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I waited eagerly with tears of happiness gleaming in my eyes. There I was at John F. Kennedy International in June of 2017, waiting for my grandparents to arrive in America for the first time; I hadn’t seen them in 11 years. For a moment we just stood there, and then my grandparents started to cry. They placed their soft palms on my face. As I stood in shock, all they could say was “Harshu…. ” Our lives were finally touching. There was hardly any chatter during the 4½ hour trip home, but it was different when I gave them a tour of the house.
As farmers leading very simple lives in Ganapathi Palayam, one of the most rural and smallest villages in an underdeveloped country like India, they couldn’t stop talking about the wonders of our modern appliances. Later, while everyone passed out the moment they landed on their beds after such a long and tiring day, I just could not sleep! So many thoughts streamed through my brain. All I could think about was my time with my grandparents. After living with the same three people all my life, I knew they would bring a special brightness to this house, making this an unforgettable summer. After the first few days of getting to know each other better, I became more and more comfortable with my grandparents. In July, we embarked on several trips so they could understand the American way of life. We started with Disney World, then New York City, and, of course, ended with Niagara Falls, where every Indian family takes their grandparents. I loved experiencing America through my grandparents’ eyes. I thought they were enjoying the tourist destinations and the vivid American culture, but they blindsided me when they adamantly refused to experience American food. The words they loathed the most were the ones I loved: pizza, burger, and hot dog. They always grimaced at the opportunity to savor American cuisine.
Everyone else gave up trying to persuade them. But not me! I made it my mission to have them embrace American culture the same way that I do, so this was a challenge I was ready for. I tried to remind them that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but my pleas fell on deaf ears. If only I could get them to take one bite of a hot dog, I knew they would have a hard time going back to eating sambar rice and curry! Obviously, there was fault on me for trying to get them to try french fries dipped in buffalo sauce at Red Robin as a first taste of American cuisine. However, I relentlessly kept on trying and persuading them to savor the American cuisine that I cherished for my whole life. When, to my surprise, I couldn’t convince them, my initial tears of joy turned into tears of frustration. Then came invitations to family gatherings. To my dismay, they ignored what would have been an enjoyable evening and preferred to stay home, even though the invitations were specifically for them to mingle with more Tamil family friends. I persistently tried to change their stubborn views on American family gatherings. My enduring efforts lasted for six invitations. After each invitation, their indifference only grew. I finally gave up and stopped putting pressure on them.
After witnessing my frustration, my mom suggested that I just try to make our last month together the best one. That’s when I decided to take a light-hearted positive approach and just described the fun they would have getting together with other families. Their reaction to this was heartwarming: their faces seemed to glow with delight as they agreed to attend the gatherings. My change in attitude created a change in their reaction. Perhaps instead of my grandparents learning more about America, was I unexpectedly learning more about myself? My grandparents’ visit transformed me into more of a people person who can successfully deal with people from different backgrounds. I learned the value of taking the time to understand where other people are coming from. I also found out that forcing my opinions on others only leads to resistance. My change in attitude led to positive changes in my relationship with other people. By the time my grandparents left, I was communicating more effectively and they were eating hot dogs! As I waved good-bye to my grandparents at the airport, my tears of frustration were now tears of sadness.
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