What It’s Really Like Being an International Student in the U.S.

“Mumbai meri jaan” is a phrase often heard floating around in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, my home. It literally translates to ‘Mumbai my life’ – a phrase that I never fully understood until I moved thousands of miles away, to the opposite side of the globe for the “American dream” college experience. The following are five realizations I had after spending a year in the United States, away from my country. 

  1. 1. My culture is cool.

    Well, that probably comes as no surprise for most of you – Indian culture is cool! But having lived there my whole life and being surrounded by it every day, it became one of those things – like many others in this list – that I unknowingly took for granted. It took seeing my non-Indian friends at college, miles away from my home, embracing the clothing, festivals, and the language to truly appreciate the richness of my culture and own that patriotic pride in me (pretty appalling, I know!)

  2. 2. I miss flavour, spice, and all other things nice.

    I’ve always been a spice girl. In fact, as a kid, I remember trying to eat a bare green chilly with my meal and, (even though my mouth was literally on fire and my tongue was almost numb) I loved it. Now that you pretty much know how high my tolerance for spice is, you probably understand or can try to understand my newfound love for Srichacha (PS: Frank’s hot sauce is not hot!). 

  3. 3. Friends? More like family.

    This might seem crazy to most of you, but I’ve had the same group of friends for the last 12 years (tbh, writing this made me realize how crazy that really is!) I’ve grown up with these people – we’ve stuck together through every phase – from rebellious hair-do’s (that we now totally regret) to secret boyfriends and girlfriends. While I am extremely fortunate to have some of my best friends only a bus-ride away, I’ve only grown to cherish my time with those who are in a different time-zone, country, or continent. I’ve never loved the power of instant, 21st-century technology more because I don’t know what I would do without the long FaceTime calls with my besties. Let’s face it  – college can get pretty stressful, and friends help with that stress!

  4. 4. Family is my favorite.

    I’ve always been extremely close with my family – my large, loud, crazy Indian family. Whether it’s my parents’ unconditional love and help, simple quality conversations with my grandparents over my favourite Indian feasts, or uncensored, honest advice from my older brother, I’ve grown to appreciate and value each of them so much more because I realise that not everyone has a tight-knit family that they can count on. So, don’t forget to tell your family you love them!

  5. 5. Appreciate the sun, the warmth, and the humidity (while it lasts!).

    Totally unrelated to my previous realizations but still, very, very pivotal – especially if you’re from a country or city where 80 degrees is considered “cold” weather like I am – because it isn’t even winter yet and I miss the warmth and the sunlight already! There wasn’t a week that went by at home without people complaining about how hot, sticky and “gross” the weather is but ever since I’ve moved here (as odd as it sounds), I miss the sweaty, sweltering heat!

After spending over a year away from home, that pungent “gross” smell that I would often complain about has now become nostalgia that takes over my senses as soon as the airplane lands. The bustling streets, buzzing with a constant honking that I once found annoying now makes me feel vibrant. The city of 22.5 million people that I once considered crowded, I now appreciate as a melting pot of colour, caste, and creed that engulfs me with warmth every time I arrive – this familiarity and comfort is what I miss the most. After all, it is what makes this city my home…  it is what makes Mumbai meri jaan.

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