My name is Akanksha Aurora.

"So when I came here, and they were like, ‘Oh, your accent is so funny.’ I was like, ‘Your accent is funny [laughs] to me.’ So that was like, definitely one of the things that I was most noticed for. When I came in, I have, obviously, since changed to like, a white voice."

Mumbai, India

Boston, Massachusetts



Los Angeles, California



We will start with the first question, what do you remember from your first few days in the United States when you arrived?

Sure. So, some of the first things I remember is, basically just landing in Boston. And having a lot of winter clothes, like having a lot of winter clothes, because I didn't really grow up having a winter in Mumbai and didn't really know what to expect. So I kind of remember just, like my very first photo that I took at the BU (Boston University) campus was, I was wearing a turtleneck. And it was like 75 degrees out [laughs]. So I don't know, I just have that image really clearly. And I remember just being like, incorrectly dressed for anything [laughs], in the first few days of orientation. Everyone else was in like, really short shorts. And like, you know, for Boston, 75 degrees is warm, and like it's a beautiful day. Umm, So I don't know, I just remember being like, weirdly dressed. But also no one really made fun of me for being weirdly dressed, kind of cute and wholesome. Umm, because I got to talk to my orientation buddies about it. Yeah, I don't know, I remember the first few days just being really cute.

And when you arrived, who did you meet? Or like right away, or who were the first few people that you met?

So before I went to Boston University, I had joined a Facebook group where I could connect with other Boston University alumni, or no like, sorry, not alumni, new students that were coming in that year. And I met a girl named Helen Keller, that was actually her name, from Wisconsin, on there. And she was just this white girl from Wisconsin, like super friendly, and I had started to chat with her online. And she was one of the first people that I encountered, it turns out that her room was assigned just down, just down the hall from me. So I would see her all the time and kind of hanging out with her for a little bit. And then I also saw, I guess the first person that I met after that was like another girl named Emma in a computer lab. And my orientation, buddy, I didn't have like family basically, is what I'm saying to come see. I started kind of building my little friends [laughs].

And what was your first impression of the place that you arrived to?

I think it was just very, very American, like wide streets like fast cars. Everything was very gray, like everything had this kind of shine to it because it was just stuff I had seen on TV before. And knowing that I was in it was a very surreal experience. Because that's like America is real. The grocery stores were so big, just kind of the cliche things that you hear from immigrants all the time. But- but it's because I guess they're cliche because they're so true that being here feels so surreal when you're first there, everything's just kind of larger than life, but also at the same time, a lot smaller, like there's not as much chaos and crowd and police. So, and kind of…

Sorry, go ahead.

No, I was just saying, Yeah, that was probably the first thing I noticed.

And kind of going off of that, What were some of the things that surprised you and didn't surprise you?

I think it surprised me how wealthy some people were because I kind of knew it in theory, but then being at a school like Boston University, which was like ivy league adjacent school, just felt like there were a lot of other international students there that were really wealthy, some of them from India and some of them from my own circles. I think it was the first time I became kind of like, conscious about wealth and how much that means in America. Because I went to school with wealthy people in Mumbai too. And I noticed the difference. But I think in America, it just became very stark, because just kind of because there's no real middle class. And I was sort of seeing that happening in action is one of the first things I picked up on as a difference.

And in terms of cultural differences and similarities, what did you notice in terms of cultural differences between the United States and India?

I think the familiarity that people have with each other in India was a little bit missing here, people are very individualistic, you can't just go up to the person selling you something at the grocery store and like tease him about his haircut, like [laughs], it's not the same dynamic, where like, everyone's kind of just having fun all the time. There's a lot more emphasis on boundaries, there's a lot more emphasis on individual space and personal bubble in America versus in India, where, you know, you're all just on top of each other [laughs]. So there's something equalizing about that. So that was kind of the big cultural difference that I noticed. And then also just on the flip side of that coin, like the overt friendliness that Americans do have, because it's like, even though in India, we're not friendly in the same way Americans are, there's a camaraderie that's implicit versus like, when there's someone here who's just like, “Hi, Namaste”, like, “Welcome to my cafe.” That feels weird to us. So just the difference in the way communities are and are formed if that makes sense.

Did you face any challenges or barriers in your first few days in the United States?

Um, yeah, like, quite honestly, my accent because I, obviously I came from India. So I had, like, this kind of accent, like a regular Indian accent, like you grew up in Mumbai speak like this. This was like, never an issue for me when I was in India, because everyone's English sounded like this. And, you know, it was, I don't know, I didn't realize that I had an accent. I always thought of Americans as having an American accent. So when I came here, and they were like, “Oh, your accent is so funny.” I was like, “Your accent is funny [laughs] to me.” So that was like, definitely one of the things that I was most noticed for. When I came in, I have, obviously, since changed to like, a white voice. But in the beginning, it was a lot more conscious, because I got made fun of about it on a regular basis. And I wanted to assimilate. And now it's kind of just how I sound.

And were there any presumptions you had about American culture and any presumptions you faced that people had about Indian culture?

Yeah, I have a very, not, I wouldn't say utopian, because that's exaggerating. But I had a very positive view of American culture before I came to America, because I grew up on a lot of American sitcoms, so Friends and Seinfeld and things of that nature. And I just thought it was a place where you and all your friends just hang out all the time and do hobbies and like, have fun and like, have breakups and whatever just seems like a place that represented a lot of freedom, and a lot of companionship, even. That obviously, the actual experience of the thing here was a little different, because just how you make friends and stuff like that. Could you repeat actually, the question for me again, I'm like, losing track of what I'm saying.

No, you are doing great. Great. So you answered the first part about assumptions about American culture. But did you feel that there were any assumptions about Indian culture that you faced?

Um, I guess, because I was in a university environment, it wasn't quite as oppressive as you know, maybe someone moving here for a job or something like that. It wasn't that bad, but it was very kind of scattered. It was kind of woven into every aspect, in a way, even though it wasn't very overt. Like, I think people would be surprised that I knew Green Day or Blink 182 or any of the bands that like they grew up listening to, they would be surprised that I could relate to certain aspects of their childhoods, because for them like growing up in India means “Oh, you grew up in like a hut with no electricity” or whatever that the assumption is where they assume that I grew up a certain way. So there's a lot of surprise, like they weren't expecting, I think they were expecting me to have a much more tragic and kind of sad like, backstory, which there are elements of my backstory that are sad, but I grew up relatively comfortable. So people always assumed though that because I wasn't one of those super wealthy international students, I was living in a hut. And like, I would get asked about whether I ever used like, a menstrual pad and like, things like that [laughs].

What advice would you give to other newly arrived immigrants in the United States?

Um, that's such a big question just because, like, people immigrate here for so many reasons. But I would say if they were maybe in a similar situation, immigrating for school, or immigrating, because they just want to go somewhere and recreate themselves because that's honestly why I emigrated and kind of a privileged way. And regardless of how they feel about like, getting here, I want them to like, really grasp the opportunity and like, but also, kind of the nuance of how like this is, this is one of the biggest losses of your life. But this is also one of the biggest and most exciting adventures of it, like basically hold on to the understanding that it is always going to feel like both [laughs]. There's no need to paint it all in one brush. Like I immigrated here for a better life and I, everything is better now. Or I immigrated here because like, things were horrible. It's just both of, both of those things are true. And so hold space for that, I guess.

Absolutely. Thank you so much.