Living off campus with relatives saves me a packet, but it doesn't help as far as making friends goes.
Therefore, I signed up for the international friendship program so that I would get to meet more people. I went to the International Student Services office, answered a few questions, and they matched me with an American student.
I told my cousins about it. I told them her name and mentioned that she was from Illinois. "Illinois? What's so international about that?" my cousin Ashish asked.
"Yeah, what's the international part?" my other cousin Amit chimed in.
I looked at them, and said with some scorn, "I am the international part!"
They burst out laughing. "I just never saw you as international ... I mean you're one of us!" Ashish said.
That remark summed up all my hopes and fears about studying in the United States. It seemed as if I was fitting in well, which was great, but is it possible to fit in too well?
I swipe my Metro card every morning on my way to college, I eat Subway for lunch, I submit typewritten papers for homework. These are things I never did until seven months ago, when I moved here. But can it only have been seven months? It feels like I have been doing this all my life.
Being away from home makes me question the Indian aspect of my identity ever more. It's weird to be immersed in your home culture at one moment and then transport yourself into a totally different one.
Being in a different culture at first is definitely frightening. It's not even an issue of language, as I have spoken English as a first language for 15 years now, but the idea of being around people who look and talk differently and then suddenly realizing that they aren't the different ones - I am.
I have always been uneasy with the idea of my Indian identity because I really don't know what that means. If being Indian means speaking an Indian language, wearing Indian clothes and practicing Indian customs, then I am woefully un-Indian.
Add to this the fact that I am in a new culture and I am assimilating well. It makes me wonder whether I was really Indian at all, or whether I am expected to see my American education as merely a phase in my life, or whether I am "Westernized."
I never truly realized how important my nationality was to my identity until I moved here. Before I came here, I characterized myself in terms of character traits and roles (daughter, sister, friend). Now that I am here, the word "Indian" tops the list.
Of course, the issue of who I am and whether I am truly Indian enough or not isn't one that keeps me up at night. However, it is certainly something I ponder every so often.