Chitra Ponnusamy is a director of the undergraduate program in Food Science and a teaching instructor.
I landed in the US in the Y2K era with my 3-month old daughter from India. Upon landing, I was very curious to see how my husband could drive on the right side of the road instead of the left. It seemed scary to me back then!
I was absolutely fascinated with the Starbucks ready-to-drink coffee in a bottle (!), available in large packs. It became my first favorite grocery staple. Back in India, we always have freshly brewed coffee and tea and never bottled. Cheesecake (minus the crust!) came next in line (was I indeed thrilled to see an eggless brand in California), inspired by my first American TV show- Golden Girls. Its taste reminded me of Shrikhand, an Indian creamy, tangy dairy dessert.
My first teaching experience was in a private, religious school in Houston, Texas, as a middle school science teacher. I prepared for the first day of teaching on Metals with total perfection (or so, I thought). After a few minutes of ice-breaker brief introductions, I said aloud- so, today we shall start learning about the metal- aluminium– and I turned to write aluminum on the board. I heard a loud voice- what “ium” is that? The class burst into laughter, I quickly realized and joined in the laughter. Another student said- my father goes to London a lot and he says people say aluminium there, not aluminum. I said yes, in India we are taught British English. That lightened my first moments a lot and made me comfortable with the students quickly.
Many such laughter moments (biscuits vs cookies, corridor vs hallway, lift vs elevator, ground floor vs first floor, ………) turned out to be my learning moments😊. I learned (vs learnt) my first lessons from my students!
Even today, I find myself typing oesophagus– many thanks to my Biology and Physiology instructors (Sir/Miss/Teacher/Madam) for the good job they have done and to spell check in Word, for letting me know to remove the “o” before the e in esophagus. My daughter can switch between speaking English with a South Indian accent just like me and American accent- this keeps me wondering at large. When I visit India and I walk on the roads, my nephew reminds me- you know, here you can walk on any side of the road, not just on the right!
At Rutgers, I met with Dr. Aparna Zama, in a committee meeting and very soon learned we studied in the same high school in Chennai, a city in South India. We did not know each other back then. It is a small world, indeed.