I landed in America on July 28, 2022, eager to explore the land of the free and the home of the brave. I got into my maijus’ (aunt’s) car and spent the ride from Dulles International Airport visualizing all the American cultures I had yet to experience: knock-knock jokes, Dave and Busters, greasy food, football (NOT SOCCER), and protests for basic human rights. Instead, I was welcomed into my maijus’ house by my granny with a flower garland and tikka. Hmm, America. As my grandmother chanted a hymn in Sanskrit while putting a red dot on my forehead to welcome me into the house and America, I realized I hadn’t spoken in English since the immigration. Similarly, the only cultural experience I’ve had is that of Hinduism—except for the venti matcha crème Frappuccino in my hand.
Fast forward to move-in day for my junior year at Georgetown University. I load the car with the essentials I bought from this holy land called Costco, put on my Georgetown merch, and head toward Village C, where my dorm is assigned. I knew I was going to room with my best friend from the Georgetown University in Qatar campus and two other girls. Imagining a common living and bathroom with one bedroom for each pair, I open my door to a two-floored single bedroom: four beds in one dorm. As I was internalizing the shock of sharing a room with three other people, I heard from the top floor two people say “Assalamu alaikum” (peace be upon you) monotonously.
My experience in studying in Qatar led me to automatically reply “Waalaikumsalam” (peace be upon you as well). I then saw my two other roommates who I recognized from the Qatar campus, too. The next few hours of move-in day were spent getting to know each other, unpacking our bags, and talking about Qatar campus updates. While I was unpacking, I saw that my mother had managed to sneak in a Ganesh icon in my bag, the god in Hinduism that is auspicious for new beginnings. My best friend saw my mini statue and pulled out a Jesus icon excitedly. I came to learn that her mom had sent that with her for protection, too. My two other roommates took notice of our icons and mentioned how in Islam, religious iconography is prohibited. I tensed up, hoping I hadn’t made them uncomfortable, only for them to say our mothers were so sweet to send us good wishes.
Although we started the semester walking on eggshells around each other, we now have a fully incorporated and open household. While thinking about my Georgetown experiences, I see my core memories such as all my roommates dancing in the middle of the student center during Tihar (the Hindu festival of light) wearing colorful South Asian attire, going to church with one of my roommates, or shushing each other when the girls were doing the daily salat (Muslim prayer). We managed to find our commonalities of being college students with similar struggles such as balancing academics, mental health, family, and social life regardless of our differences. Finding harmony in our diversity has been the easiest yet most insightful lesson for me this semester.
My anecdotes mentioned above reflect the cultural, religious, and societal experiences I’ve had on the main campus. Firstly, my three roommates and I have gotten very close, so most experiences I’ve had in America include them. I also think my experience, including my little dorm room, alludes to the bigger American culture that I have seen: a melting pot and latitude of different religions, cultures, and societies. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some very interesting encounters that cement the fact that I know way more about my roommates’ cultures than they know about mine. Such encounters include personal favorites such as having to explain that I haven’t climbed Mount Everest, that we do learn and speak English in Nepal, that we aren’t a province of India, and that yes, we do have microwaves. These encounters come with the pride of being able to personally extend the word about the wonder that is my country Nepal and the people in it. So, although I have found myself sitting a little bit straighter and being more meticulous with my words to be taken seriously, the positive experiences in this country far outweigh the bad. America, more specifically Georgetown University, has allowed me and my roommates to find refuge in our culture and religion, and for that, I am forever impressed and grateful.
Niharika Pant (SFS’24) is a Nepali undergraduate student at Georgetown University in Qatar majoring in international economics. She is currently on the main campus observing intercultural differences between her home country of Qatar and Washington, DC. She is interested in painting and other forms of art, evident through the participation in many art exhibitions that she holds under her belt. She is also very fond of an active outdoorsy lifestyle, whether it be rock-climbing or riding roller coasters. One word to describe Niharika would be her versatility. She can be a strict force to be reckoned with during MUN’s, but also the most approachable partner for karaoke night. Niharika hopes to further her international economics degree by later specializing in health economics in order to help Nepal’s healthcare situation.