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Why did the Kurugantis immigrate to America?

Pic: courtesy

Sometime in my 2nd year of engineering at BIT Mesra, I first dreamed of coming to America, getting trained as a computer scientist, doing cutting-edge research and becoming wildly famous – you know, the usual dreams that 2nd year engineering students have. 🙂 With a single-minded focus, I threw myself into the application process for graduate studies – acing the GRE, writing Statement of Purposes, obtaining recommendation letters, etc. Four years later, on Aug 15, 1992, I boarded a Lufthansa flight to Houston to start my MS program at University of Houston. At this point, I was neither thinking of settling down in America nor did I have a definitive plan to return to India – my operating philosophy was simply to wait and see how my career progressed.

Two weeks prior to my arrival in Houston, an intelligent and attractive young woman from Bombay took a different flight to Chicago. She was headed to Loyola University to pursue her Ph.D in neuroscience. Her motivations were far more idealistic, focused and driven. After watching her mother battle Multiple Sclerosis (a disease neither well-understood nor well-researched in India) for years, she vowed to join the thousands of worldwide researchers in the quest for a cure to MS. Unlike my wait and see approach, she resolved to return to India after completing her Ph.D. Our paths crossed in Jun 1996 and inevitably changed both our lives. After a year-long romance (short by American standards, long by Indian standards), we got married.

I’ve thought long and hard about why I dreamed of America in the first place. I’ve come up with two plausible reasons.

  1. Books are where dreams begin. I was a serious bookworm during my school years. It is not an exaggeration to say that I devoured 5-6 books a week (when school was in session). My earliest images of America were of the Wild West which was fueled by a heavy diet of Louis L’Amour, Oliver Strange’s Sudden, and Zane Gray. My reading then moved to adventure, intrigue, and science fiction where I encountered the likes of Alistair MacLean, Clive Cussler, and Isaac Asimov. Somewhere in the zillion mentions and portrayals of America (wild west, MIT, and CalTech), I became fascinated and wanted to see and visit America. By the time I reached college, the resolve became stronger and turned into professional hunger.
  2. By the time I reached BIT Mesra (my undergraduate alma mater), I had heard of many many folks (especially engineering graduates) who had immigrated to America to pursue graduate study. One of my friend’s brothers (who was already a professor at University of Pennsylvania) had won the prestigious Presidential Young Scientist award. All these social proof points added to my determination to pursue the (Indian) American Dream.