Nandaakishore Perarulalan, the University of Cincinnati

Living in the Land of the Free

So, what makes America, America? Nandhakishore Perarulalan heard a lot about living in the United States and shares his thoughts on how the U.S. is different from his home country of India.

So, it has been a year since I arrived at the O’Hare airport at Chicago trying to find my place at a new world, literally called The New World at a point of time. I had read and watched so much about this nation and had heard a lot of anecdotes of personal experiences from various people who had lived there. I thought I was prepared to deal with what this country had to offer me. But nothing came close to what I had seen, listened to or read when compared to what I witnessed and experienced.

In 2012, a short clip of about three minutes from the TV series “The Newsroom” had gone viral on the internet. I still see it being shared occasionally. The clip basically tries to reason why America is the greatest country in the world which Jeff Daniels completely refutes in a monologue offering statistical evidence. The clip had done its rounds and given the reputation of America in where I come from, I was genuinely curious to see what the United States had to offer.

The first thing that you notice about the United States once you start living here is it’s free. Sounds clichéd, I know. You would have probably been hearing it over and over again, but it’s true. There is no other word that I could use to describe this country except “free”. When I say free, I mean free in every possible term. From the amount of fat present in your milk to the courses you do as part of your degree to the career you choose to pursue to the person whom you want to spend your life with, you’re free to choose what you want to do. There’s no way I can quantify this sense of freedom or liberty. There’s absolutely no way I am going to be able to measure freedom and say “India has 1 unit of freedom while the United States has 10 units of freedom, therefore United States has greater freedom”. But not everything that counts can be counted and this liberty plays a great role in defining the essence of America.

That led me to my next question – what ensures this freedom that America manages to offer its people? When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he inadvertently set in progress, a great chain of events. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” – these lines not only set the tone for the Constitution of America, they also placed an extremely significant emphasis on liberty and the individualism that leads to that liberty. When the pursuit of happiness is treated as your birthright, it creates a system where individuality of its citizens are not just accepted, but celebrated. This famous American individualism, in my opinion, had created a country that holds personal liberty sacrosanct and had paved way for the opportunity it provides and the diversity it cherishes.

Having lived in a conformist India, this individualism hit me like a whiff of fresh air. It is great not having to bother about the opinion of others who define the standards of what’s good and what’s bad for you. Conformism sets invisible standards and guidelines for you, rules that you know nothing about, intangible code that you have no clue as to how it was formed. Now, conformism has its own set of advantages and there is no way I can deny that. I believe that in issues like healthcare and veteran support, India does way better than the United States which I attribute to its conformism. Conformism also provides people with moral support at times of distress. But India reels under conformism that impacts individual liberty.

This individualism also helps preserve the diversity of the United States of America. The United States, as a nation, derives its identity from all of its immigrants. So, when I lived in Chennai, which was considered the immigrant city of the state of Tamilnadu in India, I used to be pretty astonished at the fact that the city drew its people from across Tamilnadu. Now, here’s a country that draws its people literally from all across the world, ensuring that they hold on and celebrate the part of their initial identities while also helping them find new ones. Yes, there’s a lot of work that America has to do in terms of racial relations, but to have created this melting pot of cultures that beautifully come together without discriminating parameters interfering in your pursuit of happiness is an incredible achievement indeed.

So, what makes America great? No, I’ll rephrase that. What makes America America? What defines it as a nation? Yes, it’s opportunity that it has to offer. Yes, it’s the diversity of its people. Yes, it’s the personal liberty and individualism that the people enjoy. But more than all that, I think what makes America America are these – hope and dreams. The diversity, the opportunity, the individualism and the liberty, all of them work seamlessly together to enable a person to chase his dreams. It is that ability of America to instill confidence within anyone that makes it what it is. It is that supporting arm over your shoulder that America offers when one chases his dream passionately and hopes against all odds is what defines the spirit of America. I write this with that hope of a skinny kid with a rather long name that America has a place for him too. The ability to make him say that – therein lies the greatness of America.

Nandhakishore Perarulalan was a finalist for an ISV Magazine $100 microscholarship. To learn more about microscholarships please click here. 

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