Part 1: People
They say, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone“. When I moved to the US 5 years ago, I had not only jumped out of my comfort zone, I had also jumped several time zones far away from home. The life that came my way after that was nothing short of phenomenal. This blog is a glimpse into my life in Iowa for the last 5 years.
On a chilly August night back in 2016, I arrived in Iowa to begin a new chapter of my life. I had just finished my 4-years in college to get a bachelors in mechanical engineering. To pursue a masters degree next, I was able to get an admit from Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames, Iowa.
The journey to Iowa from the bustling Mumbai airport was super tiring. It had taken me over 35 hours and multiple flight connections. First from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi, then Abu Dhabi to Manchester, Manchester to Chicago, Chicago to Des Moines. My flight to DSM was the last to land for that night and the airport was empty. The only people I saw were the ones on my flight and a few airport staff. It was such a stark contrast to the Mumbai airport from where I started.
When I walked out through the airport doors, I took a deep breath of the cool air, and closed my eyes. For those five seconds I was hoping to be the hero of a dramatic movie scene, with an upbeat tune playing in the background. Nothing of the sort happened in reality, but in my mind it did. That is all the confidence you need to start something new.
Finding an apartment and roommates from the other side of the globe was a hassle. Living in the digital age made it slightly easier. But I had to decide who to pick as roommates based on their email/text replies and it felt like a gamble for sure. The apartment that I managed to find online was a 40 minute shuttle drive from the airport. As soon as I reached there, I CRASHED on my bed. The tiring journey and the 12- hour time difference caused jetlag and I couldn’t do anything but sleep for the next day or two. Lucky enough for me, I had awesome roommates and neighbors who fed me and made sure I was okay.
My neighbors and roommates were pretty cool guys. They had come to Ames to pursue higher education like me but had started a few years earlier than me. They knew the tricks of the trade to survive and live about in this country. So they taught it to me too. Basic things like operating the laundry machine, getting groceries from Walmart, setting up my bank account, etc. were checked off the survival list in the first few weeks.
Among other things, my roommates and neighbors liked to cook and were great at it. They would make amazing recipes every week ranging from exquisite Indian food to delicious baked goods. We also had homemade cakes on birthdays, pies for holidays and cold desserts in the summer.
My cooking prowess was questionable at best as I had never cooked a full meal in my life. Unlike some of my other friends who had to boil ramen after classes, I was feasting on delicious food everyday. I was more than happy to let my roommates do the cooking and then split the grocery bill. For the two years that I was in Ames, I never had to worry about having good food.
Back home in India, I lived with my parents and had never lived by myself for extended period of time. Never had to pay rent or even do my own laundry. I’m always grateful for that privilege. But here in the United States everything was different. I was far away from home, like a fish out of the water.
I can’t thank my roommates and neighbors in Ames enough. These strangers I met online treated me like their younger brother and helped me settle in.
As a kid, you never had to worry about making friends. All kids have one thing in common -eat, sleep, play, repeat. I had landed in Ames almost three weeks before classes started. Many of the friends I made at ISU were the ones I met during these first few weeks. The common thread tying us together was that most of us had similar majors, we were about the same age, all of us in a new country.
The first few weeks of orientation were just so fun. Everything was new, the university campus was humongous and had some historic buildings. We would explore them all day long and wander around new buildings, new parks, new halls etc. There were a lot of events for students scattered all throughout the campus to welcome us. Some of these events had free food. If any one of us got to know its location, all of us would be there. It seems so weird in hindsight, but now we all just laugh over it.
As classes started, it dawned on me that it was not all fun and games. Assignments started pouring in one after the other and I was barely keeping up. We had deadlines every week and I missed a few of them. The courses I had picked were tough and I couldn’t ask friends for help as none of them had taken the same courses. It took me some time to adjust to the classes and the curriculum but I barely made it through the first semester. It was pretty rough on me.
But everything was not a struggle as my friends helped me through it. Over the weekends we would get together in one apartment and cook food, the chores divided among ourselves. We had the most random conversations ranging from life lessons to college banter. I have so many memories just hanging out in the apartment with them. As our friendship grew, we planned trips. Some trips were to far away places, some not so far. In the first semester, we had a break from our classes during Thanksgiving. We squeezed a quick trip to Chicago.
Hanging out with my bunch was never a dull moment. We had fun and laughter on some days complemented with drama on others. We had our fair share of both. As our time at ISU came to an end, everyone had to pick a path for themselves. Each path chosen lead to a different destination and the bunch eventually whittled down.
Over the course of your life, you make a lot of friends. Some of them become close friends and you share a great deal of wins and struggles with them. Some of them drift away due to one reason or other. Alas, that is the nature of life.
When you set off on a journey into a new world to get out of your comfort zone. You will meet a lot of people along the way. A select few will go out of their way to help you navigate the unknowns of the new world. They help to make you new life comfortable. You know who they are in your life. Try to appreciate their existence in your life.