American Studies

  • Comments (0)
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Text Size A A A

By Padma Desai, a Columbia professor of economics, from her 2013 memoir Breaking Out: An Indian Woman’s American Journey (MIT Press).


Year after year for almost three decades, as I presented the yin and yang of the rigors and the magic of the economics discipline to a diverse class of over two hundred Columbia University freshmen, I realized that they represented America to the fullest in its infinite variety and its ever changing makeup; its youth and impatience; its energy and purposefulness marked by occasional slackening or running afoul; its contagious dream of moneymaking; its insatiable craving to be entertained; and, sadly, its declining interest in math and the sciences!

Each time I lectured well and managed to animate my audience with vibrant communication, I felt joyful. In the Columbia auditorium, as I spelled out the challenging and occasionally damning features of an exacting discipline, I connected with my young listeners and gave them a few memories to remember me by. Without my realizing it, I was getting assimilated as I dealt with their struggles and aspirations, their diversions and commitments, their hopes and frustrations. I learned to talk like them, felt alive in their sunny friendliness, even enjoyed their occasional swagger, and discovered a land I could call my own.

  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
Log in with your UNI to post a comment

The best stories wherever you go on the Columbia Magazine App

Maybe next time