And so it was an incredible experience to be in Turkey and, re- uh, you know, go as a cultural American, you know, educational ambassador while being in a predominantly Muslim country. It was, um, the first time where in a long time, um, you know, I would listen to the call to prayer five times a day, um, and feel comfortable, uh, with my hyphenated identity. It just, it felt, um, that I could be both Pakistani and American in Turkey, um, because oftentimes growing up, um, and actually as my experiences in Pakistan demonstrator, the two summers that I went, I felt very American.
They thought that, um, you know, I, um, I was, you know, this government official coming and I was like, “I have no affiliation with, with the U.” Um, but you know, just the way I dressed, the way I carried myself, the way I spoke, um, they were untrusting. And so everywhere I went, it was like the American, the American, the American. And then conversely growing up even in the U.S., um, in Alexandria, gro- you know, studying in, in, in Bowdoin in Maine, working in Boston, I was kind of, you know, the South Asian, the Pakistani, uh, woman. So, um, I found that, that complex identity of mine, um, to always be something that I had to reconcile with and [inaudible ] Turkey, I found peace at that.
While Mariya was thrilled at the opportunity to explore a new culture and country on her Fulbright Scholarship, convincing her parents of the value of exchange was a different story.
It took a while for my family to warm up to the idea of, uh, a career in international affairs, um, but at the same time, um, I’m the third out of five in my, um, family, five children. I have two older sisters and in my entire family and my l- entire life actually, I’ve always been the person that, you know, push the envelope further and further and further. Um, what I mean by that is that growing up in a South Asian Muslim household, um, with, you know, four girls and my brother is the youngest, um, my parents were very protective of us, um, very conservative in our upbringing.
Um, he wanted me to do, go to law school as is typical in immigrant, um, households, um, to finish my education, to get married and then, and then start my career.That was kind of, uh, what he expected of me, but I knew that having gone the Fulbright was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
My father, um, did not want me to do the Fulbright Fellowship
I. Think after they saw how much I loved my time in Turkey, they came and s- ex- visited me and I, and I don’t think that ever would have visited Turkey if I weren’t there. And I remember the day when they, you know, landed at, in Istanbul, I picked them up. I showed them my, um, you know, uh, the amazing places in Istanbul. We went, we flew down to Antalya where I was living. They got to meet my students. They could just see how happy and how meaningful this experience was for me.
I feel very proud to be an American because, you know, the United States has allow, allows, uh, you know, many people like myself to pursue the American dream. The fact that as an immigrant, I can represent the most powerful nation on this earth. And, you know, when I walk into meetings and say that I am a diplomat of the United States of America, is, is just in, it feeling, um, that, you know, uh, uh, that you can’t describe in words. It’s, um, it’s true what the, what America can, uh, stands for and delivers on.