Red, Brown and Blue – Living the Athens Dream
I came to America with a fearful mindset; I was paranoid about how I would be received by the people of Georgia (or the south as a whole). With the divisive rhetoric often used by the politicians and political commentators of this country to describe an outsider: a brown man coming from Pakistan can naturally be skeptical about how life would be on this side of the world. I learned, however, a lesson that is crucial for all people to learn in this day and age; we cannot gauge what a country is like by simply viewing what is presented to us at face value. It is important for us, as people, to inquire, be curious and be careful about the preconceived notions we make up in our own mind about a country and its people. The fear I felt coming to these United States of America is the same kind of fear that people unfortunately have when they think about my country of Pakistan. I learned, through the people I’ve met and had the pleasure of knowing, that there exists no fundamental difference in our own individual humanity. Pakistanis and the people of the South are both God fearing people, tolerant, welcoming, hospitable and have some of the best food in the world. Athens feels like home away from home, and that’s primarily because where I am isn’t too different from home.
What makes this scholarship special is that it allows us students to build a close personal connection with people who are generous and loving enough to welcome us into their houses and lives without any hesitation. My host mother, Sylvia Shortt, is one of the most influential people in my life now. Through her actions alone, I’ve learned invaluable lessons in what it means to be compassionate and at peace with your being. She has passed on to me a greater understanding of the world around us and how we must view it if we are to fix it. She possesses a passion for her beliefs and for fixing the problems in society that may not even affect her personally; I feel fortunate to have even met such a morally correct and generous human being let alone have the pleasure of calling her a second mother and a close personal friend. Her family welcomed me as one of their own from the moment we met. My host sister, Marisol, is a friend I’ve made for life. She helped me settle in and adjust into life here in Georgia by keeping me close to her. She, simply through her presence, gave me a sense of comfort and safety to enjoy the experiences I had through her. Her remarkable story and fearlessness has taught me many lessons for life. My host father, Robin, is one of the coolest and calmest people I’ve ever met (I secretly aspire to be like him one day). My family here accepted me for who I am and taught me to be even more proud of who I am and where I come from. These are things that this scholarship has given me. Most importantly I am happy to have a group of people I can call my family, and for that I am forever indebted to the GRSP.
This year has afforded me the opportunity to experience many incredible things. Exiting my comfort zone and leaving home meant an endless amount of opportunities for me to seize. I have gotten the chance to learn and study some subject areas that I have always wanted to explore, taught by excellent instructors and professors. I attained opportunities to further my artistic and creative endeavors; I got to play music at open mic nights and do stand up comedy at GRSP weekends and other opportunities in Athens. I got to live out the life long dream of watching a professional wrestling show (and that was one of the biggest shows of the year) in Phoenix, Arizona. I got to go to concerts, travel to places like New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and many wonderful places in Georgia. These were experiences and opportunities that I would have been devoid of without the program. These are happy memories that I will have for the rest of my life with a close association to the GRSP and Georgia as a whole.
The commitment Rotary has shown in attempting to bridge barriers in such a unique way is not only outstanding, but is something that should be expanded to as many parts of the world as possible. As a person of color, it is my hope that more and more people from third world countries can come and experience the things I have experienced and live the experience I’ve lived through. This year was all about being the inspiration. We must inspire ourselves to expand the scope and horizons of this scholarship. I have seen, first hand, how much positive value this scholarship has added in the lives of so many people around me. I feel that this positive value will only enhance if we look to reach out to all parts of the world; the Middle East, Asia and beyond to get students from all walks of life to avail this scholarship and be evidence of the fact that human beings, regardless of the color of their skin, religion and nationality can call each other “friends”, “brothers”, “sisters” and “family”. As a proud to-be alum of the GRSP, I hope to see this scholarship extend to more corners of the world.
While being in Georgia, I have made a commitment to welcome any and all Rotarians of Georgia to my home in Pakistan. I have decided to call this initiative the “It’s Safe” initiative. I plan to launch this initiative once I return back home, with an open invitation to Rotarians from Georgia to coordinate with me a trip to my motherland, stay in my house and enjoy and experience Pakistan first hand. This initiative, I hope, can allow people to come and see Pakistan in the same light as I have seen Georgia. My doors are open to you all as yours were open to me. I hope the experience people will have in Pakistan will help spread the message of Pakistan being a safe country with good people.
The spirit of the GRSP is to make a commitment to end any nationalistic, xenophobic and racist sentiments that surround us; we must all play our part to further this mission in whatever way we can. I hope more people from my country can come and see what I have seen through this scholarship. It is only through our compassion and common humanity that we can continue healing the world. I hope we see the world truly healed one day.