by Tantray Beenish Yousuf
People work hard and spend entire weekends for fun to revive the zest for the rest of the week. I do not think we can ever imagine such humility and professional ethics here.
There are contrasts, there are differences, as I start to write today after almost a year, I don’t know exactly how to kick off. There is so much going on in my little brain that putting things into order and trying to sort them out one by one is getting difficult. Like that great tornado of life, things sometimes seem out of control, and we can’t see where we are going. But sometimes, when the storm passes and the dust settles, things have landed into place beautifully. I could relate to the tornado example because as I started to write this article, a tornado warning awakened us via mobile devices, so precisely that it counted to yet another reason to jot down this article.
It was midnight when I entered the largest aeroplane I have ever boarded in my entire life. Actually, the very first international flight to the USA, the greatest country in the world, was on the virtue of a wonderful initiative by the National Agriculture Higher Education Project, funded by the World Bank and the Government of India led by ICAR. This programme purports the capacity building of the students and shapes their career in the long run by exposing them to the best universities in the world.
I, along with 11 more students from my university was set to visit Kansas State University, in the USA. My seat was next to an American passenger. I had to sit next to him for as long as 15 hours, in those dark silenced chambers of the plane. I was scared to sit there on account of the rules of stereotypes developed in the households of every brown family.
I juggled with so many things such as what if I fell asleep and gradually my neck will find rest on his shoulder, what will happen next! I searched for the nearest seats so that I can interchange with any of the other passengers and sit between the women folk. But ‘fortunately’ I couldn’t find one and I had to sit there anyhow. My nearly infinite insignificant “what if’s” and stereotypes mixed together to give a flavour of anxiety to my potentially safe flight. He was so gentle and venerating. When we reached New York, he offered me his phone so that I could notify my family about my destination. This journey taught me that Americans are not usually thought to be supportive people, but of course, they are, out of benignity. Living and working in America truly helped me understand how great Americans think and act, what makes their economy great and what their habits are that we need to imbibe.
In the US, you acquire tremendous self-confidence evolving from the visible examples of system efficacy. My mother never taught me to cross a road alone and now she was unhappy to send me to a country, which is so embellished with technology. Every person owns a car, let alone every household. She knew I lacked the confidence to stand and act alone. This uncomplicated task of crossing a road brought forth authority in me since everyone follows the rules here. Drivers respect the pedestrian like they are the kings or they don’t care who’s the king. The absence of nerve-wracking honking, even when the traffic is stopped for a red signal nearly at every signal located a kilometre away only, adds to the bliss of driving.
Our coordinator, who studied in the US, but grew up in India, while driving us to the commencement ceremony at the university (I know most of the readers will surf the internet for meaning), stopped at a junction even though the signal was green. She explained that the traffic on the other side of the road had come to a standstill and she would be stranded in the middle, causing a traffic jam if she tried to cross the junction. This contemplation has come from the social responsibility one feels in such an environment where everyone appraises his/her responsibility.
Talking of social responsibility, I came across an incident when I was walking around the campus. The campus often reminds me of my Kashmir, green, serene but not clean. I saw a young trendy girl walking along with her dog on a sidewalk, something not so common back home. As they were walking, the dog pooped all the way. Astoundingly, the girl stopped on noticing, went back to the place where poop remained and collected it with bare hands, and placed it in the nearby dustbins. In all probability, in our country, the entire stadium is shut off to make sure a bureaucrat takes his dog on a walk and leaves every debris at the clemency of sweepers.
The character of this country is great owing to the attributes such as independence and self-reliance. One day, when I was going for lab work for the straight fourth day, I was standing in the elevator to go down to the ground floor, with an old lady in her late 70s holding a cart that carried all the cleaning elements such as vacuum cleaner, mop, disinfectants etc. At first, I thought she is the grandmother of any of the residents in the hostel, but she went down and started to clean the floor enthusiastically, such that she resurrected my energy for the whole day. Most of us abhor staying in the US since we depend on others to do our own chores.
There is importance given to customer service in all facets of life. A note of thanks and appreciation is a shibboleth of everyone here, for the opportunity to be of service or even if you stop to make a way for them, from high school sportsmen work out every day to receive a scholarship to pay for their tuition fees; college students go to lectures, work part-time and do internships all at once. There is no rule of attendance in any of the workplaces or classes.
People work hard and spend entire weekends for fun to revive the zest for the rest of the week. I don’t think we can ever imagine such humility and professional ethics in India. We visited a student union for identity cards. A photo was clicked, passports were verified and a card was issued at the same place, without hustle and bustle. I was left comparing this with my experience, back home, trying to get the form filled, signed, attested, submitting the fees, seeking different other unwanted information and then issuing the cards after an ample amount of time. Sequestration, collection and disposal of garbage are so systematic that the entire process goes on like clockwork with everyone doing his/her bit. Implementation of rules is alleviated by apt infrastructure.
So, during this one-month stay in America, I imbibed dozens of lessons, all in all, there are no shortcuts. There are no hacks. There is just hard work and life experience and two different kinds of omelettes, neither one of which is better than the other, just as long as they’re cooked healthier, not tastier.
(An undergraduate student at Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology, Kashmir, Beenish was selected for a junior overseas research programme at Kansas State University, Manhattan (USA), where she is currently researching. She lives in Hablishi Kulgam. Ideas are personal.)