First impressions

It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new life.

Moving to Berkeley has been easy. Thanks to a large degree to friends like Mohit and Hitesh + Ruchi, I have had a very smooth transition to life in the USA.

I have been exploring the new area a bit, and have now had some time to think about what my first impressions are… And although the American TV shows did arm me with enough knowledge about the American culture, there still have been some cultural adjustments that have surprised me a little.

Homelessness

This has come as a surprise to me. Not the fact that they are (and there are quite a few around South Berkeley), but the reactions they evoke in the people. How they are perceived by their fellow Americans is an interesting observation process. To us in India, homelessness isn’t that visible or important a problem to warrant much discussion, nor does it effect our cocooned lives much. Over here though, areas with more homeless people (e.g. People’s park) are almost treated like no-go zones after dark. There is an element of fear.

Maybe I am being naive, but I would love to do a photo essay on them some time. Find out what happened to them, how they landed up where they are now.

But my fear keeps me away. For now.

Politeness

People here are very VERY polite. I thought I was quite polite (or maybe more polite in general, compared to the the rest of us in India), but I took more time to get used to this than I thought I would. The number of times I have been surprised by how polite a complete stranger has been to me is much more than I wish it was.

But on the flip side (warning: potentially politically incorrect statement ahead), it does seem that everybody here believes they deserve a thank you or a tip for even just doing their jobs. In my mind, a person deserves a thank you or a tip if they went out of their way to help you. I mean, how many times have you thanked the person who wrote the software you use daily?

Maybe it is a desire to satisfy their higher order needs of esteem and achievement that this culture has evolved here. But should a person feel accomplished just by going about their jobs on a regular day, or should one be more motivated (and incentivized) to have more goals in life? I am undecided.

It does seem to make life more pleasant however.

I guess I will just have to fake it till I make it.

Public transport

I was surprised by how inadequate the public transport system is, for the most part. Buses are few, and far between (it is said to be much better in Berkeley, where buses arrive once every 20 – 30 mins). The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport, or the subway) reduces it’s frequency to ridiculously low levels after around 8 pm. They even shut down some lines on the weekends, and even after 8pm on weekdays. And signage? It is almost non-existent.

To be traveling on public transport here, you have to know which lines are shut when. For someone used to the almost 24×7 local trains in Mumbai, this was quite difficult.

Value of a life

People here value a single life much higher than anywhere else I have seen. The number of thoughtful features that I have seen that make life much easier (or maybe even possible) for various handicapped people are too many to count. From special assistance on Caltrain to a sloping edge on the sidewalk for wheelchairs, all the thought put into such features are truly a testament to how much Americans would go out of their way to design a better life for every single person.

Berkeley

Awesome.

School of Information

The class (less than a third of whom I have met so far) is way more diverse than I could have imagined! Amongst my peers are going to be:

  • a military intelligence analyst, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and trained Bradley Manning
  • a woman who worked in data analysis at a museum (and whose last day at work involved skinning chipmunks and feeding them to flesh eating beetles, to prepare them for exhibit)
  • a woman who studied and worked in China for 5 years as a UX manager
  • a published author (a fiction book about two guys and a haunted guitar)
  • and many other equally intelligent people from equally diverse backgrounds!

The people themselves are very intelligent, but yet very sincere. I will really need to up my game, and my discipline, here.

The classes (which haven’t even started yet) are so diverse and so interesting that I feel like studying everything! It will be a challenge to prioritize and ensure I select the right ones.

All in all, it has been a great first month! A part of me can’t wait for the semester to start, while the other part is just soaking in the last few days of delicious laziness before the madness begins!

Bring on the madness, Berkeley! (But let me get a few more days of sound sleep first! )

Edit: I didn’t expect this from Miley Cyrus. But I guess the homeless are not just invisible to Indians in India.