A teenager from India shares his struggle in adapting to the American way of life.
By Mashoor Al Ahammed
Standing at the threshold of entering life as an adult at 18, I look back at a skinny 14-year-old boy with short, slicked-back, black hair carrying an empty bag, who has come to an alien land chasing the American dream.
He stands at the entrance of Sprayberry High School, completely perplexed and not knowing what to expect. The fog of his life, of time, and his past shadows over him.
With his head down and shoulders slumped, he seems unprepared. I see the sadness in him, the sadness of leaving behind a life filled with friends, relatives, cricket matches, Indian food, and much more.
He had just come to America, but it feels like he is almost a million miles away from his home in India. He is sad, scared, stressed, and lonely, and he has no idea of what is in store for him.
To that helpless young boy, I would say, “You are not alone, don’t lose hope, don’t forget your dreams, do not lose your confidence, and most important of all, don’t give up.”
Entering an American high school after moving from Dubai to the US in 2015, I was struggling to adapt to a new lifestyle and communicating in English.
Everything looked so foreign and daunting that I felt shaky. The adaptation process had taken so long that even after my sophomore year, I was still trying to figure out things about life in an American high school.
Afraid to try new things to avoid any mistakes or face humiliation, I was pushed into a state of total isolation. I shunned school clubs, shied away from making friends, and spent my time in school just studying.
Looking back, I wish I had looked at life with a much more positive attitude rather than being so stuck in the past that I forgot to create new memories.
It was only during the second semester of my junior year that I realized what I had missed: homecoming, prom, parties, study sessions and sleepovers with friends.
And now sitting in quarantine after missing the final semester of my senior year because of a pandemic, I realize how I may never be able to get those experiences back.
After entering junior year, I tried to make up for what I had missed out on by dabbling in a little bit of everything from student government to Beta Club for Achievers to Model UN.
I became National Honor Society (NHS) president, started volunteering in school related activities besides focusing on social aspect of my life, meeting people, making new friends.
Learning new perspectives, I realized what I had missed out on, but I have also experienced many positive things since to be where I would have never expected to be four years ago.
The events in Sprayberry, the decisions I made, my friends, clubs, volunteering, and internships, all shaped me into who I am today. It even helped me set my goals for life.
Taking my high school biology course, biotechnology and the advancement of medicine through technology became of particular interest to me.
To further my knowledge in the field, I did a research internship at Father Muller’s Medical College in India to see how technological advancements in a developing country have affected their treatment quality.
I noticed how affordable innovation, which presents a way to do more with less, can help a complex and resource strained country like India address its challenges in healthcare delivery.
This unique experience helped me understand the workings of not only a hospital environment, but also how patients are treated in other countries.
I want to continue this research by entering the medical field where I can go back and help my community and make a difference in the world.
Even though there are a few things of the last four years that I would like to change, I would like to retain much of it because it shaped who I am, and as a matter of fact, I like who I am.
Now looking into the future, with lessons from the past, I understand how life may at times be sad, messy, terrifying, thrilling, anger-inducing, lonely, and stressful, but I also feel confident to face life.
There were times when I felt like I was all alone and nobody noticed my pain. But there were also times when I felt so happy or excited that I wanted to jump out of my bed and start dancing at midnight. And that’s all part of the package.
Now when I walk into the real world after high school, I am going to be more confident, will explore more things, not be afraid to make mistakes, and most importantly, learn from my failures.
During my last years in high school, my vision for life began to form. During the Covid-19 situation, I closely followed the many movements and protests that were going on, and the underlying causes of discrimination in the American culture.
It has been almost 60 years since Martin Luther King Jr. led the movement leading to the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that was supposed to bring equality in America.
But the underlying problem of racism is still burning within America. The discriminations that still exist in the American society led me to base my graduation speech on this topic.
Inequality in society has always touched me and I firmly believe that all human beings are created equal.
Looking forward, even though I am going into the medical field, I am determined to be part of the fight against all discriminations, and I will not stop till this goal is attained.
(Mashoor Al Ahammed, a resident of Marietta, Georgia, graduated from Sprayberry High School, as the class Salutatorian. He graduated as an AP Scholar with Distinction, and was also awarded the Senior Elite, the highest honor at Sprayberry. He will be attending Georgia Institute of Technology, where he will be majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Health and Medical Sciences.)