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2014-08-13 01:01:01 | 1921

My Days in the United States

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In July 2013, when I applied for the US-Pakistan professional partnership program for journalists, I was very much excited. It was like applying for a journey to a most discussed, anticipated and disliked country (above 80% of Pakistanis dislike United States a survey by Wall Street in 2013 revealed) in Pakistan, The United States. The term "disliked" might sound painful for most of the Americans, who have from their taxes given more than $30 billion in previous years as direct aid apart from other indirect aids to Pakistan. Unlike many who apply, I was sure from the start of the application process that I will be selected. This was because of the work I had done in my profession as a journalist as I was sure that in United States, you are never denied if you deserve it.

I was called for an interview, and it came to me differently as during the interview they found that I am "overqualified" for this program. So I was simply told at the end of the Interview, "You are overqualified, best of luck". So my anticipation went wrong. I was kinda sad, but at the same time overcame my sadness by sharing the views of the 80% of the Pakistanis and thought "Allah does not wants me to the US". But then suddenly months later I found a call from United States Education Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) in June 2013 about my selection in the program.

It was like a surprise to me when I had already left thinking of it. So after sending them required documents and applying for J1 visa online, I was called for an interview to the US embassy in Islamabad. In 3 weeks time, I got the Visa and headed to United states with my 20 other journalist colleagues on August 5, 2014. While standing in the queue with my Pakistani passport waiting for my turn to be interviewed at the immigration counter in Abu Dhabi for US pre clearance, I felt both worried and excited. Would immigration authorities interrogate me because I was coming from Pakistan? I wondered, thinking of some of the stories I'd heard from friends who had been to Pakistan and from the media reports we usually see in our newspapers, I found that not even us but US citizens were facing the same tough immigration process. So it was revealed on me that It is not about Pakistan at all, but it all about the security of the American people. So after a series of questions about my purpose of visit to the US, I was cleared and reached Washington DC.

Still I was worried; how was I going to be received by Americans as a Muslim Pakistani? Overall, the experience has been much more positive than I had expected. And I quickly learned that stereotypes go both ways. In the United States, I am often mistaken for an Indian. When I correct someone by telling that I am not from India but from Pakistan, the response is often one of dismay: "Oh, the lack of law and order there is terrible!" It makes me sad that this is how Americans see Pakistan. We were welcomed by Nolan Meyer, program officer for ICFJ's Pakistan programs. We headed towards One Washington Circle Hotel. Being tired of travel I preferred to stay at hotel and left my quest for seeing Washington on the other day despite the fact that some of my fellow colleagues were energetic enough that they managed to go out and found some stores nearby to buy some necessities.

Before coming to US, when I was told that it is handy for a visitor to keep some souvenirs to be presented to the people you meet in the US, I was aware of the fact that not many people know Pakistan as we think that they do. So rather buying some key chains or caps, I preferred to write a booklet about Pakistan-US relations. Just to make a souvenir that will last longer and will benefit many Americans in their knowledge about Pakistan. Our next day started with an Orientation at ICFJ by Elisa Tinsley, Deputy Vice President Programs, Babar Taimoor, Program Director and Nolan Meyer, Program Officer. We then headed towards "Newseum" a museum of Journalism in Washington, DC. It started with a lecture by Gene Policinski, CEO, Newseum Institute and ended by visiting 6 floors of the Newseum where the great history of struggle in journalism has been preserved in an excellent way.

On our return, we were given our credit cards and iPhones by ICFJ. At night, I with my few other colleagues went to a Pakistani restaurant which Nolan had already shown us to take the dinner. The next day started with our visit to All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Washington. It is a Muslim Community Centre and Mosque. Learnt a lot about Islam in USA. Our narrow minds towards other religions were broadened by Farhanahz Ellis, Interfaith Director and Imam Majid. Before our departure I Presented my booklet on Pak US Relations to them. Later we went to see the US Capitol and quite frankly, Americans love democracy as their baby. It's the most sacred governance way they are proud of and they deserve it. In US capitol, I first in my life had an experience to see the 4D movie. It was a joyful experience.

Next day started with a discussion with Dr. Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow Foreign Policy Brookings Institute and Dr. Marvin Weinbaum Scholar in Residence The Middle East Institute. Dr. Stephen Cohen and Dr. Marvin are well known US Scholars in Pakistan . Both are very expert and lead the American Think Tanks on Pakistan. Learnt a lot. Also met Mr. Nadeem Hotiana, Press Attaché Pakistan Embassy in the US. Presented my booklet on Pak-US Relations to all of them. It was a learning Experience. Later, we Visited Department of State and had a discussion with Assistant Secretary Public Affairs United States, Doug Frantz. He is himself an encyclopaedia on Pakistan. Also met with Michael C. Duffin, Office of Pakistan Affairs, Annie M. Simpkins, Pakistan Desk Officer and Dr. Kiran Pervez, Regional Chair South Asia and Central Asia. Discussed Israel Ghaza Issue, Kashmir, Pak India Relations, Pak Afghan Relations, Taliban and Haqqani Network, Financial Aid, Issues of Electricity and power shortage, Nuclear Deal, and Education. They explained the American Narrative very well. For me, except in the Case of Israel and Hamas, on most of the issues, US narrative was more powerful than ours.

On August 9, 2014 we had to go towards our placement places. Every journalist is placed at different newspapers in different states in Unites States. We went apart and have reached at our placement cities. Tomorrow the most important phase of our fellowship starts. We will be working in the news rooms of different united states newspapers for the next three weeks. Its an opportunity that will not only add value to our experience in journalism but will also help us in understanding America better. visit to america from
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