Thus far, our friend, Mr Migrant, had met a few of the technological structures of his new environment. He was entirely unfamiliar with these as they were not available in the India of that time. The feelings he experienced when encountering unfamiliar things in an unfamiliar environment are called culture shock. Culture shock does not happen only when you travel internationally. It can happen even within your own neighborhood. It is merely a question of unfamiliarity. Our reactions to these can range anywhere from ‘freaking out’ to the comical.

Bewilderment Three

When we last left him, Mr Migrant had experienced two bewilderments. A third one awaited him the next morning, 2 January 1982.

The morning shower resulted in the same drama as the night before but was also just as refreshing.

He had to take a bus from the bus station in Columbus, OH to go to Athens, OH. He needed to get a taxi for the bus station. He checked outside for a line of taxis waiting for passengers. Nothing. None. Zero.

So, a call to the reception desk and the friendly person there said she would order a taxi for him.

In about 10 minutes the taxi arrived.

The taxi driver, a Caucasian man about 25 years old, said, “Hi. You need to go to the bus station?” Simple question. But Mr M was a little surprised that a taxi driver said “Hi” so casually. None of the “Good morning, sir” stuff!

It was the first lesson in social relationships in the USA and how people in different ‘stations’ in life interact with each other.

Arrival

After about a three-hour journey, the bus fetched up in front of a café and bookstore that also served as the bus station for Athens, OH. Disembarking from the bus, and collecting his two large suitcases, Mr M was met by the President. No, no, not Mr Ronald Reagan, but the President of the local Indian Students Association – a young undergraduate student who had been in Athens for three years or so. Mr President was very kind and warmly welcomed Mr M and took him in his car to his rather old and full house.

Creaking floorboards

At about 5 pm, the New Arrival was helpfully taken to an old house round the corner and up the road where he rented a room on the first floor. Except, he was told, in America, the ground floor is numbered one and our first floor is their second floor, and so on. It was a spacious room with a bed, a closet, a study table, and a chair.

The house where our migrant friend moved into upon arrival in Athens, OH. The external structure in this recent image appears exactly as it was on that day. [Image courtesy: GoogleEarth street view]

There was a shared kitchen on the ground (first floor). Every room had occupants. The house was full of people from many different countries. It was a mini-United Nations. Our friend met his immediate neighbors, two engineers from the Engneering College in Guindy, Chennai. They immediately made him feel welcome by chatting breezily in Tamizh.

There were also people from China, different African countries, and Bangladesh. Use of the kitchen was by turn and the aromas of different kinds foods being prepared wafted through the house.

It was rather weird walking around wooden floors that creaked. It made the house that looked old also feel old.

There was a common bathroom-and-toilet for the four people living on that floor.

Having unpacked his suitcases, and feeling very tired and achy, our friend decided to take a shower.

Averted disaster

The migrant paid little attention to the bathtub and the shower. There was no shower curtain. The set-up was a sliding glass door.

Had it been a shower curtain …

You will recall that the previous shower the migrant had had in that motel in Columbus had let to a bit of a disaster … namely an inch of water all over the bathroom floor. Imagine if this second floor shower had had a curtain instead of a sliding glass door! A curtain, with the wooden floors, would have caused monsoons in the ground floor!

Here’s a hint to what had caused the disaster in Columbus:

At a national convention of the hotel and motel owners of America, the President of the Association was asked what message he had for the traveling public. He looked straight into the camera and said, “Please! Leave the shower curtain inside the tub!”

And thus began our friend’s process of acclimation – the initial step for a migrant settling into a new place. Acclimation is “to accustom or become accustomed to a new climate or environment; adapt.” (dictionary.com)

We will later see how acculturation and assimilation occurred.

Explore:

  1. A woman bus driver was a surprise to our migrant. Are there women bus drivers where you live?
    1. In which occupations in your local economy would you be unlikely to find a woman?
    2. In which particular sectors of the economy would these occupations be? [Recall: Primary sector includes agriculture, fisheries, mining; Secondary sector includes manufacturing and processing; and Tertiary sector includes services].
  2. What were the elements of Indian culture that our migrant friend encountered upon arrival in Athens, OH?
  3. How do such elements help in the process of acclimation for a migrant who has just arrived in a new place?

An earlier version of this essay appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition.

Featured image: The house where our migrant friend moved into upon arrival in Athens, OH. [Image courtesy: GoogleEarth street view]

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