The actress says she had a rough go of it her first time in the U.S. and later as a young Bollywood star

Updated November 15, 2015 06:05 PM
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Sarah Kehoe

Priyanka Chopra With her hit ABC drama Quantico, Priyanka Chopra, who’s a Bollywood superstar back home in India, is having a blast here in the states. “America has been so welcoming to me,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

But she didn’t always feel that way. The 33-year-old actress first experience in the U.S. came when she was just a teen. After falling in love with America during a family vacation, she came to live with her aunt and uncle and attended high school in Queens, New York, and later Newton, Massachusetts.

“When I went to school here, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me,” recalls Chopra. Her different culture made her a target for bullies. “I was called ‘Brownie’ and told, ‘Take your curry and go back to your country,’ ” says Chopra. “It was hard. I wanted to go home, and I did.”

Back in India her mom Madhu, a doctor, submitted her pictures to the Miss India pageant. “I won and then I won the U.K.’s Miss World pageant,” says Chopra. “So it was a good thing I went back.”

Her gorgeous looks and pageant success made her a shoe in for a Bollywood leading lady, but she soon faced more discrimination, this time for being a woman.

After asking one film producer questions about her compensation, “He said, ‘Well if you can’t adjust we can just launch a new girl because girls are interchangeable anyways in movies.’ That stuck with me,” says Chopra. “I didn’t want to be interchangeable.”

Now, the first ever South Asian woman to headline an American network drama, she’s proved herself versatile and anything but interchangeable.

“I believe in myself and my art so much,” says Chopra, who, aside from Quantico, has 50 Hindi films under her belt. “I’ve always trusted destiny. Wherever it takes me I just work damn hard at the opportunity.”

And as destiny would have it, Chopra ran into that same chauvinistic producer years later at a social event when she had risen to become a Bollywood superstar. “I told him, ‘Well I’m pretty relevant now huh?”

For more on

Quantico ‘s trailblazing new star, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Quantico airs Sundays (10 p.m. ET) on ABC.