On what seemed like one of the coldest days since I had arrived here in the USA, I met Geetanjali from India again during my first day trip to Philadelphia. We had previously made an acquaintance during the Fulbright orientation event in Miami. It was a great feeling to see a familiar smiling face approaching through a maze of the city’s gorgeous historic streets. Geetanjali is a Fulbright scholar doing her research at the University of Pennsylvania (School of Engineering and Applied Science). After enjoying some typical Philly food, we went straight to the Independence Hall where the United States Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, making it the nation’s birthday. Just across the road from the historic building, which is part of what is known as “America’s most historic square mile”, was a perfect place to contemplate the role of the U.S. national language in Geetanjali’s life.
She is the second person from India I have interviewed for my project and it was exciting to see whether people coming from the same country and speaking the same language would have had pretty much the same experience with English. Of course, with a country as incredibly diverse as India, one would expect there certainly to be some differences. Geetanjali went to an English-medium school and it wasn’t till the seventh or eighth grade that a teacher who really made a difference came along making the girl really enthusiastic about the subject and most importantly, the language itself. Her instructor made use of what is called in language teaching methodology “the communicative approach” compelling Geetanjali and her classmates to really have fun speaking English sometimes even beyond classroom hours. As her father was in military service, Geetanjali’s family moved across the country and then found themselves in the bustling New Delhi where the girl felt it was particularly important to have a certain level of English proficiency. With an unbelievably high number of regional languages, Hindi and English are one of the most common languages in India, and the latter often becomes the only medium of communication for people coming from different parts of the country. Its people are also keen on becoming part of the global world so this is where working knowledge of English is also essential. Geetanjali has been to Great Britain as well and she found Scotland to be most linguistically challenging. She feels honored and privileged to be here in the U.S. as part of her scholarship and finds speaking English here more comfortable as most of us are more exposed to the American English especially through Hollywood films. Another thing Geetanjali feels grateful to be able to do here is to make friends from all over the world and this is what she feels is key to improving one’s language skills. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and I hope Geetanjali successfully completes her PhD research and continues to use English wherever in the world her career might take her. Here outside the Independence Hall was also a wonderful place to wish my fellow Indian Fulbrighter freedom to choose whatever she wants to pursue in her further life.