Seven Schools, Four Cities & Three Countries Later — A Conversation About Diversity

Let’s examine what lies across country borders.

Growing up, I wondered what lay across country borders. What makes their country special compared to any other? Why is their food so different from ours? I was always curious about what people from other nations were like, so I dreamed of visiting distant lands. My mother’s stories, stories I vividly remember, of her travels to neighboring countries encouraged those dreams; I had so much hope that one day she’d see the world. I’ve held on to her stories, sometimes returning to them as if they were receipts for experiences that I too might have.

My Last Few Months of Schooling in Zimbabwe

I was in a class of kids that, for the most part, grew up in the same society. As I remember it, there was one Pakistani girl — Raima. She hardly spoke to anyone, it seemed. She kept to herself. Whenever I’d walk over to say ‘hi’ and make small talk (maybe flirt a little), she would clam up. “Damn, this girl is shy,” I’d think after any attempt to befriend her. Now I can’t help but wonder, “Was it really shyness or maybe something else?”

In 2004, I relocated to Manchester, England. This was a move that would ultimately change me. At the time, my young mind hadn’t yet fathomed the significance of the transition: opportunity with responsibility, a gift and a curse.

Excited but Terribly Confused

The experience of being in a new country with unfamiliar customs and a different education system was exhilarating and baffling at the same time. I struggled to fit in and found myself in a tug-of-war between teachers who liked me because they saw my potential and teachers who felt that I was shown favoritism for being in “the minority group.” I can’t explain why, but I just couldn’t fit in, even with kids who had the same skin color as mine. I’d always thought of myself as a friendly and sociable individual. What was I doing wrong? It didn’t take too long for me to realize how Raima felt.

In hindsight, it was neither a problem of nerves nor a matter of what we were possibly doing wrong. It was simpler than that. This was about our differences ― having different backgrounds and customs from one another. Humans are predisposed toward comfort. We seek out individuals who most resemble our own selves, looking for a resemblance that, at times, transcends physical appearance. As such, I found myself becoming really good friends with two fellas ― Aamir from Pakistan and Bashir from Somalia ― who shared passion and interests similar to mine. We bonded over the realities of being outcasts.

One Year Later…

This post originally appeared on Yammer Engineering’s Medium page. Read the rest here.

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