“Who are you?”
Someone asked me in a ear-piercing, shrilling, intrusive voice. But I wasn’t bedazzled by the question at all, for I was highly accustomed to it. It was a routine, meeting new meeting, making friends and everyday repeating the same story of who I really am.
I’m an exchange student from Pakistan aka an ordinary girl with extraordinary courage; the kind of courage which is beyond the potential of an ordinary 17 years old. I’m a girl from a small city of Pakistan with big ambitions and dreams. I’m a girl with sky-high hopes and a passion anyone could hardly challenge.My enthusiasm makes me unstoppable and my confidence, unbreakable!
But the story was completely different a year back. As I reflect back, I see myself as a shy, introverted girl who didn’t even know how to carry out a social conversation but I had always believed in miracles and sure enough, I was gifted with one.
January 16th, 2014 I received the letter from iEARN Pakistan confirming my scholarship for YES(Youth Exchange and Study program) year 2014-2015. It was indeed one of the happiest days of my life for being among 108 students who were shortlisted out of 3000+ applicants all across Pakistan was undoubtedly exhilarating. But at that time, I had no idea what I was shooting for.
September 7th, 2014 I was standing at Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad preparing to say Good bye and with that I opened up my arms to embrace a new country, a culture I hardly knew and the soil I had never stepped upon.
Being a Pakistani girl, I never thought I could be this much confident. Everyday when I walk down the street alone, without being dependent on a man to defend me, that’s when I feel the desired courage within myself. That’s when I feel myself grooming, getting exposed to all kinds of situations and gaining confidence. And that’s when I thank God for being an exchange student in U.S.
Its difficult to explain in words how different I’m from the Mubashra who lived in Pakistan, who was a nerd, had a very narrow vision and who was unable to see things from different perspectives. She was a girl who could never speak for herself. A girl who saw everything but couldn’t address the horrendous ogres reigning her society. And a girl who didn’t know the importance of one voice. She was like a precious pearl captured in the shell waiting for the first drop of rain to pour upon her ,to release her so that she could show the world what her worth is. And guess what, the exchange year was the first drop of rain for her!
It has been more than 7 months in U.S and it feels like yesterday when I first met my host Mom and Dad. Time flies, it surely does! But somewhere in between it stops! It stops for a while. And that’s when you realize the cost of being an exchange student, thousands of miles away from your family; seven seas apart.
You know when it stops? It stops when you miss your family but whenever someone asks you about how you are, you fake a smile and say,”very well!”.
But it also stops when you can see the true love for you in people’s eyes who aren’t even your blood relatives. It stops when someone gives you a genuine hug when you most need it. It stops when you realize your heart is filled with the love for your host family and vice versa. It stops when tears roll down your cheeks thinking about departing, because you’ll have to leave the lifetime relations you made in your host country forever. It stops when you see yourself in the mirror and analyze yourself being mature, independent and groomed. It stops when you think about the thousand of things you’ve learned so far. It stops when you suddenly realize you don’t need a chaperone to take you to wherever you want to be. It stops when you know you’re complete within yourself. It surely does!
It also stops when people say,”If Pakistan is full of people like you, no wonder it is a Paradise on Earth”. It stops when people say, “Your parents, your family and your country must be very proud of you.” It stops when people call you the best representative of Pakistan they have ever come across. It stops when people say how you have changed their perspective about Pakistanis. It stops when they are startled after seeing the pictures of Pakistan and when they express their desire to see Pakistan with their own eyes.
It stops when you realize that with every passing moment, you’re planting seeds of cultural harmony. It stops when you suddenly see how you’ve learned to celebrate differences. It stops when you’re proud of what you’re as an ambassador.
Exchange students, I believe take a huge responsibility upon their shoulders of promoting peace in this small world of ours. Through their immersion, I would argue, they try to instill the spirit of empathy; the ability to see the world as others see it and to allow for the possibility that others might see something we’ve failed to see. They’re to enable people to see this small world as a global village and all humans as one single family and also to realize that we all may belong to different cultures, different countries and different races but in the end we all breathe the same air; we all live under the same sky.
As you would have probably figured out by now, I’m a peace promoter, I’m a youth ambassador and not to forget I’m an exchange student from Pakistan aka an ordinary girl with extraordinary courage.