Bollywood to Hollywood: International student transitions to life in East Los Angeles


Collage artwork of Cal State LA student Dhananjay Desai from Mumbai. Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Dhananjay Desai. Artwork courtesy of Julie Patel Liss.

KeAndre Berry, Community News Reporter

Before Dhananjay Desai, or DJ, arrived in East Los Angeles from Mumbai, India, he researched what the area was like.

He had watched television shows and movies and read about Southern California and Los Angeles in particular.

Mumbai, formerly called Bombay, is called “Bollywood” because it’s where most movies are made in India.

That’s why Desai was especially excited that he would be living near Hollywood, where Bollywood got its name.

But soon after arriving, he was overwhelmed with homesickness. Being thousands of miles away from family and friends made him feel lonely and depressed.

He knew he had to make it work, however, because he really wanted to work for a tech company. With a master’s degree from a foreign country, he knew the odds would be better of getting a job.

“My parents told me that If I am so into computers, then that is something I should study,” Desai said.

While there is a lot to love about L.A., Desai said some things rubbed him the wrong way. Desai said Los Angeles and Mumbai are both big, beautiful cities, but L.A. felt as if it was moving too fast for him and some Angelenos seemed “self-centered.”

“They don’t have time to help anybody,” Desai said.

In contrast, he said many people in Mumbai help each other despite being strangers. He said he wonders if it has anything to do with reports of human trafficking.

Making things worse, Desai also faced discrimination. A couple waiting for a bus approached him, but not with a friendly greeting.

“They told me to go back to where I belong,” Desai said.

That was probably his lowest point, the time he missed home the most. He reminisced about good times in Mumbai.

“I miss my car. I would go and pick up my friends and we would go and explore,” Desai said.

He and his friends often hang out at Marine Drive, also known as the Queen’s Necklace because the coastal line resembles a necklace from high up.

He said he overcame his lowest moments by hanging out with his sister and FaceTiming his family more often.

Finding ways to cope and be happier have helped Desai get to know L.A. better, exploring it and going on walks. While L.A. still doesn’t feel like home, he is regaining the sense of excitement he first felt when planning his adventure.