An American Year: The other half of this exchange begins

Close your eyes for a moment, and think about what you think about when you think of the USA.

Perhaps you think of New York City and its landmarks – The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, Broadway and Times Square.

Perhaps you think of the beaches of Florida and California, the Rocky Mountains of the West, the four faces of Mount Rushmore, or the flat, endless plains and cornfields across the Midwest.

Perhaps you think of Disneyworld, Hollywood, Six Flags or Route 66.

Perhaps you think of Friday night football fever in small towns in the fall, raucous crowds at college basketball games in the winter, or – if you’re like me – baseball’s Opening Day at the onset of spring.

Perhaps, inexplicably, you can think only of McDonalds.

Now be honest. Did Upper Peninsula Michigan come to any of your minds?

My host brother Mayank, also an exchange student, leaves today for his year in America. His town is surrounded by three of the five Great Lakes, sits closer to Canada than Chicago, and gets over 5 meters of snow each year. The people call themselves Yoopers.

And you know what? He’s going to have an amazing year, just like I’m having.

Before I came to Nagpur, I made a presentation about myself, my city and my country. I had over twenty slides prepared, most with several lines of text. I could have talked for half an hour about life in America, if not more.

Last week, six other Rotary inbounds and I were invited to the Rotary club of Nagpur South East. We were allotted four to five minutes.

How can you summarize American culture in four to five minutes?

You can’t, of course. Having more than a brief glance at a culture is a reason why our exchanges are so valuable. For the first time in my life, I’ve looked upon American culture as an outsider. I’ve found that American culture – or its approximation – plays an important part in the lives of many Indians.

But it’s just that – an approximation.

Sure, most Indians know most Americans are non-veg, and eat with forks and knives. They know we prefer T-shirts and jeans to kurtas and saris. They know there’s a city in southern California where most American movies are made that has a big white sign in its hills.

But those perceptions are a bit off. The “American style” wrap I had my first week was essentially cole slaw wrapped in roti and a paper French fry box. Teenagers wear T-shirts with cheesy slogans unaware Americans would find them cheesy. The American TV stations show a lot of James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Tom and Jerry.

America will not be what you expect it to be, Mayank. But that’s not a problem. Those differences are why we’re exchange students – so we can better understand the way the world works outside the comfort zone of our own countries. For over a month, you and your family have shown me firsthand what life is like in your part of India. Now it’s your turn to see America firsthand – albeit a part of America we rarely see.

Good luck, Mayank, and may Yoop have an excellent year in Michigan!


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6 Responses to “An American Year: The other half of this exchange begins”

  1. Jason Says:


    As you correctly noted the United States is much more than the Manhattan and Los Angeles so frequently portrayed in popular culture, and I wholeheartedly agree that it’s a tremendous experience to immerse oneself in a smaller city and experience a different variety of American life. (In fact, to many, these more rural locales comprise the “real” America as they tend to preserve more traditional morals and values than more urban environments.)

    Keep the updates coming!


  2. Gibson Says:

    It is my firm belief that all you need to do to show Indians American culture in five minutes is show two things: 1. A basketball game (mainly the fans, not singing, not chanting much, instead intently focusing on the game and whoever’s on the kiss cam) and 2. DCI (a military outfit turned which in a short time turned into an expression of high class art in the rural Midwest and South).

  3. John Says:

    Hey Chris,
    I always have a hard time describing a general culture here- do you think you could post your slideshow/ presentation so we could see what you told them in your sparse 5 minutes?

    • cyoder Says:

      I would love to, but I’m constrained by my slow internet. I can summarize it, however.

      Slide 1: Basic information (Name, city, sponsoring Rotary district)
      Slide 2: Pictures of me – playing tennis, at Wrigley Field, in StudProd, etc.
      Slides 3 & 4: Information and pictures about Champaign-Urbana and UIUC.
      Slide 5: I gave Uni its very own slide!
      Slides 6, 7 & 8: Pictures of my front yard in May and January, respectively, followed by the same graphs found here.
      Slide 9: American sports
      Slide 10: Link to this blog – although I doubt anyone wrote it down

      I talked much more about myself than America as a whole, since that’s what most of the other students did. Of course, my two main topics were sports and weather. Jacob talked about education, by the way.

  4. pyoder Says:

    Have you students been invited to attend other Rotary meetings or to participate in activities like the Adventure Sports event?

  5. pyoder Says:

    I do hope this boy’s family hears more about him than my son’s hears about him.

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