Small town boys

Watching fresh high school graduates from small towns taking their first giant leap into a large city reminded me of my own big step 12 years ago…

Small town white boys

The fall 2009 term at the University is set to begin next week and the campus is already buzzing with 17-19 year old’s who, after recently finishing high school, are ready to begin their undergraduate studies at the University. September is usually a strange month for older students, you feel really old seeing younger students walk around the campus with their eyes wide open, scanning everything in sight, almost looking delirious, lost, and definitely looking overwhelmed. Many of these students have never been in such a settingbefore: the caring and confined environment of their neighborhood high school is a past. There are fifty-thousand other students at the university now, all strangers, from diverse groups, and nobody will care if you start crying.

Among the different kinds of students starting university, I find that the most fascinating ones are the students coming from small Ontarian towns scattered around Toronto. They come to the big city from a pretty homogeneous society that’s predominantly Caucasian and Christian (I am still learning the denominations – Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. so pardon me for painting everything in one brush). Their towns are small, everyone-knows-everyone type, sparsely populated, relaxed and have similar kind of food and cultural habits. Toronto on the other hand is a big city, extremely multicultural, mixed, noisy, crowded, pretty ruthless and fast paced.

Consequently, these small town students are bewildered and you can easily sense some strange mix of panic and excitement on their faces. Often parents will accompany them as they go around various offices for registration, and the kids will marvel at the number of food options they have, while struggling to understand people’s accents and double checking if what they are seeing is real.

Wait. That sounds familiar!

Let me exaggerate my story a bit. I grew up in a little suburb north of Mumbai, and until the age of 16 I was pretty much a local boy, going to primary school (grades 1-7) and secondary school (grades 8-10) close to my home. Most people were middle class Hindus, spoke Marathi and were vegetarians, and those awful things they show in movies were seldom heard of. Once in a while my parents or my school took us to Mumbai, to “see the big city”, and I thought - ‘wow… how busy, how crowded, and look at that building… it has a lift (elevator)! and 10 floors!… oh god… I can never live here…’

For grade 11 & 12, I went to, what we call, a Junior College that was in the city – a 90 minute commute. I was thrilled to be there but the diversity and variety shocked and confused me. There were people practising five religions, speaking ten different languages, eating god knows what kind of food and speaking in strange accents that took a while to understand. At times I wondered if I could really take all that change.

So now, whenever I talk to these fresh puppies from small towns (and I have to deal with a lot of them), it reminds me of my own time back when I took the leap out of the shell. It’s interesting how remarkable and essentially similar our stories are. :)

There is a Marathi saying that comes to my mind: “घरोघरी मातीच्या चूली”1 which roughly means: “Things work the same way, regardless where you go.” Indeed.

Literal translation: An earthen stove in each house.

18 thoughts on “Small town boys

  1. Now this is something that I haven’t experienced. I suppose from the beginning, I have been exposed to the elements, that I really do not have a small town experience, where things have been brewed from the very beginning. I started school in a foreign country: I had kindergarten and first grade in Honolulu, and I had to immediately learn a foreign language (English) that early, that I never had this shelled-until-coming-of-age experience. Not that I wanted one, but I find it interesting reading other people’s perspective on things, especially if the person has a different background. In the Philippines, there is the term “probinsyano” (from the province) which is somewhat derogatory, suggesting a person who has lived in a small town in a rural province all his/her life, until coming to the city, and with that is attached all these stereotypes along the lines of white trash.

    • Hi Jeruen,

      Oh I see, what you had instead was different cultural experiences at a very young age. I’m guessing that your experiences would have prepared you better to absorb or even be insensitive to cultural ‘shocks’ when you grow up. Do you think so?

      There is indeed a term ‘from the village’ in Marathi. Those people are funny – weird accents and behaviors and we all make fun of them. :) Ofcourse, for a while I was almost one of them. almost. ;-)

      • Ah, insensitive, yes. I have a suspicion that because of this upbringing, I am so into applying cultural relativism, to the point that sometimes, I find it hard to evaluate how I really feel about things. I always think along the lines of “oh this must be how it’s done here” and leave it at that, and not form my own subjective opinion, because why would I think that a cultural norm of a certain ethnic group is bad? But then, I later realized that this won’t work either, because it means that I don’t “know” myself. Oh, but that’s for another blog entry.

        • Gotcha! (or “accha” as you seem to say)
          That reminds me of a group of people referred to as “ABCD” (American Born Confused Desi) – ‘Desi’ is the term for brown people as you might know. These are first gen americans, who are torn between their Indian and American identities and ultimately they don’t know where they fit. :)

          • There is this movie entitled The Namesake, apparently about Indian Americans trying to deal with this dilemma. Have you watched it? I have it on queue so when I watch it, I’ll let you know.

          • I haven’t watched this one, but there are a number of movies made on ABCD theme. :) Bend it like Beckham (UK) had lots of shades of it!

  2. Hey Priyank, this was me too ‘…young students walk around the campus with their eyes wide open, scanning everything in sight, almost looking delirious, lost, and definitely looking overwhelmed’. I remember too those days when I used to walk on the University of Toronto campus, thank god I was in the engineering department, so we didn’t have to wonder too much, lol. Thanks for nice memories back, wow I cannot believe that it will be almost 15 years since I graduated. Excellent and refreshing post Priyank. Keep up the good work, and keep directing those fresh puppies in the right direction, lol. Anna :)

    • Hi Anna,

      We all have been there, I was like that too! Overwhelmed by the big city and crowded campuses. I thought that everyone was unfriendly and I was scared of the senior students nagging us (that happens a lot!)… hehehe! Its fun to be at the university, there are new people coming and everything is always dynamic. It makes me feel old and young at the same time and its interesting to observe how students’ habits change. For example, people now take cellphones for granted, when I was in school (btw, I was in Engineering school too!), I didn’t have any! LOL :)

  3. :lol: I don’t master the religious denominations here either – too many, too specific!

    I’m attending university part-time — very long story but I have to start a Bac again because my French degree is not recognized (yes, it sucks). Anyway, I feel old at 26. I overheard a lot of “kids” talking about their latest hangover, their breakups and crazy party this summer and I felt… yes, old :lol:

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