Interview: What’s It Like Being an Expat in South Africa With a Toddler?

In our series presenting different experiences of expats all over the globe, let us introduce you to Tushita, who is hailing from India and living actually with her family in Johannesburg, South Africa.

As she shared with us when we first chatted, the decision to move and to explore the ‘unknown’ has surprised her! She has always been in Delhi and thus, to take the huge step of leaving not only her city, but the country, has been her biggest achievement. How does she deal with the remoteness from her family, questions of cultural identities while raising a toddler in another country and what are her biggest challenges?

KITnDO: How was your relocation to South Africa?

Tushita: While in India, my husband and I travelled across Italy, New Zealand, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey on holidays, we always wondered how ‘living’ abroad would be like. Our son was born on Feb 7th, 2017, and two days later, my husband gave us another life-changing news – that we were to move to Johannesburg as he was offered a global movement in his company. With a newborn, life anyway turns upside down and now with this news – I was speechless. We always wanted to experience living elsewhere, especially with increasing pollution in the city. But the move came at a point when I was at my most vulnerable phase.

The idea of having to leave my professional life and managing the baby on my own was a big weight on my shoulders. I felt overwhelmed. We reached Jo’burg, with our 5.5 month old, leaving behind our loved ones, my job and a life we were super comfortable in. Starting afresh and doing things I never did – like cooking, managing the baby single-handedly and leaving my passion – my career was taking its toll. I had good and bad days… But we managed to find people who helped us settle here.

KITnDO: How do you describe your cultural background?

Tushita: We are Bengalis, originally from East India, however, my grandparents moved to the Western part of the country and I was brought up in Delhi, the Capital and melting pot of cultures. Our community is known for its vivacious literature, performing arts, movies, among others. We are foodies and extremely proud of our culture that boasts of feisty women, our ability to question the norms and our sweet mother tongue – Bangla. We have rich culture and heritage and most children are involved in learning either music, dance, theatre or sports – primarily football. Our people are well read and enjoy a healthy discussion that we call ‘adda’. Our community is enriched by many stalwarts – from Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Swami Vivekananda, Sarojini Naidu, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Saurav Ganguly.

KITnDO: What do you miss from India? Have you found places in Johannesburg that bring you a little bit closer to your homeland?

Tushita: I miss our family and friends, street food, the chaos and the noise of the city – thankfully, access to street food, albeit occasionally is sorted!

Fordsburg (a suburb of Johannesburg) is the place to go if you’re looking for South Asian spices, herbs, vegetables, fish or small restaurants. You have small shops keeping stock of Indian sweets, savories and street food. Our go-to places are Dosa Hut that offers south Indian, Indian-Chinese and North Indian cuisines. For tandoori items, I go to a small Pakistani shop called Pehelwan – their roast chicken is to die for! For Biryanis and other such items, I usually go to Al Makka run by a Bangladeshi gentleman.

Other than this, there are several restaurants across the city that offer delectable Indian cuisines. For South Indian/coastal cuisine: Thava Restaurant and for North Indian: we like Classic India.

KITnDO: What language do you teach to your son? How is it important to transmit him your culture? Share some example.

Tushita: We speak in Bengali with our son while he learns English in his play school. We intend to teach him Hindi – the national language of India – a bit later.

As a student of history, I understand the importance of knowing one’s culture and heritage as it not only gives a sense of belonging but helps shape one’s identity. It is thus, important for me to provide a glimpse of my culture to my child. Knowing where I came from, helped me understand and respect those from diverse backgrounds. It helped me see what’s good and encouraged me to question norms that I wasn’t comfortable with. Reading and learning music nourished my soul and made me who I am today.

I’m not high on rituals or traditions, I believe in transferring the beauty of our culture – dance, music, literature to my child. Yet, my favorite celebration is Durga Puja – because it’s more than a religious tradition. It is a social occasion where we see our deity – not as god but as daughter visiting her family. Humanizing Goddess Durga and celebrating her and her children was my favorite since childhood. Here too, I’m happy to have founded my community people and we celebrated Durga Puja together – by performing and eating galore!

Tushita and her family

KITnDO: How did you find this community?

Tushita: Before moving to Joburg, I did my own research and found the Bengali Association of South Africa (BASA) page on FB. I contacted them and upon landing immediately became its member. The thriving community has 80+ Bengali families and organises many events during the year – starting from an annual picnic, Celebrating Tagore’s Birthday to the Durga Pujo. The warm and friendly members meet occasionally and I have made some lifelong friends through the association. We all participate and take our responsibilities extremely seriously!

KITnDO: What is most challenging for you as an expat spouse?

Tushita: As an expat spouse, the biggest challenge has been to give up my job and accompany my husband. I have a decade-long experience across nonprofit and private sectors with expertise in communications, CSR and programme management.

To face it, I have recently restarted my career as an independent consultant/freelance specializing in nonprofit communications, content development, M&E reporting and documentation. Finding work is an arduous task and though I regularly apply for positions at UN and likes, it’s proving to be extremely difficult.

I am looking for a development consultancy or an organization that doesn’t shy away from hiring a person like me and I would very much like to work in the social sector space and hoping to work in the mecca of international development – Africa. (And we are happy to share the link to Tushita’s Linkedin Profile!)

KITnDO: Finally, what represents community for you and how you deal with fact having to look for new friends?

Tushita: I feel lucky to have this opportunity of exploring another country and meeting new people. Yes, it’s a challenge to make friends and expand your professional network – but one needs to be open minded and embrace this as part of this journey… after all how many get such an opportunity? It’s best to focus on the positive, and for me community is all encompassing that shares common values like love, respect and acceptance.


So inspired? Have you ever moved abroad to follow your spouse? How did you manage in this new life? If you want to share something, don’t hesitate to do so in the comments section below. We’d like to hear about it!

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