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Home, away from home

Just like any other 18-year-old out of high school, I had no idea what I was doing.

The difference was, I am alone, in a foreign country.

As a child, the thought of leaving my home country of Pakistan had calmed me. I was starting anew, hopefully to be recognized by who I am and not the political identities assigned at birth.

Living in Pakistan can be a luxury for a minority of families. Where there can be uncapped potential for financial growth. A place where nepotism often weighs more than standard merit. The rest are left to fend for themselves.

Most rural regions consist of several limitations towards basic healthcare and education. Cultural and religious restrictions often give individuals an intractable path for self-expression.

I did not believe in societies limiting what is acceptable to think or be.

As a child growing up in the city of Karachi, it was a confusing experience. I bore witness to the gradual secular expansion combined with clear-cut Islamic extremism, followed by natural violence spreading within its communities.

It was confusing to see areas, completely impoverished and in ruin, standing next to looming high risers.

I was just a child, I could not comprehend what was going on.

To not have school up to three times a week on occasion due to “security threats” did not help.

I did not know why half the kids I shared this country with were either on the streets, stayed at home, or worked.

When Malala Yousafzai, renowned educational activist, received her Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, the Pakistan Private Schools Federation announced a ban on her memoir, I Am Malala, and called for a “I Am Not Malala” day.

“Why were there less girls in our classes?” I would ask Mama as she led me to a riddled reply.

I had to understand why it was okay for my sisters to pursue an education and have millions deprived of that right.

It was complicated to justify my means of living in a country that was visibly homophobic, corrupt, and had a severe lack of human rights. Then again, how would leaving be rational?

As my sisters were successfully getting settled, it was about the time I was receiving replies on my college applications.

My parents tried their best to understand why I had decided to move to Ottawa.

I did not have the answer for that yet. I needed a change of scenery and did not know how to explain.

Granted, not everyone is sexist or an extremist. But when there is corruption and severe poverty for kids to see, they unwillingly grow up on a lopsided playing field.

if you can’t beat them, join them?

If I can’t beat them, can I leave?

Leaving, though, comes with its own set of complications that vary between individuals and their country of citizenship.

I received confirmation through an email for my study permit two weeks before my academic term started in the fall of 2016.

My passport was still not in my possession. It had yet to be stamped with the legally-binding document.

After three weeks I was on my way out of Pakistan.

Once I arrived and started my studies, I did not feel like I was away from home.

The sense of liberation that followed those trails of thought were enough to drown out negative aspects of the past.

I could live and not face legal/societal repercussions for it.

That was enough to make me feel at home, with myself.

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