Potluck of Cultures

Gowri

This is Gowri. She is from India. In Atlanta, she has discovered trail walking and now she loves to hike the nature trails with her family: “the fun part is that my kids like it too!”

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When Gowri invites us into her home on the day of the interview, it immediately becomes clear that her Indian culture and traditions are still a very important part of her family’s new life in the United States. At least twice every day, Gowri cooks the traditional meals of her home country for herself and her family and we as guests are also treated to some delicious home-made Indian snacks. We drink juice from traditional stainless steel glasses and enjoy a piece of home-made Handvo, a type of cake made from mixed lentils and rice with khatti-mithi chutney.

15095509_683717578443372_5396545207361199876_nAccording to Gowri, India still has a panoply of traditions and long-established customs. In recent years, however, the more educated urban communities in India have become more selective in which traditions they follow, only choosing to follow these traditions which are important to them personally. In the United States, Gowri and her family still celebrate the most important festivals, though not as elaborately as they would in India. She tells us that these are the moments she misses her country most: while everyone in India comes together to celebrate, Gowri and her family don’t have anyone to celebrate with in the United States. “There are a few festivals like Diwali and Holi that we do celebrate. Then, we make sure that we are together as a family. The essence of these festivals in our country is that the family comes together and thanks the Almighty for all that they have been given. That is exactly what I want to teach my children: we don’t do this because it is tradition, but because we want an excuse to thank our God for what we have been given. And they like it, apparently.”

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Like tradition, family is very important to Gowri and the welfare of her two children Sneha and Siddharth played a big part in her decision to come to the United States almost one year ago. Even though making the decision to leave her research job in India to follow her husband Ashish to the United States for his PhD was very hard, Gowri did not feel it would be right to separate her family from each other. She feels that, as a parent, you cannot put your children through pain just because you want to fulfill your dream. “It was a very dicey situation: should we all go to the United States as a family or should I stay behind in India with my kids, where I can continue with my career, but also have the support of my parents? It was a very hard decision, because moving here meant putting everything at stake. You have to put your career on hold… just put it in a box and close it, and then don’t think about it.” Her children are also the main reason Gowri has not applied to any study programs or jobs in the United States. She feels that moving to a different country and culture was difficult enough for them and so she decided she wanted to stay home to be with them when they are not in school. Nevertheless, by taking online courses through online education platforms such as Coursera, Gowri is able to keep herself up-to-date on the latest advances in various fields of technology. Although taking these courses will not earn her a degree, it allows her to utilize her free time in a constructive manner. “My husband is very supportive of me. Most of the time he pushes me; often, he will come and share his opinion about what he has studied and we discuss the technical issues one of us has come across that day.” She jokes that, while her children initially missed their life in India, watching the Rio 2016 Olympics has changed their views on their new home. “In the beginning, they were feeling very left out here. The different culture and the Southern accent made adapting to this new country very difficult. Of course, now, they are much more comfortable. Some time back, my father called and my son was proudly telling him about the Olympics: ‘you know, the Americans are winning all the medals!’ (laughs) This helped them change their mind about living in the United States.”

15078597_683717625110034_7009110837741503710_nNot only was moving abroad a big change for Gowri’s children, she admits that it was also a culture shock for her and her husband. From the famous Southern accent that Gowri and her family had trouble understanding, to arriving in a strange country where they did not know anything or anyone, Gowri met tons of challenges along the way. “First of all, I could not believe where we had landed! Why did we do this?! What went wrong with our mind that we made the decision and we landed here? (laughs)” Luckily, Gowri soon found that the people she met in Atlanta were very supportive and welcoming, and she couldn’t believe how helpful people were. Another pleasant surprise was the work ethic she observed in American people. She admires the dedication and passion they have for their job, whatever that job may be. “Even if someone is just cutting a lawn, they do it with passion! That is absolutely missing in our country. I just hope that it was available in some pocket, then I could collect it from them and give it to my people in India. (laughs)”. She tells us that while she only used to work half-heartedly in India, she will adopt this point of view and be more passionate about what she does when she goes back to work in her home country. Ultimately, she feels that moving abroad has been a positive experience, especially for her children. “I think this kind of exposure to a different culture helps them broaden their horizon and helps them think beyond a certain limit.”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

 

 

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