Gilgit - BaltistanPakistan

Feature: Living in the United States of America

by Amina Khan

I was an ordinary Pakistani village girl and never seriously thought of leaving Pakistan. I always thought about getting married because usually girls got married at the early age of fifteen and sixteen, in our part of the world, and started taking care of husbands and their families. My aspirations were not entirely different because of the influential roles of my mother and her mother. That’s what our women have been doing for generations.

The opportunity of moving out of the country came because of my father’s presence in the United States. My father always talked about American and its culture; many things he said about the state were really strange, even shocking, to me, for example, women driving trains, buses and trucks, or girls having boy friends. I used to think of how can their parents not get mad at them or let them have boyfriends. I wasn’t completely unaware of other people’s culture but having lived in the remote rural area of Pakistan I had almost no opportunities of experiencing, first hand, other cultures. My only connection with rest of the world was television, on which we used to watch Indian movies.

After I graduated from high school, my father told us that he is making arrangements for moving our family to the States. The feeling I had at that time was, simultaneously, of excitement, fear and sadness. I was excited about being in another world, but also sad to leave my family, friends and a lifestyle to which I was accustomed. I was scared because of the uncertainties of the new lifestyle.

Flying to the U.S., wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences, as the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) held every one at JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) Airport for about six hours because of security alert in the post 9/11 era.

I was very understanding and cooperative with the process and kept telling myself that it’s better late than never. But I was really scared of those Dogs at the airport.

Since my father had been living and working in the US for about 17 years and some of cousins were already there, the first couple of days were quite nice and I was excited and happy to be here because I had never lived with my father, for long periods of time.

Gradually things started changing, bringing the first wave of my “American shocks”. There was this sense of loneliness and helplessness that lingered over my head, like never before. I wanted to do many things, but I just didn’t know how to proceed. I wanted to go shopping, but I neither had a car nor knew where the nearest shop was located. I wanted to eat food when I went to the nearest McDonald, to try ordering meal, they could not understand me. At times they just started laughing, making me cry. My homesickness grew bigger.

As I started settling down, life got tougher and harsher, as it was very hard to find a decent job. The biggest difficulty I had was communicating with people because I could not speak English. The people, generally, were really nice and helped me in different ways. I went to language institutes and worked in a fast food restaurant.

Once a female customer threw food at me because she did not like it, and I cried all that day because of that sort of treatment in a strange land. The manager of that restaurant was really nice he knew that I came from different a culture but the more he tried to console me, the more I cried. Then I got used to it. They say customer is always right. That’s what I, also, started believing in.

Needless to say, it was hard for me because I was never on my own in Pakistan, I always had male accompany me for all my work and I never went any where alone, not even for my college admission. Here I was alone in a strange country doing every thing by myself, getting lost in the train and finding the way back.

The second wave of my “American Shocks” was in the field of education. The U.S. education system is complete opposite of what we have in Pakistan – it’s far more engaging, wide-ranging, well-planned and effective. Classes contain fewer students and the teaching style is more engaging. Professors are more approachable and class discussion is stress-free, which makes students engage more in discussions. I know all teachers aren’t the same, but this is what I’ve been experiencing.

In Pakistan we had to learn what ever they have in the text book which was very hard, and we had to respect our teachers which made it more difficult to communicate with them. And I remember the experience I had with my principle who told me that I can’t talk with my male professor because he is a Namehram for me. When I look back and see how close minded our professors were, I feel relieved but feel sad for the ones who are still be ‘taught’ by them.

However, everything is not fine with the educational systems of USA. Here, students are allowed to bring food and drinks into the class, which is very distracting, in my opinion. They do many things that are OK in their culture, but not in mine. Moreover, the student-teacher relationship, based on openness and frankness, can be imbalanced at times as it gets hard for me when students are insulting professors.

On a cultural level, things were kind of interesting, but at the same time saddening. It was interesting to explore and actually live in this new culture. I had heard about pluralism in my small village but never understoodd the meaning of it because I never lived it. Now living in US, especially in New York, we get to see people from around the world, and know their cultures. I think that is the greatest thing about America. But being a Muslim in the US, I have realized that I have a lot to do to represent my culture; the responsibility is gigantic and my ambition resolute.

It has been hard trying to ameliorate the image of Muslims in the U.S., especially given the current political reality, but I’m doing the best I can to represent my Pakistani-Islamic culture. Most people have preconceived ideas that are hard to change and stereotypes flourish in certain areas and regions in the U.S. At times it is really hard to explain to people who have no knowledge about the history of Islam, and its ideology. You get asked question that are weird. For example, my friends ask me, have you ever met Osama bin laden? I tell them that I have only seen him on TV they way you guys have seen him. Then they would say, but he lives in Pakistan in some mountain? Doesn’t he?” That’s what the media says (In my mind I would be thinking that, gosh! I never saw this “dude”, Osama, in my neighborhood) but the only answer I would manage is, “I heard from the media too”.

I think the media does not do justice to its work. There is always negative news about Muslim countries. I do understand that yes, our “Muslim” countries have problems just like any other countries have. There are ups and, then, there are downs. The one thing which I disagree with the American people is they believe they are superior to others. They think that they can achieve everything by power and bomb, which makes it really hard for outsiders to digest the American policy. For example, one day my history professor said that the only solution for Iran is to bomb them. I was shocked by his statement because he only thought about the power his country has, but not about the results, like what will happen to the civilian population, or about the scale of retaliation in such an unfortunate scenario!!

Although I’ve had several bitter personal experiences, there are many people interested in knowing my culture. This could lead to people wanting to know me for the mere fact of gratifying their interest in my culture, but not knowing me for the real person I am. However, I’ve made a relatively large number of friends in about five years and half, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them and I want them to visit my homeland to know the people who live there, not judge my people through their biased media.

I want to let everybody, who is dreaming about traveling, know that the sweet dreams they have now won’t come true easily. I know many who think that the minute they make it to another country, they’ll be able to fulfill all their dreams and live with flying colors. This is absolutely bogus, as it requires a lot of hard work and solid determination. Nothing comes so easily that one just sits there waiting for it to happen and as Muslim we have the responsibility to bring these two culture together, see what we have common and not how we differ. I believe that we, who study or live in the US, should be a bridge to solve the problem we are facing today, so that our next generation does not face the same fate.

I’ve spent long, sleepless nights working hard to earn success that will take me to the next level. It takes a lot of heart, hard work and determination to succeed, but one can go get it and earn it. I feel I still have a very long path to walk.

Another interesting thing happened to me is doing my internship in Pakistan (I really thank Aziz Jan Bhai for that). It was really interesting because I got to see the Pakistani politicians from close and got to see our Prim Minster. The experience was good but sad too. May be I had many expectation from our leaders but what I got to see was that they are all trying to promote themselves or family members. What really shocked me was that while our Prim Mister was begging for money (help) from the United State; his family was spending money like crazy!

In Pakistan where 80% person people live on less then a dollar a day, the PM’s wife bought a shoe worth 2000$ and a hand bag worth 3000$ . I don’t remember how much she spent in that store but I for sure lost my mind that day. I don’t know what will happen to our country when our leaders are spending millions of dollar on their single trip to foreign countries. Pakistan doesn’t have oil like the Arab countries that we can afford it. But still I am optimistic because we still have honest people who does hard work dedicatedly, that’s why we still have Pakistan.

Being in USA has been an awesome opportunity for me and it really made me a better person. Things have changed for six years and I don’t think I am the same as I used to be, back home; I am no longer the crazy girl from high school. Now, I have started knowing myself who I am what I want to do in my life, I don’t know what will happen in next six year or where I will be, what I know is I will do what ever it takes to help a other human being.

I will never forget my home, never forget the guidance of my elders and teachers and I will come back home. I ask every young girl from our area who has the opportunity to study, please don’t waste your time, do the best you can in your study and don’t be burden on your family or in our in-laws. Let’s study not because we have to pass the exam, but for understanding the society we are living in, and to gain the knowledge, skills and insights to change it according to our collective aspirations. We achieve success because many of our elder sisters have done it before us. I feel so privileged to be a student in USA and I’m determined to use everything I learn to improve my community, my country’s image on the world stage and help to erase the misunderstanding between Muslims and other communities. I want to be able to make changes, even if it’s only in a single person’s life.

I strongly urge everyone to go out and try to live this experience. However, bear in mind that you need to return and use everything you learn to build your own home – your country, which has sheltered and brought you up.

Amina belongs to Ghulkin Gojal. She is working for the UN, in USA.

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  1. Dear Amina,

    Its really great to read and know about living, studying and working in US, I agree with you and I really appreciate the way you have given information for all of us to prepare ourselves for global interactions. Yes, its not that much easy to study/work outside of your country where you found yourself in different culture, value, life style and language. One has to pass very tough time to settle down, as I am experiencing it now.

    Almaty Kazakhstan

  2. Amina! an inspiring narrated feature especially the analysis of pros and cons of living and/or studying in the USA are the major guidelines for girls opting to study there.

    The major problem our women folk face is that they are always dependant on males for their everyday activities. I have observed that even a girl at the college/university level is accompanied by a 8-9 years old boy just because the girl is not being trusted upon or may be the society is not trust worthy. We really need to work hard to build a trusting culture and develop an environment where people can live and work confidently.

    I am touched by your determination of working back home as not every one thinks in the same lines. I think this determination is part of your strong identity you have maintained. Many people coming out of their villages do not really want to tell their children ‘who they are?, ‘where they are from?’ and ‘ what is their identity’. We need to develop an awareness among parents about this crucial issue as well because their children have lost their identities and do not want to be known by their family/area background. one of the example is families living in the cities of Pakistan do not really encourage their children to speak wakhi and parents feel pleasure to tell others that their children cannot speak their mother tongue.

    I wish you good luck for your future endeavours

  3. Mina
    Well written. Experience mixed with innocent, it’s a feeling when vision is got we not all that was in the dream but instead more disturbing issues never expected.
    But, its amazing, because this expression is form a young lady and not by any male with age and experiences a lot. She had expressed many points with such beauty that one has to think for a while. Well in the end I would say that, nothing or no one has the power to change any one, but only can happen when it has the zest and desire to change. This lady before this article was same Mina with playing and ready to act like a mischief young girl as ordinary. But no more.
    She has said all that was never even thought of elders in different culture. And the best of her statement is to learn form the world and to use the House (if she really means that)
    In the end Best of luck to your goal. It’s now your time make it mold it just move it

  4. It is indeed an inspirational and thought provoking idea of Ms Amina Khan. She has truly shared her personal experiences with the readers of Pamir Times. The hurdles she faced and motivations she got are praiseworthy. Let us think for a while about her concluding remarks that says;
    “I strongly urge everyone to go out and try to live this experience. However, bear in mind that you need to return and use everything you learn to build your own home – your country, which has sheltered and brought you up”
    Opportunities matter a lot. Every Pakistani can not get chance to study and work abroad. Ms Amina got this chance as her father was there for the last 17 years. It clearly shows that she had to go there. What, where and when opportunities arise to go abroad; it is a question that common man doesn’t know. Nothing is impossible for a willing heart but there are social and economic hindrances that prevent us to fulfill our desires. Let us hope that every persons willing to study and work abroad come up with the same passion and experience.

  5. Amina!

    Nothing could have changed you even in 100 years, if you were in in Pakistan. I believe Time & circumstances have changed you completely, except your name, and we feel a humble lady replacing a typical village girl.

    Keep going Amina and we expect a lot from you for our family and area in the future.

    Ali, Fatima, Karim, Nazia, Sabrina

  6. Miss Amna,
    I have read your feature and would like to respond to it in detail but at the moment it really makes me to appreciate the efforts you have made in writing this feature encompassing your experiences in USA. Infact it is and would be thought provoking for the young, diligent and energetic individuals who get through each line of this feature.
    Really deserve great adulation!!!!
    All the very best for now

    Aslam Khan Ghalib

  7. Hay Amina, that is well written and a nice rhetoric. i like most part of it, except i am confused for; How did you know yourself as Amina after going to states. How states helped you in self actualization and self discovery? i guess, i am going to disagree, if you have said this thing in material and economic terms. can you bit elaborate on that statement almost at the end of your speech. Rest is awesome, i like the way you have described your feelings…

  8. well done Amina!
    really an intresting feature written by you. its not for just raeding that feature but it is a path to improve ourselves specially the females. how ever the females in our areas are clicking out of the way, as all are well aware of the situations existing in our areas, but no one has the ability to control them. as many of our females are out of home for study purpose and they are well aware of the situation but they are not trying to experience the enviroment of different areas, they fail to comprehend their ability of study. as Amina has made us aware of the critical situations she faced and memorable memories she experinced is a role model for our females specially for those who are studying in Gilgit and islamabad. i at last want to make it lear to their parents that please for god sake if you have taken your child for education out of home then be of the position of your child that where he or she is standing. at least visit him or her twice a month. so plz for god sake take care of his or her education only.

  9. i would first like to congrats and thanks my sis Amina for writing such beautiful article. this story has infact opened many eyes who were dreaming of a dazzling and more comfort life in USA particularly. Amina has well narrated her experiences.
    im glad to read that how strong feelings Amina has for our culture.
    you r truly a role model for our youth amina..once again congrat

    amin salman

  10. Salam Aminah sis
    we read ur article and it impressed me alot as u shared ur experiences to us and u r right the ppl who live in america they face it but cant share these all to us, Keep sharing ur precious experiences with us to guide us in our developing life

    We read it in school tym. n ya every body face challenges when S/he s out of his land ,culture etc. But learning is also there for her.

  12. Amina!!!

    It is really appreciable the way u have expressed ur experience, thoughts and suggestions.Its really encouraging and daring the way u have gone through such circumstances and I hope such experience ll lead u to a more fertile future.

    Nisar Ahmed

  13. Its amazing to know Amina Khan from the Karakarum mountains is working for the UN in US. I would say this is true demonstration of the hard work and availing the oppurtuninty in a positive way.

    Keep it up!



  14. hi amina,
    this the first time i m commenting on this website. nice to read your article about “from Gulkin to America”…personally i apreciate such initiatives of sharing special moments of life i.e geting aquaint to a new place and its culture where you have been to for the first time..but one must keep in mind the customs and traditions his/her forefathers have had.. your article reflects that you are really missing them…

  15. Gr8 piece of work! Amina Khan

    What i gathered from your narrative was; hard work, trust, commitment and staying true to yourself, your family values and your community pays off!

    You still have a long way to go. While you are welcome to visit and work for your people and area, I will suggest the best service you can render is to move up in your career lad at the UN sys or other multilater agencies in the next five years.

    Continue writing on various topics of your interest and of the interest of the youth and this world, as in this global village, we are face to face, and listen to you.

    We salute your parents for the hard work they are doing to make your future promising.

    Amin Beg

  16. Dear Amina,

    Well done…I am really proud of you for given a detailed mentioned statement for upcoming young sisters to grow up by their own. keep it up.

    G. Qadir UK

  17. Sister Amina
    An honest account of yourself indeed than boasting like others who have been pushing garbage down our throats from USA and Europe. I myself reamined in Canada and my own situation was very identiacal to yours – being a male I faced though!
    Amina you are our Rosa Park in USA and be an honest ambassador of GB than faking your personality by resorting to various crutches to heighten your personality.
    My good wishes are with as you are honest in your anecdotes and have more courage and health to rise above the tides.

  18. Hi Amina
    Your expository style of writing is outstanding. I believe that there is a novelist hiding in your head. I would really hope that this novelist comes out one day and tells our story, the story of the people of Hunza and Giligit-Baltistan. Ours is a narrative of progress, of taking steps forward, and of course of ceaseless yet unnoticed struggle against oppressive forces in our region.

    The media spotlight has given thier fair share of attention to Taliban in Afghanistan, the struggle in Kashimir, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and many ohter conflicts that have a geopolitical dimension to them. What i am trying to get at is that both national and international media have never taken notice of what we in Giligit-Baltistan have suffered over the last half-century of Pakistani rule. Whatever has been achieved so far has been the result of the blood, sweat and toil of individual initative and effort. There has been little attempt from the government, little sincere attempt from the government in addressing our issues in GB.

    A capable story teller like yourself could bring to light what we in Giligit-Baltistan have been aspiring for so long. I would say that a person like yourself can do as much good as Khalid Husseini’s Kite Runner has done to Afghanistan. Why i am so excited: because we can see that you have the right skill set and an amazing capability and a unique personal story to tell.

    ali al-Hakim

  19. Really great and Interesting Amina Khan

    Experience and hard work makes man perfect, your experience and hard work is a guideline for upcoming youngsters, still you have a long way to do, Keep Continue writing on various topics
    All occur possible because of Mr. Yahya Khan , I salute him

  20. In International Day Of Women, M/S Amina ,This Year of Women Of Gojal is Miss Amina , Congratulation!!!!
    Because Your Article is very exciting and you lead your area in USA. So keep it up.


  21. Dear Amina

    How are you and hows your family,,,,,Great to see your inspired eamil to Pamir Times,Its really nice that you have shared all the true feelings of your Experiences with our Gojal folks and at large you are representing not only the Northern Areas but as a Pakistani Ambassador in US
    Life is going on a very FAST stage,its very hard to cope up with all the situations that arise daily,among our community and to our people,specialy the girls. but i want to Thank you for sharing your personal exeprience what you faced in life from Remote village girl to city girl, Very much appreciating,Please guide more of our Gojali girls,If possibly everyone can come up with more Good thoughts and can share their best knowledge to our socity and with our Wakhi People than to the northern areas,I beleave that if you have a bold determinations in life and if you know your Goals,and you have commitments.Nothing is impossible Life,and in this World.
    Keep up the good work and i would appreciate more of Wakhi girls to come up with ideas and share their knowledge and their skills to the best for the upliftment of our Society at large.Its still a long long way to go….. Keep it up. Remain Always Happy.

    Best Regards,

    Karim- dubai

  22. Dear Amina Slamath Bosh

    Your doing good job keep it up.

    Ali aman gojali
    Badakhshan Afghanistan

  23. Ms AMINA…
    Great to see ur entire experience and ur work!
    And i really like ur message u have given to us that we have to represent our identity and culture when ever we are abroad. As we have to represent ourself as an Ambasador of our area and country!

    Great work by Brave Girl…

  24. nice Amna to sharing your experience with us. your lengthy story of USA life show that you have realy worked hard to change her life and life style in the other culture socity it is realy tough to adjest herself in the other socity.

    write more about amrican life and education systen in USA to the young students of gojal.

  25. Arfa Karim Randhawa is the youngest microsoft certified professional of Pakistan, Flying Officer Sba Khan -the first female pilot officer of Pakistan, Major General Dr. Shaida Malik -the first ever female General in Pakistan armed Forces, and many more are the heatrtbeats of Pakistan. For me you are in the list too.
    Best of luck of luck and prayers.

    PEACE 🙂

  26. good analysis of the life in north and in America. it was really interesting. every story kept me absorbed me till the end.
    i appreciate you on sharing your dynamic life experience with everyone.

  27. every one has to face the challenges, and it is life, and you learn from experiances.and if one gets the chance. he or she can do it. gud work keep going

  28. Dear Amina,
    Thanks for sharing such a nice article; I do hope that from time to time you will share your experiences and wisdom with our youths in general and the young girls in particular through Pamir Times. As the world is emerging in a global village and the young students have the exposure to get new information from the prestigious educational institutions of the globe. I do perceive both aspects of your experiences in US such as the encouraging as well as the depressing aspects of a developed society.

    It is a common phenomenon that in each society, there is the concept of good and bad, in other words liberal or orthodox school of thoughts. In my opinion both the extreme points (orthodoxy or liberalism) create problems; there should be a balance, but again questions arise to ask. What does the balance means? Unless, we set a parameter to measure it, if we stamp in the depth of the ocean and set criterion to search for ‘balance’; again it emerges many questions to ask. We are lucky to hear about the word from our Imam of the time, to keep balance between Din and Dunya or in other words keep balance between material life and spiritual life. Our religion Islam gives us the message to follow balance even in our every walk of life.

    I am happy that Amina has highlighted the word pluralism and linked it with her wisdom and understanding in the US society. Yes, it is also true even today and from centuries in our society, we can get simple examples of diversity and pluralism from the human body, as the parts of the body has different shapes and functions but gives us strength while the whole parts get together and functioning smoothly. In the same way each individual in a home are different from each other in terms of physic, habits, knowledge, skills and attitude with having different strengths and could make the home by respecting each others strengths and differences. Our religion Islam is one of the biggest examples of pluralism and set an example of pluralistic Society of Medina by signing the first grant written contract between Muslims and Jews called Medina Pact.

    As I read and reflected the article, I revealed that the general statements given by the people of an advanced society regarding Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, I wonder and thought that in spite of having well informed, educated and responsible citizens of a developed society, I come to the conclusion that they seemed the prejudice and bias, which does not suit for such people, that is why today in majority of the world people did not feel good about them. They should differentiate between people or a person from Afghanistan rather to mingle it with Pakistan. I think that the people in the US already know much better of Osma’s presence and movements because once upon a time he was the key player and hero during the Russian invasion in Afghanistan and the cold war between USA and USSR. Unfortunately, the double standard criteria of the super powers destroyed the peace in the world at the cost of their imperialist approaches and vested interests.

    As, I read the comments by Amina about the comforts and luxuries of our rulers while visiting foreign countries, I thought this country need a group of dedicated and honest teachers, lecturers, and professors to teach the nation regarding the dignity of work, good governance, transparency in financial discipline, democratic approach and accountability. Strong and wise courts, wise politicians, honest economists and knowledgeable scientists could not be produced unless we improve our educational institutions from ECED to the university level. Amina has rightly inferred to our education system in Pakistan, which is based on rote learning, teacher centered textbook centered and exam oriented. Unfortunately, the annual budget for education does nor exceed 2 to 4 percent in a fiscal year. Even, the allocated budget does not spent on the set targets and the media always disseminate the embezzlement, nepotism, favoritism and corruption of the fund. The only answer to avoid to all mentioned evils is that, all nations should prepare themselves for their individual accountability and put their efforts to provide quality education to their children. Being a member of an educational institution, I would like to make few suggestions to improve our educational institutions through quality education. The following indicators could be kept in mind while working for quality education:
    •First we need to bring all children from age 3-5 to the ECED centers.
    •Age 4 and above should be compulsory enrolled in the primary schools.
    •The school should be child–friendly (creating an enabling environment and avoid from physical and mental punishment and harassment).
    •Academic efficiency (to give support for teachers and students through various workshops and exposure visits. to provide them support in content and pedagogy and give them insights on curriculum enrichment rather depending on traditional approaches, for instance, depending on text books and rote learning etc).
    •Gender sensitive and Inclusiveness (To develop and implement gender sensitivity and awareness raising programs among teachers’ students and other members of the community. Girls students should be given opportunity to their boys counterparts and make them reflective, analytical and problem solvers. Physically and mentally retarded students should be included in the mainstream to make them responsible citizens of the society.
    •Community Involvement (parents and community members should be given ownership and make them responsible to take interest in their children education at home as well as in the school).
    I am always optimistic to change our society and the globe as peaceful world for all human beings an and for that we need to cash the opportunities even divert the risk into opportunities and for that we need to work hard with commitment and honesty. According to the great poet Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal;
    Nahi hay Iqbal na umid apni kisht veiran sai
    Zara num oh too ya matti bohoot zarkhaz hay saqi

    Thanks and regards
    Sharif Khan

  29. Hey Amina u the Women . go 4 it . Keep it up u got long way 2 go thingiii……….i wish u good luck…………..bye

  30. Dear Pamir Times,

    I would like to draw your attention to the comment sent on March the 6th, 2009 with my name ( Fatima Canada), and I would like to clarify that it is not my comment. Neither I sent any comment in the first place, nor I sent any follow-up.

    I demand for the investigation related to this comment and urge u to make it public. This kind of act is really unacceptable and can damage the prestige of your network.

    I really have a huge respect for the network and am grateful to have the opportunity to get connected to my area and news related to it; however, unethical acts like this are really stressful and can be a barear in the way of relationship with other people.

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