Hello Diversity Abroad community,
My film and media internship in Mumbai and service-learning program in Malavli lasts 6-weeks; so I will be blogging at the end of each two-week period to share my experiences as well as fulfill the three-blog posts while abroad requirement. This is my first blog while abroad, so of course, this post will discuss my experiences within my first two-weeks: initial impression, culture shock, challenges, program details, etc.
So, before I even got to Mumbai, I ran into an unfortunate situation. I missed my first flight due to my boyfriend’s car catching a flat-tire on our way to the airport, so I had to cancel my entire reservation in order to get some type of refund and then re-book a new flight for the next-day. Luckily, I have people in my corner who helped me get through that obstacle. Initially, I was crying and extremely disappointed when the airline attendant told me that I would not be able to board my flight. I thought that all the hard work that I put into planning this trip would go to waste, but by the grace of God and generosity of people who love me, I was able to get a flight for the next evening. I arrived two hours early for my new flight so that I would not run into any more problems. I must admit, as I waited to board my flight, a lot of emotions started to flood through me. I was excited to be taking my first international trip, anxious to immerse myself in a new culture and to step outside of my comfort zone, eager to learn more about Bollywood productions, and happy that the second part of my program would allow me to dedicate my time and skills to the children of Malavli, however, I was also scared to be traveling so far away from home, concerned about how the native people would treat me, and honestly, sad that for 6-weeks I would be about 8,000 miles away from all of my loved ones. These are obviously feelings that many other students have experienced before me, but I just wasn’t expecting to be so overcome by them; I guess it was reality setting in. I boarded my first flight to Frankfurt, Germany from Philadelphia at 5:45p.m. and arrived in Frankfurt at about 8 a.m. After going through security there, I relaxed, ate, and explored the airport a little. My next flight was the one that would take me to Mumbai! My flight departed from Germany at 1:30 p.m. and arrived in Mumbai around 1:30 a.m. After going through customs, I had to wait for my luggage, which took a lot longer than I expected. Once I retrieved my luggage I went to exchange my USD for rupees then headed out to find the ISAC program manager that would be taking me to the guest house.
I stepped out of the air-conditioned building and the humidity of early-morning Mumbai hit me immediately. There was absolutely no breeze. My first instinct was to take off the hoodie that had been keeping me warm and snug during my plane ride because obviously, I wouldn’t need it here. Outside of the airport was also a huge sea of people holding signs with different names on them; trying to find their loved ones, friends, associates, etc. I looked around to see if I could spot an “ISAC” sign, but I slowly became overwhelmed as my eyes made their way through the crowds of people, yet, could not spot my respective welcome sign. I rolled my suitcase over to a bench in the nearby waiting area and began to look around and feel out this new environment. As I looked around I could see many pairs of eyes glaring into my direction; some staying on me for about 2-minutes or so and only taking a break from observing me when they blinked or their attention was directed elsewhere. I knew that people would look at me because I am obviously a foreigner, but I had no idea how intense and blatant it would be. As my discomfort grew more and more, I decided that it was time to take matters into my own hands and make my way through the crowd to find the ISAC program manager who would be meeting me. I slowly began walking through the native people, looking for a bright yellow shirt. As I made my way, a little girl came up behind me, with wide eyes, and stared at my hair, which is braided and shaved in the back. She then ran off, returning a few seconds later with another little girl and they both looked me up and down and spoke to each other in their native tongue. I continued on through the crowd and finally spotted Mansoor, who was there to pick me up. We made our way to the taxi depot, with eyes still following me. I was relieved once I was inside the taxi and could no longer feel eyes on me. The smells of Mumbai were also very peculiar and unfamiliar to my nose. There was an array of different scents in the waiting area of the airport alone, and as we drove to the guesthouse, the smells grew more intense. The taxi ride also gave me my first experience with Mumbai’s traffic and the driving skills of the people here; it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There are no real driving lanes, everyone just goes where ever they can fit and speeds by one another; there were times where I thought we may actually hit a pedestrian because no one was really obeying the traffic lights. Overall, I experienced culture shock immediately. The entire process of catching the flights and finally arriving in Mumbai had me excited and overjoyed, and then once I walked outside of the airport and got my first experiences with the people and climate, I was a bit taken back by it all.
One thing that I would suggest to many students who study abroad is to constantly revisit the goals that you set pre-departure and make note of any challenges that may interfere with your goals and how you can overcome them. Also, document all your experiences, feelings, concerns, memories, etc. It will help when blogging and when sharing stories once you get back home.
I went back to review the goals that I set for myself prior to arriving in Mumbai. I will address each goal again while answering the questions of whether I still feel each goal is reasonable, what challenges there are that may interfere with each goal, and how I plan to work through those challenges so that I can attain each goal that I set.
My biggest goal was to learn as much as I possibly can about the production of Bollywood films. In 2-weeks I feel like I have learned a fair amount of new things about the time and effort that goes into Bollywood films, whether they be the high-budget movies with dance numbers or smaller budget films dealing with social issues and real-life stories. Hearing from the directors and other film professionals involved in the movies that we watched during week 1 of the program helped a lot in better understanding the films and why certain elements were included in each movie. A challenge that faced during week 1 was the difference in conversation between myself and the film professionals and Sarah (my white counterpart) and the film professionals. I’ve noticed that many of the people we have interacted with are more forward and direct when talking to Sarah; they want to know more about her, her project idea, etc. but in my case, they don’t make much eye contact or inquire more. Even when I ask questions, they answer it toward Sarah, which makes me become more reserved and not want to really take part in the conversation anymore. Initially, it wasn’t that big of a deal because I didn’t want to dwell on it, but as it continued to happen, I could feel myself withdrawing more and more. Regardless, I am still happy to be able to hear what they have to say in regard to their experiences, film work, and upcoming projects, despite other cultural issues that make conversations more awkward on my part. I have just accepted that this is the cultural norms here and may be something that is done subconsciously. My darker skin may be looked down upon here, but that does not stop the fact that I am a beautiful, driven, and intelligent young woman who has worked extremely hard academically and professionally and will make great films or TV series one day. Regardless of what adversities I have to face, whether in the United States, India, or another country one day, I will stay true to who I am and never be ashamed of my blackness or my culture.
India is country that is still very racist and everywhere you look there are advertisements promoting “fairness” creams and other bleaching products. Advertisements always have very light Indians or white people. This is a reality of this culture that many foreigners of color will see if they decide to visit. Darker people are associated with more negative views and fair skin is looked at as beautiful and superior. India is not the only country that suffers from this type of internal self-hate or negative aftermath of a country’s history. I just want students of color, especially dark-skinned students, to know that they may be subjected to racism, discrimination, and ignorance. However, not everywhere you go will be like this. The guest house for my program is located in what has been referred to as “the wrong part of the city for foreigners and tourists” by Divia Thani, Editor-in-Chief of Condenast Traveller India and alumni from my university. The people there are not very friendly to me and will stare extremely hard, make rude faces, ignore me, and service lighter skinned students before they get to me. Part of it is culture and the embedded teaches of their society. I am trying to not take things so personal and to just stay strong and work through the ignorance when I encounter it. When we traveled to the Churchgate section of Mumbai to shop and to visit the Gateway of India and Taj Palace hotel, the people were a lot more open-minded and friendly, though, they still stared and there were still some people who gave me nasty looks.
Another goal that I set was to “expand myself culturally and linguistically.” I definitely feel like I am getting the cultural aspect through my observations in meetings, going out to the malls or other locations, and walking the streets. Being in a new country means that the culture is right in front of your face, whether you acknowledge it or not. Granted, the culture is different from what I am used to in many ways, I am trying my best to accept it for what it is and to get through my time here by using all the observations that I have made and directing towards a future project or productive outlet. As far as linguistically, I have been trying to speak some of the Hindi words that I know whenever I have an opportunity to. Though there are people who know English, I still try to speak some Hindi words just to show my appreciation for the culture and my effort to try to learn the language. A challenge right now is actually being able to grasp the language. I have been reviewing stuff on my own time, but it is not as easy to learn through hearing people speak it, especially when they are speaking fast or when they won’t talk to you. I’ve decided to just use some free time here and there to try to work on my basic Hindi skills.
My last goal was to contribute something to this country. I feel like this goal will be more obtainable once I am in Malavli because I will be contributing my time and knowledge to the children there and helping to create a promotional video for the orphanage, which will be available for their personal use for whoever they see fit. As far as Mumbai, I walk around with my head held high and with confidence hoping that the darker women here will look at me and see that they are good enough, despite their “dusky” complexion. I know that the media, film industry, TV shows, advertisements, and general population make them feel like they are not worthy, like they are inferior, and I hope that by some small chance at least one darker skinned woman takes notice of me and realizes that she has to be comfortable in her skin to be truly happy. The cultural-wide idea that fairer skin is better and makes one superior is something that is deeply rooted in this country and I hope that one day women of darker complexions will not feel the need to bleach their skin, hate themselves, or feel “unpretty” in the presence of someone fairer. That they will not need validation from those who are deemed more superior solely based on the color of their skin. That they will be proud and content with being their dark-skinned, beautiful selves.
This blog post has gotten extremely long and I still was not able to include everything that I wanted to share. The jetlag has subsided and I am getting more adjusted as time goes by. Can’t wait to share my experiences from weeks 3 and 4.