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First Person: My Impressions of a Never-Ending Journey

First Person: My Impressions of a Never-Ending Journey

The following is a heartfelt post by Fulbright alumna, Amna Yameen, describing her journey as a Pakistani, Muslim student in the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship. She returned in 2016 with a Master’s degree in Human Resource Development from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. 

Love. That is the first word that comes to my mind at this time of night. But, wait! It is not another romantic prose, or a declaration of hopeless feelings that are not being reciprocated. It is love that I see in various forms – like my father’s for instance. When I was in America he called me every Sunday. Even so far away, I could sense his warmth, his pride, and his smile. Most of the time he would forget that he asked me the same questions over and over again. However, every time he called, he would unforgettably ask, “What have you noticed about America? Write it down!”

Amna Yameen attended Rochester Institute of Technology on a Fulbright scholarship.

To be honest, I am unable to sum up my impressions in a few sentences. At times, words fail to describe the depth of emotions or the sense of belonging that I felt there. America!! People call it the land of opportunity; the land of dreams; the land of freedom. To me, it was perhaps that, or a part of my transformative journey. And so, I question. What describes my stay in America?

Various impressions adorn my memory’s bouquet: the feeling of accomplishment when I delivered an amazing presentation in one of my classes; the beautiful smiles that people give you as you walk down a random road; the gestures of saying ‘thank you’ to the bus drivers as you get off the bus. Various other impressions linger on my soul:

The night my roommate bought Halal meat and cooked a Peruvian dish for me…
When I received a random text from a friend saying ‘God loves you’…
When standing at a bus stop, with a bag full of groceries, I got a free ride home from a fellow Fulbrighter…
Falling in and out of friendship…
Staying up the whole night in the library to help a friend finish his final project…
Endless walks at night…
Cycling to my heart’s content…
My endless coffee sessions at Barnes & Noble…

My impressions are also enriched by the diversity that my journey exposed me to. I have shared many countless evenings over a cup of tea with my Afghani, Bangladeshi, and Indian counterparts. I felt touched when an Afghani neighbor trudged through snow just to deliver a packet of ‘chapattis’ to my apartment. Ramzan in U.S. was, in a sense, the best one I have had so far. From sharing my iftar meal of ‘pakoras’ with my Peruvian room-mate to offering evening salat with a diverse Muslim community, the richness of faiths inspired me and opened up a whole new dimension of religion. Sharing and celebrating fasting with the Muslim community of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Turkey not only excited my palette but also satiated my spiritual self.

Packing Christmas gifts at Angels of Mercy

My work with ‘Angels of Mercy,’ has perhaps been the most rewarding experience of my journey. Seeing these women fight personal battles and yet, making sure that they made a difference in everybody’s life was a humbling experience. Angels of Mercy helped victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking. It was initially difficult to come to terms with how America, the land of dreams, faced such social problems. But, what I have learned since is that it’s the goodness of heart, and the spirit of people that make America great. And one such person was the embodiment of this American spirit – my ‘Mary Jo,’ a woman who never failed to inspire me. Not because of her outstanding vision, or the love she exuded, but because of her amazing spirit.

Here was a woman who had experienced her sister’s murder, was a survivor of domestic violence, was helping her daughter to recover from drug abuse and yet, she was a woman who shined. Her laughter and her spirit inspired me. Every day, she made sure to make a difference in somebody’s life.

Angels of Mercy, a Christian based organization, made me more Muslim than any other spiritual experience ever did. It enabled me to explore my identity from a political, economic, and ritualistic perspective. Being part of these women’s lives, I have shared various moments; from prayer circles to each other’s joys and countless sorrows. As the only Pakistani Muslim woman, I have participated in a ministry sponsored training of a residential facility for women with life challenging issues. The countless conversations scratched at my molded identity, pushed me to step back, empathize and yet stay true to my beliefs and values. While helping a team member with her veteran efforts, my patriotism and humanity were put to the test. Reading aloud letters from soldiers fighting wars in areas close to my heart, sensing the pain of these soldiers for the communities they were bombing, designing initiatives to help the war-torn community and yet safeguarding the soldiers made my heart bleed and strengthen at the same time.

Spending time with fellow Fulbrighters discovering new and exciting activities and places in our new home.

I always felt that when I left America, I left part of my heart there. Yet I take back something far more profound. I take back myself; a more aware and conscientious me; a much stronger person both in heart and soul. America is known as the land of the brave and the free. But my journey taught me that freedom does not reside in a country. It resides in the mindset of the people. For it is our mind that either truly liberates or cages us.

This story has been shared via the United States Education Foundation in Pakistan. To learn more about the Fulbright scholarship program, please visit


Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) is an association of U.S. exchange alumni who are committed to making meaningful contributions to Pakistan and comprise of current and former Pakistani participants of U.S. federal government-sponsored exchange programs.

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