Sometimes I feel like I have two different lives, one back home in India and the other here in New York. Even though I come from a very modern and broad-minded family, when I am home I have a curfew of 8:30 p.m., I have to constantly inform my parents about my whereabouts and there is also a certain way that I need to behave. It is like an invisible social code that I am responsible to live by when I am home. On the other hand, when I’m in New York, all these restrictions begin to fade. The social code is extremely different and a new set of responsibilities begin to surface. Even though I have this different perception of society to live by, I believe it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s a lesson that I would have never learned in any academic institution.
The Role of Responsibility
I have heard from almost all of my American friends about how they started working at the age of 16 or 17 and how most of them pay for their own tuition and support themselves. They are made to be responsible of their lives from a very young age. But back in India, getting a job before you graduate from college is not only rare but is most often discouraged, especially for girls. I remember telling my Dad one day how I wanted to work for Baskin Robbins and he looked at me and said, “Now is not the time for that.” This is what differentiates the Indian and American culture–the right timing. There is a time to study, a time to work, a time to get married and a time to start a family. And there is no one who could understand this better than an Indian woman.
It is not like our life is completely planned for us by our family. Definitely not. But we are brought up in such a way and in a type of culture where we are expected to undertake certain responsibilities as we grow up–marriage and family to be specific. No matter how far we are from them, no matter how distant our relationship is with our family, we always have a sense of responsibility and obligation toward them. Yes, there are strong working Indian women who balance their family and their jobs, but a majority of them will always give their families and their values more significance than their jobs. I think that is something I would also do myself. My qualifications are something that will help me pursue my goals, but it is my values that will keep me grounded and guide me to make such decisions.
When I started university in New York, I was immediately exposed to this dynamic American culture, specifically toward women. What really struck me about American women and girls is the degree of independence that they take upon themselves. It gives them enormous will power and determination; their restrictions are limited to themselves and their immediate priorities. These priorities could be anything: family, hobbies, pets or physical health–anything that they deem important. They too have families that support and encourage them, but the decisions they make rarely depend on the opinions of their family.
I don’t speak for every Indian and American woman; most of these views are from my personal life. Both of these cultures and situations have their pros and cons, but they have taught me and guided me to become a very didactic and open-minded individual. The combination is perfect: I have a set of values that I have been taught by family and culture that keeps me emotionally balanced. But my time here in America so far has helped me develop an innate sense of will power that keeps me focused. My one big lesson from all of this is that sometimes living two different lives isn’t that bad after all!
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