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My Two Worlds: India & The U.S.

Noor Brara, 18, was born in New York, but now lives in New Delhi

It's 3:35 p.m. on a Friday and the school bell rings. My three best friends and I walk happily out the gate, ready for some relaxation after another stressful week as high school seniors.

While some students wait for their rides home to pull up, we hop in one of the green and yellow auto-rickshaws that are ubiquitous in New Delhi, India's capital. We pile in and head to The Big Chill, a popular teen hangout that reminds me of Central Perk on Friends.

The streets of New Delhi go by in a blur as we talk about the math test we've just taken, Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and the new Black Eyed Peas album. The traffic light turns red as a Mercedes convertible pulls up, and we break out into laughter when a cow ambles alongside, waiting to cross the road.

Delhi is a place where all sorts of opposites live side by side: Beautiful homes with manicured lawns line broken roads, and the back doors of five-star restaurants lead into slums. Teenage girls holding toddlers approach cars to beg for money, while girls the same age in the backseats are too occupied with their cellphones to notice.

Old India & New

I was born in New York City and lived there until I was five. After my brother was born, my parents decided they wanted us to grow up knowing our family and culture, so we moved back to India. But every summer, we return to New York to visit friends, so I feel that I have two homes instead of one.

Growing up in India can be surreal because it always seems to be in a state of transition.

My grandparents are always telling me how different the "old India" used to be—no imported food or clothes, no foreigners moving here to work, no "Western" music or TV, no Internet. The India I know—the "new India"—has all of this and a booming economy as well.

The signs of India's trans-formation are everywhere. Shopping has migrated from outdoor markets to trendy air-conditioned malls, full of stores like Apple, Esprit, and Calvin Klein.

A lot of my American friends think of teens in the new India only as hardworking, book-smart students—and to some degree that's true. One reason is that, unlike in the U.S., grades alone determine where an Indian teen goes to college, with no credit given for "extracurriculars" and other factors.

There are, however, lots of similarities between Indian and American teens. We wear jeans and Chuck Taylors, carry around iPods, eat out, watch movies. The differences that count, I believe, are surprisingly few.

Sometimes I find myself thinking what it would be like if my friends from both countries could meet. I don't think they would have any trouble getting along because I think teens everywhere are asking themselves the same questions: Who am I? What kind of person do I want to be? And what am I meant to give back to the world while I'm here?

The tentative answers I've heard are similar everywhere. Everyone believes they should bring something to the table and somehow work to improve our world. Everyone believes our generation is capable of rising above the prejudices of past generations; not only do we accept differences among us, we appreciate them.

Maturing Fast

In addition, all of us have already been exposed to religious conflict, terrorism, recession, global warming—things that have collectively matured us faster than our parents and grandparents. And because of this, everyone feels that no matter how old we are or where we come from, we each have a responsibility to unite through differences that drove us apart in the past. That's a conclusion I've reached on both sides of the world.

(The New York Times Upfront, Vol. 142, January 18, 2010)