Sikh students adjust to life at San Jose University

sjsu-sikhSan Jose, California: When he first came to this country from his native Punjab 15 months ago, it didn’t take long for SJSU student Gurjaspal Singh to get a feeling of people in the United States. An hour before he was about to board an airplane heading to San Diego from Chicago, he discovered he had lost his passport. “If it would have happened in India, I would have been busted, but all the police officers and security staff were all so nice,” Singh said. “I told them this is my first hour in the United States, and they said, ‘You don’t have to worry about anything.'” His passport showed up 15 minutes before he was to board an airplane, but he said the experience foreshadowed what has become an easy transition living in the United States.

“This is where I got my first impression of people in the United States,” said Singh, a graduate student in engineering. “When you enter like that, the people are so nice, so you feel like you are in a better place.”

After arriving a week into the Fall 2008 semester with no permanent place to live near San Jose, he contacted SJSU’s Sikh Students Association, which informed him that he could stay with one of its members for free. “They were always telling me that even if I had to stay with them the entire semester, I could stay with them,” Singh said. “But you know you don’t want to be a burden on someone.”

Singh said he has since found a permanent apartment he shares with two other roommates near SJSU.

Harvinder Kang, the Sikh Students Association president, said the association routinely reaches out to incoming students from India to help them get acclimated to life in the United States. Kang said the association has temporarily housed around 20 students who have come from India to SJSU. “Everybody does it,” Kang said. “It is just courtesy and standard procedure. If you are coming from India, you can contact the Sikh Students Association.”

The word “Sikh” in the Punjabi language means “disciple.” Sikhs are the disciples of God who follow the writings and teachings of the Ten Sikh Gurus, according to Singh said his perception of people in America has grown stronger as he has adjusted to life in the United States. Singh said he was originally going to live in San Diego and go to San Diego State, but decided to go to SJSU when he learned he had a few family members who lived in Sacramento.

Transition to America

Singh said he has been surprised by the welcoming atmosphere of students at SJSU.

Shortly after arriving in San Jose, Singh said he was approached on campus by a complete stranger who helped him find his way to the International Students Center on campus. “You wouldn’t find that in my place.” Singh said. Singh said the only problem he has encountered after coming from India to the United States has been the feeling of homesickness.

He said he credits the presence of family members in Sacramento, some family friends in San Jose, and the support from the Sikh Students Association for the easy transition. Locally, he said he also has drawn support from attending San Jose’s Gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, located at 3636 Murillo Ave.

“If I am ever feeling down, I will go to Harvinder’s house, and we will have dinner, or I would go to the Gurdwara.” Singh said. “That is one place that is really our house.”

He said friends he has made stem from his active membership in the Sikh Students Association. The association has 100 members, Kang said. “My friends, who came here a couple of months ago, said the other day, ‘We haven’t talked to any Americans,” Singh said. “We don’t have any American friends. My story is the same. I have been living here for 15 months.”

Singh’s roommate, Sharanpal Sandhu, who also moved to San Jose from India, said they are doing fine together. “Well it is really nice, and I am liking it,” Sandhu said. “He is doing well here adjusting to a new life.” Singh said adjusting to the difficulty of education at SJSU compared with his native India has been challenging, but said he hopes it will pay off for him someday.

“No doubt, it is probably the best education in the world, but it’s a lot to learn,” Singh said. “I feel like I learned nothing in India.” Singh said that like most other SJSU students, he also faces routine challenges, such as paying for his education and living in a slumping economy.

Looking to the future

After obtaining his graduate degree in engineering, he said he hopes to find a job with a big corporation, such as Cisco. He is currently a 20-hour-a-week paid intern at Alert Enterprises. Singh said not all students who come to SJSU from India are as lucky as he was. He said his roommate is facing financial difficulties and is having a hard time adjusting to SJSU. Singh said he is fortunate to be financially stable and have had good social skills instilled in him by his family, which has made the transition easier.

“I really just had the homesickness and nothing else,” Singh said. “If somebody were to face some difficulties, I think it would have to do with their nature. Some people are introverted, they don’t like to talk to or be around people. Some people also have bad communication problems, but I didn’t have any of these problems.”

Singh said he has faced little religious intolerance since coming to SJSU. “I don’t know if everyone would agree with me, but I feel more free here to practice my faith,” he said. “In India, outside Punjab, they crack jokes about Sikhs. If people discriminate against you or pass comments here, that is probably because of ignorance. There is just plain ignorance in the United States. In India, you will find hatred.”

Singh said since the attacks of Sept. 11, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims and subject to ridicule by members of society. In San Diego, Singh said he was told to stay off the streets after 6 p.m. for his safety, and was blatantly asked by a stranger at an airport if he was a terrorist. On the SJSU campus, Singh said he has felt welcomed by the campus community.

He attended the 48 Hours of Prayer event, and said he found all participants to be friendly and understanding. The 48 Hours of Prayer event was an opportunity for the Christian body of SJSU to pray any time at Spartan Memorial within a 48-hour timeframe that took place between Nov. 2 and Nov. 4. “I went there, and I prayed,” Singh said. “I was really confused at first, because I don’t know the procedure, but they said, ‘There is no procedure. Do whatever you like.'”

Singh said he feels a great debt of gratitude toward the Sikh Student Association for housing him and providing him with moral support and social opportunities.

To return the favor, Singh said he is going to follow in the footsteps of other Sikh Student Association members by helping students who come to SJSU from India. “When I came here, I used to think, ‘How am I going to pay these people back?'” Singh said. “They told me that you have to take care of students who come after you. That would be the best payback.”

Source: Spartan Daily

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