Bronwyn’s story is somewhat exceptional as she decided to become an expat at a relatively early in her life. At an age where most people take the first steps toward adulthood, she took a giant step towards a new life in India. She has been documenting her observations and experiences on her blog Little Bird Bombay.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Mumbai, etc.
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 as Resource Coordinator 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 I felt quite insignificant as just another foreigner in India. I preferred and still prefer to write about what I see.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I like my blog entries from 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 behavior in Canada and India.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Mumbai differs from that back 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 decisions/preparations you made?
I moved to Mumbai when I was 21. 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 placed 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) and a positive attitude, and to leave all pre-conceived notions about India and about Mumbai on the plane when you land.
How is the expat community in Mumbai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Mumbai is small compared to other cosmopolitan international cities, but very vibrant. The variety of expats in Mumbai is also significant, with some people working as diplomats or in multinational companies, and others in arts or with local nonprofits. It’s relatively easy to see and meet expats, but takes a little time to find a regular group of friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Mumbai in a single, catchy sentence?
Mumbai: live it and love it, or leave.