Moving from one place or culture to another can be a difficult transition: we are away from the family and friends who have always known us, everyday tasks can become our biggest challenges and it can be hard to find anything that feels comfortable or familiar. In this process, though, growth and vibrant life can also be found: we love and are loved by new friends, we are shaped by other perspectives and we understand there are depths to ourselves we could not otherwise have known.
Here, Shvetha Choudhry Gohn who has made her home in Southeast Missouri from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, shares about her native culture, her new culture and what she’s learned in the transition. Here’s to letting life be a process and all the things we learn along the way.
Shvetha Choudhry Gohn
Hometown: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Moved to Cape Girardeau with her husband Adam and their two dogs, Darwin and Bretta, in 2006 to pursue her MBA at Southeast Missouri State University
What is something that surprised you about the new culture you are a part of?
I was born and raised in a coastal city with a population of more than 7 million. I was used to the hustle bustle of a big city, so I am often taken aback when strangers smile and say hello to me at the Cape Trail or the grocery store. That is something I have come to enjoy and appreciate about living in a smaller town.
What is something you miss or are proud of about your native culture?
Apart from family and friends, I dearly miss the food. Food is such a huge part of our lives. When we are sick, we crave something familiar that we had as a child. For some people, this may be chicken noodle soup. For me, it is rice with mango pickle and ghee. India is a diverse country with food culture that varies widely and is unique to the different regions in the country. I enjoy sharing food from my region with family and friends in Cape.
What is a challenge of moving to a new culture? What is a joy of moving to a new culture?
There are many challenges to moving to a new culture, but I think after my time here, the benefits have definitely outweighed those challenges.
At a very basic level, communication was difficult when I got here and continues to be that way. I speak five languages, one of which is English, but I learned British English in school, so there are often words I use that aren’t the same as those used here, and vice-versa. Also because the languages in India are so structurally different, saying some of the sounds used in American English is difficult. For example, I had the hardest time ordering water at restaurants when I got here. I do not roll my “r’s,” and until I learned to enunciate to help with my cross-cultural communication, this was a serious struggle. This is just an example of one of the many things we experience when moving to or traveling in another country. I often find myself being forced to google cultural references and figures of speech made in everyday conversations because they were not a part of how I grew up.
The food is also very different. The portion sizes are much larger and the proteins that are common here, such as beef, are uncommon in India and generally not things I eat. So getting settled in and being able to get things at restaurants was a challenge at first. But all of these things have made me more empathetic and a better person and professional. In my position in International Admissions, I truly believe my experiences have helped me to be more understanding and empathetic when interacting with individuals from varying cultures and backgrounds.
How do you incorporate elements of your native culture into your new culture?
It is common for individuals here to view me as someone from India and people from India to now look at me as someone from the U.S. Indian culture will always be an integral part of who I am, but the past years I have spent in the U.S. have moulded my attitude, values and beliefs. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of two wonderful cultures. I share my Indian background through sharing my food with family and friends here. I also enjoy volunteering to share my experiences with students at the local schools. Knowledge is powerful and can help us see how beautiful diversity can be and how similar we all are as human beings.