Hey everyone!! I would like to introduce you to an talented writer who has a blog named ‘Poorvi’s blog‘. She writes amazing poems, book reviews and thought provoking musings. We both are Indians who went to abroad for staying and pursuing higher studies. Thus we decided to talk about how it feels to be an NRI (non-resident Indian). This is a discussion post between two of us answering some sensitive questions while sharing our untold experiences, struggles and how we got to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Let’s get started!!
INTRO: In which all countries have you stayed? Tell us a little about those countries.
ME: I’ve been to Saudi Arabia and Oman and they both are UAE countries.
The United Arab Emirates, sometimes simply called the Emirates, is a country in Western Asia located at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders Oman and Saudi Arabia, and has maritime borders in the Persian Gulf with Qatar and Iran. (Wikipedia)
Saudi Arabia is one of my all time favorite country because I’ve spend my childhood days over there. I was a kid back then so the strict rules and discrimination didn’t pass in front of my eyes but there were some conditions like all women over 16 should wear Abaya no matter which country you come from. Besides that, I spend my days happily in Saudi. I don’t remember much about how the country looked in general.
Oman is a beautiful destination. Even though it seems like a desert outside, the pathways are filled with plants and trees, buildings with modern infrastructure, traditional souq (market), old forts, and restaurants offering the world class foods with affordable prices. As far as I’ve known, the ruler or the king of the country is also too generous and the local people thrive with much benefits and lives a sophisticated life. No injustice takes place as long as we follow the rules and regulations.
1. What was your expectation when you first landed in a foreign county?
Pavithra’s answer: Honesty, I didn’t expect anything much. I was like a naive little girl back then and all I ever wanted was to see my dad.
Poorvi’s answer: I’m going to be honest here. Moving to a new country as foolish as it may sound, I did not expect it to be any different. Maybe it’s because I was six at the time but I thought I would just continue speaking Hindi all the time and everyone would look and act as they did in India. But when we first got to the States boy was I wrong!
2. Was it difficult to get comfortable in the new school and environment?
Pavithra’s answer: Hell yes!! I studied in state boards till grade 6 and suddenly my parents took me to Saudi Arabia where I was accepted into an International Indian school with a CBSE board syllabus. In the beginning, it was so hard for me because I was not that good at English. It was so embarrassing when a girl used to translate what I say to my teacher. Guess my teacher didn’t put herself in my shoes, all I ever received from her was hatred and scolding. I also had difficulty in coping up with my studies because I neither had anyone to help me nor a good teacher to support me. Everything I did, I did it all alone. It broke my heart hearing I failed in some subjects considering I was a class topper back then.
Talking about fitting in, it was not that easy too. People looked at me as if I was worthless just because I don’t speak or write well in English. I found two friends who were also from my state but it turned out they felt ashamed to speak in Tamil or to even accompany me. Since it’s an international school, all they could care about was high standards along with some arrogance. Well, let’s just say they didn’t care about their mother language and culture.
Just when I started getting used to everything, I got transferred back to India and studied there for one year. Again when I was in grade 9, I moved to Muscat, Oman but this time, I was strong enough to survive. Here it was not English but Hindi which became a problem. I haven’t studied Hindi back in my hometown. I was forced to take it because it was compulsory to choose a third language. This time I was lucky enough to find a good teacher. She understood and helped me with extra classes. I had friends who were also struggling along with me. We lend our hands to lift each other. Thanks to all my past embarrassments, rejection, humiliation, friendship betrayals, and loneliness, I finally figured out how to handle my life. I studied hard and regained my position not only as a topper but also as the school’s best outgoing student. I became a teacher’s pet, a trustworthy classmate, my best friend’s comforting partner, and a good daughter to my parents.
Now when I look back at my past, I’m pretty proud of myself. The environment that used to scare me, became my home. When I say home, it’s the only place where my heart resides and lives happily.
Poorvi: I totally understand not being able to speak English properly, it truly is a struggle especially if you have an accent, that’s when everyone starts to pick on you :((.
Ugh, I absolutely HATE the types of kids with ‘high standards’! It really bothers me when others try to disvalue their roots in order to fit some stupid societal standard. We should never EVER feel ashamed of who we are or let these nonsensical bullies get to our heads!
And you are absolutely right, their words only motivate us to be better and stronger! And I‘m so proud of you for showing everyone wrong with hard work and dedication!
Poorvi’s answer: 100% it was crazy difficult to get acclimatized with everyone in America, for one they all spoke English! I distinctly remember my first day of school. I was the only Indian in my class and on top of that my English was very broken. My teacher happened to be desi so she really helped me get into the groove of living in the United States! The environment was the same I suppose. There were a lot of different things, for example in India there are street vendors at practically every turn but here there were only supermarkets. However, after some digging, we found places like India Bazar, etc. That helped us fit in better while still embracing our origins!
But little did I know that getting situated when moving to the U.S. was nothing compared to what disasters I would face in middle school and beyond.
Pavithra: Being only Indian in the class, uff that must’ve been hard. You are so lucky to have such a teacher to help you through hard times.
You are absolutely right. Going to Indian stores in forgein countries makes us feel like home.
3. What difference did you find in school, shopping malls, society from your country, and the country where you decided to live in? How did you take it in the beginning?
Pavithra’s answer: Personally, schools in India seemed strict, disciplined with more rules compared to Saudi or Muscat. Here I got more freedom and teachers don’t force us to study all the time as long as we get decent marks.
Shopping with my family every weekend was the best feeling ever. In India, we used to have many small stores and self-serving supermarkets are so rare to see. In contrast, I got to experience all the luxury in Muscat. It has got grand malls, big avenues filled with various clothes, brands, and groceries coming across all over the world. They have Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Philippines, Omani, Arabian, and many other restaurants and stores to satisfy our needs. Without visiting Korea, I got the experience by going to a nearby Korean grocery shop in Muscat and that’s pretty much cool according to me.
The majority of the people talking about songs, movies in different languages seemed so strange to me at first. All I have ever heard was Tamil movies and songs and didn’t care about the existence of other languages. After coming abroad, I slowly started listening to Hindi, Arabic, Telugu, Malayalam songs. My friends were mostly mallus (a fondly term used to refer Malayalam people), so I learned a lot about their food and culture. I gave myself into American movies, series, and sitcoms which helped a lot in improving my language skills. As soon as I was comfortable with English, I began to explore more about other languages, cultures and finally, here I am obsessing over Korean and K-pop songs.
Poorvi: I totally relate to the shopping center thing! Here in the U.S. everything is so big compared to India! And in terms of music here in the U.S. I feel like I can really appreciate both styles like our traditional Bollywood songs (aka. Chamak Chalo etc.) and current bands like Chase Atlantic!
Poorvi’s answer: The biggest difference I noticed in America was the culture. There was no immediate concept of giving respect to elders other than adding a ‘Miss’ or ‘Mr’ in front of their name. There was also no notion of taking off your shoes when going into someone’s house or anything! The accommodations in America seemed much different than in India as well. The houses were bigger and everything was so industrialized! In the beginning, I was definitely scared I wouldn’t fit in but over time I like to think I got over that (to a degree). But as much as we like to say we meld into a place perfectly sometimes the truth is that in America I’m the desi girl and in India, I’m the American girl, but more on that later!
Pavithra: That’s true. Ha ha, I could relate with you about being desi. In India, I act and live like an Omani and in Oman, I look more like a desi girl.
4. List some misconceptions that people usually think of NRI’s.
Pavithra’s answer: There are plenty. First, they think all the NRIs are rich. Not everyone is wealthy and most people go through financial issues regularly. Second, they say we are not as patriotic to our country compared to other Indians. The truth is no one loves their country more than an NRI. The curry we eat, the hospitality that we receive, relatives we miss and everything else reminds us of our mother India.
Poorvi’s answer: Well, in India lots of people think that those of us who grew up in the States are more ‘whitewashed’ and influenced by western culture than they should be. You see, I was actually born in America and we had a small house there but we stayed in India for 11 months out of the year and came home once a year so it was really like living in India. My dad used to travel a lot back then so it was just me and my mom before my dad got a new job and my baby brother came along! (Sorry for the little short story there 😁). Other misconceptions include not being ‘as smart’ or ‘as skilled’. There’s also a connotation of living the ‘American life’ of parties every other day and such. Well, I don’t know about everyone else but my parents are still super strict (in a good way)! 😂
5. What do you want to say to someone who visits or resides in a foreign country for the first time?
Pavithra’s answer: From my experience, I’ll say “Visit all the beautiful and famous destinations. Enjoy every point of view. Discrimination will be there at the beginning of school or college but you’ll definitely overcome it at one point just like everyone did. Don’t worry so much about fitting it. Believe me, it does no good. Be yourself and it outshines everything. Experience different cultures, admire their traditions, fell in love with their country but never forget the place where you came from. That’s it, rest you will figure it out!! PS: You are so lucky to travel the world ❤️”
Poorvi: I agree! Traveling the world is such a gift that isn’t talked about as often!
Poorvi’s answer: My biggest piece of advice to someone visiting a foreign country is to not be so wrapped up in what other people think about them. I know from extensive personal experience that caring too much about what others perceive you will ruin the experience as well as mess with your head and cause unnecessary stress and disheartening. So if you ever visit a place where you look like an outsider never self-pity yourself and remember that just because you don’t fit in there doesn’t mean that’s how it will always be!
Pavithra: Exactly!! Great piece of advice. I’ve been through a lot trying to be like someone else but it has brought nothing but misery and depression in my life.
6. What are things you have to put up within your new home that wasn’t present in your previous country? What are encounters or situations you’ve felt awkward/ distant about because you didn’t ‘fit in’?
Pavithra’s answer: This is an interesting question. In Muscat, we have only one temple and that too is far away from our home. I’m a Hindu and my mom, being a big devotee, missed going to the temple frequently. Thus we brought more god statues to put them on our ‘Pooja shelf’.
About awkward situations, I have plenty!!
I have never been to the subway before. It’s a famous fast-food restaurant where you can pick and customize your burger or sandwiches. This was completely new to me because for years I’ve always purchased instantly prepared burgers. When I went there for the first time with my dad, he asked me to select the ingredients. The server was continuously looking at me to choose but I was too anxious. There were a huge number of varieties and I had no idea which one goes good with the other ingredients. I got a little anxious and blankly said yes to everything the servant asked. Even though my dad was there to help me, I felt ashamed not knowing how to even make a simple order. I rushed back to the car as soon as I got finished.
Poorvi: No way!!! I have a pooja shelf too! Maybe it’s an NRI trend haha. And I totally relate to the food thing. For me it was Chipotle. I just could not for the life of me get my order out of my mouth and it was so embarrassing. The guy was staring at me like I was crazy and I just wanted to disappear so bad my god.
Poorvi’s answer: Teens in the U.S. collectively as a group are very interesting, to say the least. First of all, there’s the notion of being ‘cool’ and that usually correlates with being white. There’s also an idea here that Indian people are disgusting trolls, for what reason this was started I have no idea. Personally, I’ve gotten bullied for being ‘too brown’ (I have no idea how that was turned into an insult because I can’t control my skin color or my ethnicity and I am in fact very proud of my culture.) and being ‘ugly’. If I’m going to be honest here the second insult has stuck with me for quite some time because I always fret over my acne and dark spots but after being in lockdown for over a year I’m slowly starting to learn about my self worth and that negative words can’t hurt me unless I let them. A quote I like to remember is “All the water in the sea can’t sink a ship unless it makes it inside.”.
People will bully you here for being too smart and scoring 60’s and 70s make you cool. And then there’s pretty privilege. We do however have some ‘popular’ Indians but you’ll notice that they’re all extremely embarrassed to be seen with other Indians and normally diss their culture. I find myself sad for them sometimes because they think they have to ditch their entire identity to fit in. So, maybe they’re popular, but at what cost?
And of course, we have the whole relationship drama here. It’s like everyone’s life is centered around finding a significant other. If no one has openly liked you, you aren’t cool. If you haven’t dated, drank alcohol, done drugs, or had sex, you aren’t cool. It’s just so annoying because school has turned into a real-life tinder for annoying kids who think they’re mature. It peeves me because they don’t realize how lucky they are to be able to learn and have access to such an awesome future. I’ve witnessed firsthand how people who have had 1/1000 of the things they’ve had have worked so hard yet have been given none of the opportunities that we are so fortunate to have.
Just a note: I am not in any way stereotyping people in the U.S. or being racist, this was just my experience.
Pavithra: The exact points I expected you to talk about – bullying Indians and the misconception of enjoying teen life in America. As you said, nowadays school kids think they are mature enough to do whatever the hell they want, no matter who gets hurt in the process or what the consequences are.
OUTRO: Share some beautiful places over there and tell us why it’s so special to you in one or two lines.
ME: Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque – I could see this from my room window and we also used to visit there frequently to go for a walk in the garden. It’s one of the famous mosque and a tourist spot in Muscat. It kind of reminds me of my home.
Thanks Poorvi, for being a part for this wonderful journey of recollecting memories. Sharing each other’s experiences felt like a conversation with my long lost friend.
Hope you all liked reading our stories. Thank you!
Signing off for today ✨