My name is Chinmayi Mungara.
INTERVIEWED BY Riya Singhal x 1

"I thought about coming to the United States so much that when we walked out of the airport, I like literally cried, which was, which was a different feeling."

Hyderabad, India

Princeton, New Jersey



Princeton, New Jersey



So can you just tell us like, what's your name? Like, when did you move here? And, like the first few things that you remember about when you moved?

My name is Chinmayi Mungara. I moved here 2016, It was June of 2016. Um, I think I remember, so when we walked out of the airport, I came here with my family. I was 17. And, um, I thought about coming to the United States so much that when we walked out of the airport, I like literally cried, which was, which was a different feeling [laughs]. But it was really nice. We, it was a sudden move, we moved from my dad's job. We flew from Hyderabad, in India, to Newark, got out of Newark. And yeah, it was, it was fun. I was excited [laughs]. But yeah, we, as soon as we got, got here, we didn't have a house yet. So we stayed at like, one of those like, suites, like apartment type hotel. Yeah. And we stayed in Princeton. My dad's job was in Princeton. And I remember like, we were there for about a month before my dad bought a house, we moved to the house. But I think the first thing that I wanted to do after I got here was go to Walmart.


Because Walmart's such a big deal. It's like, the first big grocery store. And I don't think when back in Hyderabad, we never had like, anything similar to a Walmart. So first, it was Walmart. And then it was Barnes and Noble. Or like, the mall, and then it was Costco for me [laughs]. But yeah, that was those. It was a, it was a fun experience it. I missed my friends. But it was also so excited to be moving to the United States and like starting college and things like that, that I don't think in, in that one month, it didn't hit me it or it hadn't hit me. And so it was good.

Like, what were some of the biggest cultural differences and similarities you noticed between the United States and Hyderabad?

Um, I think cultural differences was I mean, everything I think the first thing, so I had a bunch of shorts that I would always hesitate to wear in Hyderabad, but not because my parents said anything, it just, I don't know, I just would hesitate to wear things like that in Hyderabad. But then here, I think that was like the first thing I wore, and I didn’t feel bad about it.
But other than that, I think people were just so friendly here. I wasn't used to somebody keeping the door open for me or saying, like, “Good morning, how are you? How's it going today?” So that was, that was definitely something that I had to get used to.

I think one of the biggest, I guess, things that one of the things that was harder to roll over was dance. So my mom and I are classical dancers. And my mom, will we used to teach back in India in Hyderabad. And we had like a proper school, we had, like 100 students, 150 students, and it was like, it was going really, really well. But when we moved, we put a substitute teacher there. But we were no longer there. And when we got here, I think it was hard because we wanted to, dance is such a big part of our lives. We wanted to establish ourselves as dancers. And I think as soon as we moved, that was one thing that we struggled to do a little bit cause especially in New Jersey, where there's a lot of Indians, it's, it's so good. I mean, it's really good to see that there's also a lot of dancers, but it's also when you're a dancer, trying to make a name for yourself. It's such a saturated like, platform. But I think my mom and I really connected because we went to temples together, we, you know, put up fliers and did this and that and tried to really market ourselves. Because it was again, it was starting from, from ground zero. And that was a good. That was an interesting learning experience. It was frustrating, but it was also I guess, it was a fresh start. So it felt good, but it was so frustrating. But yeah, that was that's something I mean, even now, after all these years, it's, it's always like an ongoing thing to, because you have to keep evolving to what the next generation needs and the next generation wants and it's, it's been a struggle, but it's been, it's been interesting.

Do you miss your school?

I do, I think, because the place we lived in was really, really nice. Like we lived in a very nice community and like had a lot of friends there. I used to play basketball with them. But I also had a lot like again, dance students. And so I do miss my dance, dance kids. We tried to continue online, and I think COVID made that more plausible for us because everybody was more open doing online classes. But I missed the in person. I think I went back in 2018 for a longer period of time. When you know, after a move, that was the first time I stayed, I stayed for like three months, during the summer. And I would go to classes, and I think I don't think I realized how much I missed the kids in India until like that year. So I still missed them. I mean, I'm still there, still some, some of them are still there. Some of them are not. But I do miss them [laughs].

And did you face any challenges or barriers in the first few days of being in the US?

I think, in the first few days, because it was mostly just us. I mean, we didn't have transportation. So we had to use like the shuttle that the hotel had to go anywhere. But I think the real challenge really only began after we got like, moved into a new house. And then after I started classes, because then I had to start making friends, because until then, it was just me and my family. But after I got to college, it was making friends getting used to, registering for your own classes. Because in India, everything's it's set in stone, like you take everybody does the same class, like it's at least where I was from Hyderabad, it was all set in stone. And here, it's, it's so I guess it's you pick and choose what you want to do. And that's something that, again, I had to get used to.

And kind of like, what was your first impressions of like Princeton, when you first got there?

I think I was jealous of Princeton, of the kids that went to Princeton University. Because so when I moved, I was gonna finish school, I was gonna go to college in India. But that particular year, they kept canceling the exam that I had to take. And so I moved here, but it was too late to take the SATs. So I went to community college for like, a semester, two semesters, and then I transferred into Rutgers. Because Rutgers was the easy option. It was the only school I applied to I knew I was going to get in. And I think, just throughout that whole process, I was just so jealous of the kids that went to Princeton University, because I wanted to go to Princeton University. But I knew that, you know, I couldn't at that point. But Princeton was, Princeton is really nice. It was very, very much like I expected America to be minus the tall buildings. It was just really pretty and picturesque.

Is there anything else you remember about? How you felt the first few days when you moved into your new house? I'm sure that must be different from where you lived in, Hyderabad?

Oh, yeah, sure. The first few days, I was mainly just really excited. And I was really excited to get out. But I couldn't because I didn't have transportation. But once we moved to the new house, it was it was fine. It was nice to kind of make my own room and do all that. But it was also, I guess, it took some time to get all the things we needed. Because it was such a, an unexpected move. Especially for me, because I was like, I wasn't expecting to come here. There were days when I felt lost, because I didn't have friends, yet. But I think my friends back at home were really supportive. And we like connected all the time. So it was it was good and bad. Yeah, it was bittersweet [laughs].

And then last, what advice would you give to other newly arrived immigrants to the United States?

Um, don't be shy. I think, especially when we're new to this place, especially like a country like America, because people here are very open and they, they talk to everybody. They're not afraid to look you in the eye. And I'm not saying people in India aren’t it's just, it's new. And I think we tend to shy away or we, we tend to feel like we're not enough sometimes. And that's not true. So I think don't be shy. Don't be shy to voice what you want. And really go for it [laughs].

Thank you.

Yep, you're welcome!