First 6 months as an NRI

You've been accepted into a prestigious university in "veli naadu" (it was ETH Zürich in Switzerland for me) and after the incredulity of it all has come and gone, you start making preparations to make your move. You don't really know whether you're excited or you're anxious but there is a tinge of foreboding in that impatience, a tinge of worry in the glee, a dab of fright in the excitement. At least that was how it was for me. Now, after having spent 6 months (minus the 3 weeks that I was in Chennai for), I can safely say I am now one of those NRIs. Well, maybe not safely because if I was saying this and not writing it down along with my blog post, I'd be "kalaaichified" for the remainder of my life. But let's face the facts, I am currently a non-resident Indian.
Anyway, so your beaming parents and grandparents will announce to all the aunties and uncles that "en payyan Swiss ku poran". Be happy. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Yeah, you think there's been a mix-up. You're half expecting the consulate in Delhi to say, "Who are you? You can't go to Switzerland," but just smile and nod. You will get, "nalla padi", "ketta sagavaasam vechukadha" pearls of wisdom from them. Indha kadhula vangi andha kadhula vidu nu sollala. But I'm sure you have figured out how to regard this advice after having received it 20952305423 times in the last 21-22 years. Your friends will have their own advice too. "Dei mama inime foreign figure thaan!" "Suss ku poitu namabala laam marundhuduvan da ivan" xD Right. Soon enough they'll realize that you end up contacting them more often than when you guys used to be in the same city. Your Skype is online 24/7 and you reply almost instantly to IMs that come your way (unless you're sleeping I guess) :)
So days turn into weeks and maybe months and all your mom can talk about is how you need to be more responsible, "Dei ipdi kulichtu thuniye thooki veesina Swiss la amma varuvala edukarthukku?" She's right you know. She won't be there. The monstrous pile of laundry in my room is a testament to that. Everything from the time you send back your "Thank you for the acceptance. I would be glad to join your institution" e-mail to the time you actually board your flight is a countdown. You can use this to your advantage as well. "Dude I'm here only for X more days. Scene podathe. Screw work, padathukku ku polam." But of course this is also the time your folks will use this dialogue against you. "Dei innum X days ku thaan inga iruppe. Friends oda thaane eppayume suthra? Konjam aathla iren!"
So your preparation is all done. You've visited 5 temples in the last 4 days, you've spoken to 100s of relatives either over the phone or having travelled all the way to their place and meeting them, you've made a list of things you need to pack in, you've made sure that your suitcases are not overweight, you've figured out "vera edha Tamil pasanga varangala" nu and you've seen pictures of your new university a gazillion times on their website and can't wait to actually go see it for yourself. You are now ready to say goodbye to your country, or so you think.
My flight to Zürich was very pleasant. It was get-in-get-out. Okay who am I kidding? My flight from Muscat to Zürich was one of the longest flights I had ever been in, in my entire life. I never thought I would be one of those teary-eyed shmucks who would cry because he's leaving home. But I did. And I was so ashamed of myself that I cried into a pillow and when it got worse, I rushed to the washroom and refused to look at myself in the mirror. I was quite composed at the Chennai airport, didn't feel a thing. Didn't shed a single drop. But somehow the altitude made my eyes sweat really badly. Probably an allergic reaction? I should go to the doctor!
So anyway, I landed in Zürich and from then on, it was like everything was a new attraction. The German/French/Italian/English signboards, the stop motion picture animation of a lady dancing with the Swiss flag when you took the shuttle from the airport terminal to the arrival gates, the vending machines for the train tickets, everything. And I was soaking it all in when I realized, I didn't know how to get to the student house. That sinking feeling of being lost and alone in a city you've never been to before, lugging 3 heavy bags and not knowing the language they speak is a horror I wouldn't wish on the worst of my enemies. I managed to get to the centre of the city, to the central railway station, because of the English signboards but from then on, my German classes had to kick in.
I was going to use those 2 months of Deutsch in the real world for the first time. As I stood there at Bahnhofplatz (I figured out the place later on), clueless and exhausted from all the "Sorry I'm a tourist here" responses, I realized what true fear was. But an angel in an old lady's disguise finally helped me out after I blurted out all the German I knew to her. She walked me to my tram stop, waited for me to board the vehicle and saw me off. I kept saying, "Danke schön" but I don't think she truly understood how grateful I was for her help. I got here and unpacked and hey, as they say, the rest is history (not really).
When you get to a new country, the first skill you subconsciously develop is the magical ability to convert currencies. CHF3 for a sandwich becomes, "210 rubaa va oru sandwich ku?" Paying the first monthly pass for intra-city travel is "Aiyo I have to pay almost 4000 rupees just to travel inside this small city!" But on the plus side, you check out the city and explore different areas by foot. No place is familiar yet so meandering about is still enjoyable and not, "Omg I'm lost."
So classes start, you meet a lot of new people, and I mean A LOT! So much so that you end up forgetting 70% of their names. It is during these first weeks that you call home everyday and tell them literally every single thing you did that day. "10 mani aidthu ezhundhukarthukku. Aprama..." till "raathri 9 manikku thaan vandhen aathukku. Vandhu idho unkitta pesindrukken. Seri thoonga poren ma. Good night!" Everything you cook by yourself becomes an event back home. You take pictures of that shoddy potato kaai and that too-much-water kuzhambu and send it home. But your folks are beaming with pride, "Avane samachukaran!" Only you know that you forgot to add salt to the potatoes, forgot to turn off the stove before taking the pot off and ended up scalding your hand, totally didn't read the label properly and added sugar instead of salt to your sambar. Yeah, shit happens. Most of us have been down that road.
Google Maps is your best friend during these first few weeks. Your friends won't always be there and at least as far as Zürich is concerned, the public transport system is punctual and connected to Google thatha constantly. So travelling alone is never an issue (unlike my first experience with Ms Kind Old Lady at Bahnhofplatz). So time goes on, you settle down into your classes, get used to leaving exactly at 9.38 so that you catch the 9.44 train that goes non-stop to HB, explore the nightlife, figure out that you're not really much of a "party animal" all the time, stress out about pointless things and some important things, and basically have fun (or maybe not) adulting away. You also develop the magical ability to manage your time between crowded laundry rooms, crowded kitchen, crowded shower rooms and submitting 4 assignments all on the same day.
One more amusing thing with this city is the water. You can drink it from anywhere. Washroom? Yes. Random fountain on the road? Yes. Dispenser? Yes. The water that drips along the outer wall of your building during a downpour of rain? Maybe not, but you get the point. And winter sucks. Omg I despise winter so much. Before the winter had set in, I was looking forward to the snow, looking forward to the frozen fountains and the trees covered in white. After new year's, when the snow finally hit Zürich, I was sick of wearing 3 jackets, sick of having my nose frozen numb, sick of stomping through slurpy half-melted snow, slipping on ice while carrying my groceries, the heating not being sufficient in keeping you warm inside the room, checking the weather everyday longingly hoping that the sun hadn't forgotten about this gray city yet and much more. When you come from a city where it's 30 degrees at night and sunny 365 days of the year (minus a week of rain maybe), a month of gray skies can be quite depressing.
So 4-5 months down the line, the city is no longer new to you so then the travel bug bites you. You came to Europe so that you could travel (sorry dad & mom, inga na padikka varala :P). But as an unemployed student, you don't just make plans to get up and leave. Europe is large, flights are not always inexpensive, and you look for acquaintances in any city in Europe simply so that you can check out that city and piggyback on free accommodation. Suddenly that girl you spoke to just once in primary school and forgot to keep in touch with becomes your "good morning" and "good night" buddy (or of course you could be the maanam ullavan, like me, and not "catch up" with anyone and stick to seeing the same city for 6 months before making travel plans).
Oh and btw, all you juniors who keep asking me if there is this field of study or that program in this place, please look up the website. Us foreign maaplas are nice people but it gets kind of boring when you ask questions that can clearly be answered by Google or the university website. Ask me about how I find life in a different city or how the people are here, or something like that. Please don't ask me if they have scholarship programs. I would direct you to the webpage you need to read to find out more about this but it's a boring thing to talk about.

Anyway, stay tuned for more. Maybe I'll write another one after having spent a year here in Europe.

Bis bald, tschüss!

P.S. I don't know if the same can be said about NRI students in other countries but well, I'm assuming it can. So in this case, just substitute "Switzerland" with appropriate country names. ;)


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