13 July 2016| Last updated on 18 October 2017
With lots of experience as an expatriate behind her, Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan is the perfect example of an expat lifestyle. Having grown up in India, and then spending time in the US, Australia and now currently living in London, in the UK, she's got a lot of useful information and advice to share to other new or prospective expats across the globe.
Tell us about you, Kaamna
As a child, we traveled extensively around the world with my parents and that wanderlust stayed with me as an adult. Fortunately, I married a man who has a similar love for exploring the world and in 2008 we had the opportunity to move to Sydney, Australia with his company.
Our first child was born in Sydney, and although I had moved countries before, the experience of adjusting to a new culture with a child was quite different. There are new things you need to pay attention to and other things that used to matter that don’t anymore (like happy hour spots!). We sailed through though, and navigated through another move to San Francisco, where my second child was born, and a third one to London in 2013.
How long have you lived in London?
By the time we leave in December 2016 it will have been 3 years.
Why did you move here?
My husband had an opportunity at work and we jumped on it because I have lived in London as a child, and love the city!
You might also be interested in:
- Meet a trailing spouse living in Germany
- Follow Gina and her misadventures around Asia
- The adventures of a girl wearing pearls
Why do you like living in London?
Let me preface this by saying that having grown up in Mumbai, I am a completely urban creature. So for me, London is the best place in the world to live. The city has everything: history and grace, culture and art. It’s an amazing place for families as well – with gorgeous parks, free museums and hoards of children’s activities planned around the city every weekend. The only downside is the weather – it truly is horrible – but London makes up for it in a hundred different ways.
What are the accommodation options like?
In London you can find apartments, townhomes and independent homes. Central London is one of the most expensive places in the world to live in but if you move a little bit outside, prices are more reasonable.
What do you enjoy doing with your time?
As a third time expat, I knew I could offer a lot of assistance to moms moving around the world with their kids. I learned through my experience that housing and relocation companies help – but they don’t have those local insights and nuggets that local parents do: Which are the best playgrounds and recreation centers? What’s the inside scoop on the best schools and neighborhoods? What are the unspoken norms and expectations?
I decided to start a service to connect relocating families with local moms – our “Mombassadors” - to make this extremely valuable information easily accessible to them. MomAboard was officially launched in September 2015 and offers trip planning assistance as well. Living in London is the best place to run a business like this as it’s truly a global center.
What top tips do you have for anyone considering a move?
Do as much research as you can before hand. Use services like MomAboard, talk to people who live there, and read online and off about the new culture. I love looking at local newspapers to see what’s important in a particular city – it tells you volumes about the culture and value system of a place. If you are moving with kids, talk to them about your new hometown, and encourage them to do some research of their own. Talk about things you are looking forward to, and of course, things you’ll be sad to leave behind.
What do you wish you’d known before you moved?
That the act of moving itself is the easiest part. Packing, selling cars and transferring utilities usually take up a lot of our mind-space when we’re moving but the process of “settling in” carries on for months after the boxes have been unpacked. In my experience, it takes about 6 months in any city to truly adjust, and it’s the intangibles like social relationships and establishing a feeling of belonging around that require the most attention and are hardest to navigate.
What’s the best thing about being an expat?
If you move with a company, assistance with moving and housing are always nice perks.
How do you keep a little bit of home with you as an expat?
I am lucky that London is closer to my hometown Mumbai than many other cities I’ve lived in. Therefore, my children and I have seized many opportunities to visit and are happy to have been able to celebrate many major Indian festivals in India itself. London also has a huge Indian community, which helps when I am feeling particularly homesick, not to mention some of the best Indian restaurants in the world. Finally, in our home, Indian music accompanies all our other favorites like Latin, Pop and Classical, so the kids weave seamlessly between all these cultures.
Anything else you’d like to share with us about your expat experience?
There are lots of reasons to move and lots of reasons to stay put. If you are made to move not by choice, take it in your stride, taking comfort in the fact that adapting to a new environment is a life skill and will almost always result in a positive experience, even if it takes some time. I’ve enjoyed every city we’ve lived in tremendously and always tell people to live away from home at least once in their lives.