In 2013, I was selected as a cultural ambassador to the University of Toledo through a Global Undergraduate student exchange program with Pakistan. I had the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time in my life. I was one of the 80 students from around Pakistan who were attending schools throughout the United States for a semester. I was excited, nervous and overwhelmed.
They say it right; ‘You will do better in Toledo.’ Things that I only imagined became the reality in Toledo. I experienced midwestern hospitality, which is also important in Pakistan. Though we like to express our love, affection and hospitality through force feeding. They do it here by acknowledging your diversity. I never had a chance to experience such a rich cross cultural experience and interfaith respect as I witnessed here.
In 2019, six years after that amazing experience, I returned to the same town under different circumstances.My husband was accepted as a Fulbright to the University of Toledo. Married to the love of my life, with a one-year-old daughter, we arrived last summer.
T town feels different this second time around. I am not a single student anymore, and I wasn’t living in the dorms.I learned and experienced so much about American culture when I was here in 2013, but I feel I missed out on experiencing so many changes in the years I was away, but I also feel I owe Toledo something back from my culture, my side of the world.
During the last five years I was back in Pakistan, I began working with a nonprofit called the Council for Democracy and Tolerance (CDT). Through CDT I managed the Pakistani content for a website called Muslim World Today (MWT). The goal of the website is to share positive stories about individuals, families, and organizations trying to make the world a better place by helping their communities, and by helping us to get to know each other a little better around the world through personal stories on MWT..
Since I am back in Toledo now, with CDT, I am leading the launch of a new in-person community project in Toledo to share Pakistani food, culture, and art with the Toledo community through cooking. One day we hope to raise enough funds to have a community cafe on or near UT where we will be able to offer free art and cooking classes, and one-day seminars on social justice issues (immigration, financial literacy, etc.) that matter to the local community. But for now, through my cooking, online cooking classes, sharing food and culture blogs on MWT and our social media, I hope to bring a little of Pakistan to you. All food purchases will be donations to the nonprofit, and will go to support Rocket Biryani. All donations are tax-deductible.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.