Our Stories: The Indian Expat Kid

Vedika Sharma ‘20, Staff Writer

The Indian Expat Kid

By Vedika Sharma ‘20

 

I was born in Bangalore, the capital of India’s southern Karnataka state. My six years here were populated with Indian food, dancing, festivals, and people. I spoke Hindi at home, school, and with friends. My paternal and maternal grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins lived in the apartment complex, Purva Park, with me. The sense of home and belonging was always present and not once did I feel out of place. My days were full of tireless studying at Delhi Public School or eating homemade roti, paneer, and dal at my grandparents’ house. My nights were occupied by eating pan and jalebi from street stalls or visits to the theater with my cousin to watch Bollywood blockbusters. This bubble that I lived in popped when my dad got a job in Singapore as I was beginning elementary school.

Singapore is an island city-state off southern Malaysia that serves as the financial and cultural hub of Southeast Asia. While it is one of the most expensive cities to live in, I regarded it as a newfound privilege to grow up in such a safe and clean country, something that was unfamiliar to me. I lived in the same condominium, Costa Rhu, for my nine years there and attended The United World College of South East Asia, an international private school, for my entire time in Singapore. Within the extremely multicultural of Singapore, the Indian population there is big and growing. I greatly related to the expat Indian families and children around me. They too were born in India and visited once or twice a year. We shared the same cultural norms and values. Life was simple and easy because we were all the same. However, after nine years of living there, I desperately wanted to break out of the routine. I needed a change in environment and people. As if the gods heard my prayer, my dad received an offer to move with our family to Boston for work.

Saying goodbye to such a comfortable environment and people that I grew up with was not easy, yet my excitment overshadowed any negative thoughts. I had a fantasy of my new life and school in the US. Would it be like the movies? Would all my complaints of Singapore not apply anymore? I was ready to find out.

Orientation at CA was hard as a new sophomore because I got no real image of what my class would be like. Yet, I was struck by how predominantly white and American my new environment would be. I was used to being in a school where the student body represented over one hundred and fifty countries so this was a huge change. I wanted to absorb the new culture I was presented with, and I wanted to fit in but I felt alienated from simply saying my name because my classmates were unable to pronounce it. I didn’t think anyone understood my background or experiences. I was constantly questioned about the words I used and the way I pronounced things because of my British English. Having the things that were always normal to me being discussed was unnatural.  

Though I complained about the little differences I experienced to my friends on the other side of the world, my parents had a more difficult experience. They left a strong Indian community, and everything they had ever known so that my brother and I could have the opportunities we have today. My mom had to live in a town rather than a city for the first time. She didn’t have close friends to call up in the small pockets of free time in between driving, cooking, cleaning, and managing the home. The lifestyle changes took a toll on all of us.

With time we were able to find families who share similar backgrounds and experiences to us. These connections have helped us to create a home in the US and see ourselves as a part of the Indian community here. The children of my parents’ new-found friends have a place in my heart that my closest friends at CA can never have. The similarities in upbringings and values that we share made me realize that I am not alone. I was also able to form a home at CA within the South Asian Student Society (SASS). Although our experiences and upbringings within the group are diverse, being able to talk to everyone about South Asian parents, expectations, and norms is a pleasant break from my everyday immersion into American culture.

Even though living in the US is something I see in my future, the Indian values and education that have been instilled in me are something I will pass onto my children. Seeing Indian-American kids uneducated about their roots hurts me as I know that they’re missing out on a rich and important part of their identity. I see myself in these kids since I used to try so hard to leave my roots behind in order to fit in with my peers. Yet, on a trip back to Singapore and India during spring break last year, I remembered why I was so proud to be Indian and that I’d rather share this significant part of who I am than hide it. Even though I try and make the US home for myself on a daily, where I come from is something no one can take away from me or make me lose sight of.