid it, but loves eating…is that the definition of laziness?

One comment

  1. lathika

    remember having read this..i am happy that i remember almost evry word and the sentiment expressed therein… continue witing..

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