Why I live in Mumbai, and why I love it.
This is an interview that I completed to have my blog featured on another website: it explains why I became so enamoured with life in India and the city of Mumbai, and why I choose to stay.
Who are you? Where you come from? When did you move to Mumbai?
My name is Bronwyn, and I’m a Canadian in Mumbai. I’ve been living in and out of India for the past four years, and moved to Mumbai alone a year and a half ago to take a risk. I work for an educational NGO called Atma in fundraising and resources,(www.atma.org.in) which allows me to witness Mumbai’s incredible spectrum of wealth, opportunity and access first-hand. I love life in Mumbai because of the spectrum of experiences and feelings it allows me.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began writing my blog when I left Canada to volunteer in Varanasi and live with a local Hindu family. My blog was intended to help friends and family at home keep up with my experiences, but from the beginning, it was simply a report of my observations. I didn’t want to keep a blog about myself, as just one of countless foreigners in India. I preferred and still prefer to write about what I see.
Do you have any favourite blog entries?
I like writing on moments when between places: on airplanes between cities, or stuck in Vancouver while waiting for an Indian visa. Drawing the parallels between the western and eastern experience is always a very reflective process for me. These entries are full of emotion and comparisons between culture and behaviour in Canada and India.
How does your new life in Mumbai differ from that at home? Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I experienced culture shock when I initially came to India when I was sixteen. I braced for the poverty, the heat and the crowds, but I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared when coming to India for the first time. I first visited Calcutta and Varanasi for only a month and a half, and was stunned by the thickness of humanity, the crumbling infrastructure and the ways in which people could make a life out of almost nothing. However, going back to Canada was more difficult than coming into India. Years later, reverse culture shock continues to affect me, because now I spend so much more time in India than in Canada. I also think that long term expats feel a different type of culture shock over time, which people deal with in very different ways, to different degrees of success.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Mumbai? If you could, would you change some of the decisions you made?
I moved to Mumbai when I was twenty one. In a sense, I believe I would have been more prepared if I had been older, but in another, I would have been more afraid. I was fearless when I arrived and forced to figure out everything on my own, including signing a lease on my first apartment with a broker who spoke only Hindi and Marathi. That was terrifying, but that sort of challenge forced me to learn and to take responsibility, which can only be positive.
I learned to speak Hindi in Varanasi by taking lessons every day for a month and a half, and being immersed in a completely Hindi-speaking environment for six months: that’s all it takes. If I could recommend one singular action that will pay incredible dividends to anyone choosing to live in a foreign country over a long term, it would be to learn the language. Your experience in that place will be exponentially heightened if you are able to communicate with local people in their local language.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Expat life is consistently funny because you are always the odd one out. I’m lucky to work at a fantastic and incredibly diverse office, with people from several parts of the world, and many locals. Cultural differences can always be viewed as funny, and that’s something that I love about expat life.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Mumbai ?
To come with an open mind (open wider than you thought possible), a positive attitude, and to leave all pre-conceived notions about India and about Mumbai on the plane when you land.