The Kindness of Strangers

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Nayab with her host family, principal, community representative, and former Senator Richard Lugar

In December 2007, I received approval to be considered for a scholarship; I knew that YES had given me a platform to start my life on; it was like an airplane beginning to take off was shown the path to the runway. And yes, I took off too, but only after trimming my crude edges and becoming an example of a true Pakistani. I began observing for the true identity of Pakistan around me. I saw that Pakistan in the eyes of a hardworking shopkeeper, it was in the eyes of old people and in the hearts of the youth as zeal and fervor. I diligently continued fulfilling the myriad requirements of the scholarship: writing essays, doing community service projects and appreciating being a Pakistani.

After that, it was a series of rapid euphoric incidents, and my senses returned only when I stood at the airport in Washington DC, to realize the step I had taken. I was astounded to meet people from around the world, which showed me that we are all just part of one, united world. I was ecstatic to meet the people who had openheartedly accepted a stranger like me. But I felt no surprise or culture shock at first because the Estes family welcomed me in a familiar way as if I was a part of their life.

Thus began a new journey with new companions, from whom what I have learned is impossible to summarize. The rest of my days were spent on a beautiful farm in the middle of Missouri's luscious green countryside. Gradually I met new people; saw many new things which were awe-inspiring. It was a great fortune for me that my host grandmother had visited Pakistan and my mom was a culturally aware person; she ate the Rotis I cooked, she liked my Henna patterns and made me teach her Urdu. I was proud of Pakistan.

During that time, I practiced my religion and my host family was extremely tolerant of my religious habits. I don't recall a single time when they would eat pork while I was around. I never intended for them to do so but it was a sign of their respect for my values. Together with my two younger host sisters, I enjoyed numerous occasions. Their jokes never failed to amuse me and my laughter was forever ringing in the air. Laughter was perhaps my greatest therapy for problems; all I had to do was laugh at myself and things transformed. This has become a lifelong lesson.

At school I met polite and charming teachers, I was at all times grateful to their efforts of including me in clubs, but I learnt that in order to progress one has to take initiative. Because of my determination, I made the school proud, I got an award as a member of a Speech Team, I became a member of National Honors Society, I was awarded to be the best delegate in Model United Nation and I was an outstanding Lawyer in Mock Trial. The value of my achievement is in my personality today as I am not afraid to speak, not afraid to pursue my interests today I know what I excel at and what I have to strive for.

In the closely knit community of Owensville I discovered many interwoven friendships, and I was delighted to become friends with such people. They realized the stipulations on my lifestyle and appreciated the different aspects of my country. I reminisce about the time when they were all so inquisitive about me; with them I developed a connection of full trust, love and fun. We had slumber parties, movie nights, and outings, where I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was learning how significant friendships are. I always looked upon myself as a person who is relatively reserved, but my friends taught me that if you want to develop a long-lasting bond I needed to be more outgoing. During the time when I was involved in Speech Team and mock trial, I understood the mindset of more people.

Coupled with this, I learnt about new religions by joining a Church Youth Group. I got an insight on major religions of the world and also found out that in order to open one's mind a person has to be tolerant of differences and appreciate diversity. If I was adamant about my beliefs and tried to impose them, there was no possible way for me to find out about the wonderful aspects of other faiths. Several times during discussions I stumbled across stereotypes about Muslims. At that time I pondered over the choice I had. I could start arguing, which would inevitably be worthless, or I could talk to them and reason with people by getting my opinion across. Very soon I learnt that if I didn't take the first step people will be unwilling to approach me. People saw me as friendly and they were more willing to learn about Islam. I understood very quickly that I did not have enough time in the US to quarrel with people or to tell them what I thought was right, because nevertheless I was an outsider in their lives; the greater adjustment and flexibility should be on my side. They did their part by accepting and welcoming me and it was my turn to repay their generosity.

I thank my host family who empathized with my discomfort in certain situations. But that did not imply that I kept back from having fun. To quote from a true American, "I was game for anything!" This was my Host Father's good friend. At the onset of winter, we started planning fishing trips. A comical incident I remember is that, while we were on the boat a sharp branch came in the way and it hit me right across my face. My host dad thought I was insane because I burst into tears of laughter, it was unexpected and humorous because in life many branches will hit you across your face, some harder than others but you can't go back and fight over things that have happened, all you could do is be more cautious to avoid the next one.

My entire stay has been expecting the unexpected, and I had the most superb time of my life. To end this speech is a huge task because many stories are still untold, but I will always remember the love of the people of Owensville and my host family's amazing grasp of understanding me. I have learnt so many new lessons and I have changed myself so much that I feel like a better person. Moreover, I have realized what a beautiful country America is and I greatly commend the generosity of its inhabitants; I found out what a prized possession I have in the form of Pakistan, and what role I as a young person have in building the bridges between nations.

Lastly, I thank the sponsoring organizations and the U.S. Department of State for making such a massive difference in life of a normal, common Pakistani girl's life, who thought once that she wouldn't be able to fly!