I am a native of Bangladesh--a country in Southeast Asia, next to India. I came to Winona State University in the fall of 1986 and transferred to St. Cloud in 1989. My first quarter in Winona, I had a roommate named Mike. The day after I arrived, he asked me if I wanted a pop. Back home we refer to carbonated drinks as "cold drinks." So, when he asked me about having a pop, I thought he was referring to popcorn. I said, very politely, "No thank you, I am not hungry." He had a puzzled look on his face, one that I did not figure out for at least a week or so until somebody pointed out to me that pop meant soda and had nothing to do with corn.
Speaking of pop, my very first night at WSU, the veteran Bangladeshi students took me to a restaurant right across campus named "Papa John's." I ordered my meal and finally asked for a Pepsi. The waitress handed me an aluminum can. Now, back home we have only bottled pop drinks, and the only time I was exposed to a can was on airplanes. However, those cans were a bit different because one could open it by pulling on the foil tab, which came off. Imagine my distress as I tried to use the same technique at the restaurant. Obviously, the tab would not come off while I struggled with the can, and I spilled pop all over the table. My fellow Bangladeshi students and a few others at the nearby tables got a good laugh out of this. Finally, one of them showed me how to use that contraption.
The biggest culture shock that I received was also in that first week at Winona. I was in the shower of our all-male dormitory, and when I was toweling off, I heard this female voice asking, "Anybody in here?" I shuddered as the first thought that ran through my mind was that I was in the wrong bathroom. But how could that be? So, I mustered up all the manliness in my voice and said, "Yes..." "Well, we've got to use the bathroom. So, don't come out!" Females in the men's bathroom! I was utterly speechless. I shivered in the cold shower while they took their time. From their conversation, I understood that they had been drinking beer on our floor and were too drunk to walk downstairs to the women's bathroom.
Bangladeshi cuisine is definitely spicier and usually hotter (as in hot pepper, etc.) than Midwestern food. I have conveyed this to my American friends whenever we have talked about cuisine. Well, last fall, I was down in Orono, Minnesota (near Rochester), at my friend, Steve Haack's, house. He had told his mother all these horror stories about how I craved "hot" food. So, when it was time for Sunday brunch, I found out how Ginger (Mom) had decided to whet my appetite. She baked some spicy enchilada-like dish, and in it she had used one full 16-ounce can of jalapeno peppers!!! Talk about hot--this thing was burning. As I was gobbling up platefuls of it in front of Ginger's wide eyes, the Haack family was busy pouring milk, juice, or cold water down their throats to cool off the burning. Steve's dad said, "After this, I am going to need a big cork to plug the hole in my stomach." So saying, he went for second helpings. Long live hot food.
My first encounter with snow (we do not get any in Bangladesh) was during the end of fall of 1986 in Winona. I came out of my dorm one morning, and it was snowing! It seemed like a shower of little white feathers. I tried to catch them, but they would melt away almost instantly--so light, so soft, and so white. I walked around campus and it was hardly cold. Everything seemed quieter and softer. If I ever go to heaven and have a chance to have a window with a view, this would probably be one of the scenes I would like to see.
For the past five years, Minnesota has been my home away from home. During this time, I have had my share of laughs and tears, achievements and disappointments. But in looking back on all these years, I can say today that if I had to do it all over again...I wouldn't change a thing.
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