british / muslim / brown alumna
On coming to America
"When I applied to Brown, I didn't even know what an Ivy League was. My parents had no idea what Brown was or what I was applying for. I ended up going because I had a good friend who went there.
Toward the end of boarding school, it hit me that I probably wasn't going to make it to Cambridge. So when my parents came to visit me, I tried to tell them, "hey, I might be going to the U.S. to study because I don't think I'm going to make any UK schools," and my dad just lost it. He absolutely lost it. At this point, it wasn't confirmed because I hadn't gotten my grades back. I just had a feeling that I didn't do so well. So my last days before coming here were marred with stress and I wasn't getting along with my dad. He had insisted that I take a gap year and I reapply to schools in London. He wanted me to be back home again.
My mom, however, was really sweet. She just handed me her credit card and she said, "do what you need to do." I was a mess, I hadn't applied to my VISA on time or officially told Brown anything. The trip was kind of a blur. I remember it was so cold in when I left, so I was wearing this big jumper that I got from my ex-boyfriend. I met my friend who also went to Brown at the airport and when we got to Providence I remember it being unbelievably warm.
We took the bus from the airport in together and then walked up College Hill. There I was with my suitcase and backpack sweating in this humidity wondering why he didn't just pay the $10 for a taxi. As I unpacked I pulled out a fitted sheet my mom had gotten me only to realize American mattresses were completely different sizes."
"I never wanted to pay for a dryer, so I bought string and hung my clothes from the sprinklers in my dorm. I used to tape Saran Wrap to the walls as a makeshift dry erase board. When I first came here, the idea of currency was so foreign and frankly confusing to me."
On the academic bubble
"I don't know if it's specific to American universities or whether it's just Brown but, there's this coddling of students here. They say, "we've got all the resources that you need here. Why would you leave? Whether it's student services, deans, psychiatric help or food, it's all here, you know?
Sometimes I wonder whether it's physical location or the way university life is set up that contributes to this bubble we live in as students. The basic physical geographical "distance" of being up on this little hill makes everything feel so far. Like" oh yeah this RISD is just around the corner but we're far away from them because we have to walk downhill for 10 minutes and an uphill again for another 10 years. We'll just stay here."
Mix that with a sense of urgency created through academic guidelines, that don't really have a real-life parallel, and you get this very interesting artificial reality."
"When I was at Brown, I actively avoided my family. During my freshman summer I co-founded an engineering camp for rising 10th-grade girls. So even when I would go back to London, I would visit for two weeks and then almost immediately say, "I have these things I need to do, so I am flying back out."
When I was in boarding school, I remember going home and missing my parents and wanting to be somewhere that was very familiar. At that same time, my perspective started to shift because I had a really good friend there who was from Ghana and hadn't been home in over two years. Being away from home in a place that was really cold was really painful for her both physically, she had a form of arthritis, and emotionally. I remember telling her, "if you ever need anything, I'm here for you." I felt like knowing her made me very resilient. I didn't need to go home. She had it so much harder than me, and I wanted to be there for her.
It's funny, I got married recently and as my husband and I joke about having a family there are moments where I'm like wow I miss home. The upsetting and scary thing is that I don't know what home is. I don't ever remember very positive moments you know? A lot of the things I've been writing about, crunching over in my head or that I struggle with the most are overshadowed by unpleasant memories or feelings towards my father.
He's still very present in my mum's life, so there's no escape from him. It's very weird. I'm halfway across the world but at the drop of a hat, I'm in a memory of mine that revolves around him I am almost instantly transported back to where I was nine years ago. And so in running away from home, from London, from the UK, from my father, I don't think I really let go. Like I've created my own life, but it's just a layer above a layer, I don't know if I've truly created something new."
"We all make choices right? Each choice has a pro and con. They have great things and bad things that come out of them. My choice to go to boarding school was rooted in a desire to not live at home anymore. School was the institution that allowed me to escape. And it's easy to do that right? It's easy to say, "well I'm in pursuit of this great education and oh great I found this high paying job that I won't risk leaving. And the one time I tried telling my parents why I wouldn't ever come back, it didn't end up so well. They didn't get it.
I don't know about you but neither my parents went to college. So sometimes this desire to have deep intellectual conversations where you take apart your emotions and you analyze them, that's not that their world. These emotions don't have space to exist because when you're surviving you're just surviving. And so to be like hey mom, let's have a l0-minute conversation how I feel wasn't received well. She's a lot better about it now. But you know it's funny, I'll listen to my husband have conversations with his parents and the whole thing revolves around, "what do you want honey? How can we assist you in finding what you want?" That's not my experience at all. I remember I was considering quitting my old job and I was going to take like a huge salary cut like almost $10,000 and my mom was like well you have a great office. You know they will give you space and you can work from home when you're very well paid. Why would you want to leave that?
I told her I wanted to leave because I wasn't happy. And she simply replied, "you'll never be happy. Happiness is on the inside." This notion that you can create your own destiny doesn't exist in the same way. For my parents, you create it within the confines of what you have and you need to be thankful for what you have. I struggle with because I guess she's right. I believe that a lot of peace and freedom comes from finding that internal stuff. But it's like how much of it is outside of you?
It's very interesting being in the States because the whole dialogue is: it's all outside of me. You pursue happiness outside of yourself. Are you unhappy? Then move onto the next thing, buy the next thing, reach that next goal. The thing you're looking for is out there, go get it.
I feel like I'm trying to find somewhere in the middle. I want to find a place where no matter where I am in the world, inside of me feels very still and calm but I'm not sacrificing my basic happiness or desires. I shouldn't have to stay at a shitty job and excuse that because I found inner peace."
"I've had enough of someone asking me where am I from and being afraid of my accent fading. They won't know from where what I sound like where I'm from.
"I've come to enjoy this illusion of freedom that America has given me. I entered into a system that allowed me a to gain a level of mobility. Like oh yeah I have had the ability to buy a house and I have a car and I can drive to these places. I'm not reliant on my parents. I have my own income. I'm separate to my parents and have this sense of self and self-worth that has been developed by these institutions around me.
I'm like one of the very lucky people who are highly educated and have married someone else who is highly educated. I own a house. I went to one of the top universities in the States. I've been able to cross a lot of economical strata. When I look at my parents upbringing or when I think about where I went to school as a child, I see it. But I don't think everyone gets that type of opportunity to have this freedom. That's the biggest flaw in that. I don't think America is special and I hate this whole dialogue conversation on how it is special and what it's done differently. It's the same nonsense in the UK as well. It's the colonizer mindset. Yes, I appreciate the mobility it's given me but I recognize that not everyone has access to this. And that should change."
From London, England
Lives in Providence, RI