Where We Land

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| This is the 420th story of Our Life Logs |


Growing up, I spent countless hours playing the game, “Operation,” meticulously navigating the clip to avoid touching the metal surrounding the “bones.” After I had completed each game successfully, I felt a profound sense of happiness and pride in being able to help the game man. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to become a doctor.

It should be mentioned that I am of Pakistani descent, though I lived and grew up in Canada. My parents used to tell stories of Pakistan, which they referred to as “back home.” To me, home was Toronto; I knew the difference between my roots and my identity.

My parents had immigrated when I was two years old, and like most immigrants, my parents moved to a new, strange land with the promise of higher education for themselves and a better future for their kids. They always emphasized how far a good education can take you. And, as I said, an education was what I wanted.

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When it came time to apply for medical schools and I received numerous rejections, I began to doubt myself in the worst way. Maybe I wasn’t suited for this career path, maybe I didn’t “deserve” to be a doctor.

Seeing my struggle, my parents suggested, “Why don’t you study medicine in Pakistan?” I was totally blindsided, but I could see why they mentioned it. Pakistan’s education system was designed to create intellectuals and one of the best medical colleges in the world, with physicians spread across the seven continents, many achieving international recognition.

I didn’t think I was smart enough for such a good medical school—but that wasn’t even my main concern. I knew almost nothing of the customs and culture of Pakistan. My parents taught me how to speak some Urdu, but I couldn’t read or write it. I spent many nights lying awake, debating the pros and cons, questions flowing in and out of my head rapidly. How bad could it really be? At the end of the day, I’ll be a doctor. But how will I live somewhere I’ve never lived before? I don’t even know anyone there. What if I need to buy milk and bread? What kind of currency do they even use?!

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As I toyed with the possibility of Pakistan, I decided to visit the country once in late July to see what it was like. Still, the constant indecision continued until November. Unfortunately, with each passing day and no acceptance in sight from anywhere else, my medicine aspects looked bleaker. I decided there was no harm in applying.

So, I decided to humor my parents with one condition. I would only apply to one medical school in Pakistan of their choice, but if it didn’t work out, they had to drop the topic entirely. They knew how much I struggled to reach that decision, so they accepted my conditions.

On November 3, 2013, I traveled to Pakistan to apply to medical school. It was a two-week process but the build-up to those two weeks made the process overwhelming and terrifying. After I submitted the necessary documents, I came home and moved on with my life, wiping the last four months from my mind, already convincing myself that my medicine journey was over before it even began. Never did I think I would be accepted.

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Weeks went by and I fell back into a routine, that is, until the Wednesday that changed everything. I had just dropped my younger siblings off to school, and I was having breakfast. I checked my email and saw that I had a new message addressed to me from Pakistan. I had to read the email three times. Although English is my first language, the words looked foreign to me. I struggled to understand what “Pleased to inform you, you have been accepted” meant.

I grabbed my mom’s hand and showed her the email, the confusion was written plain across my face. My mom too sat down and read, and then reread the letter with me. After five long minutes, she simply said, “Call your dad. We have to go to Pakistan this weekend.” She said the acceptance had been provisional; they still required some documentation to calculate my total merit.

This weekend? That’s too soon. I’m not ready, I thought in my state of frenzied panic.

It took me hours to let the news sink in, to accept that my life was about to change. I would be moving. What I had been avoiding for so long had finally happened. Knowing how prestigious the school was, I didn’t think I deserved it. Everyone there is so smart, I thought, they’ll figure out how stupid I am. But despite my doubts, I wanted to know if I could do it or if my admission was a fluke.

On December 21, 2013, I packed my bags and moved to Pakistan. I told myself that if I could last six months, I’d do it; otherwise, I’d come home.

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Although I was better prepared than a lot of other immigrant kids living in Canada, I received the biggest culture shock of my life in Pakistan. I mean, I could identify the food and drinks, but that was pretty much it.

I lived in a dorm, so I had to manage my own diet, schedule—everything. The curfew was at 8 PM and you had to get permission from the hostel warden to go to the library, out with friends, or even home. The electricity used to go out, making the sweltering summer heat unbearable. There were stray cats everywhere, I was constantly afraid of being attacked. My classmates used words and jokes I couldn’t understand or be a part of.

On top of that, the med program itself was very rigorous. My classmates were years ahead of me, required to have the Krebs cycle, major vessels and nerves of the body, and the normal physiology of a healthy human memorized before grade 10.

I had thought that since I was from here originally, I would feel like I was home. But I only felt like a stranger on another planet. I didn’t expect to feel so alone. I had no friends, no family, no life.

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I considered coming home, studying somewhere close to my family, even giving up medicine. But I wasn’t a quitter. I had gone through things that made me want to quit, but my parents always told me, “The good will pass, and the bad will pass. Only you control how it passes.”

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So, I kept on. Did I fail numerous times? Yes. In fact, I almost failed my first semester of biochemistry. I barely passed. But still, I kept going. On the days where it got too tough, I chanted a mantra, “I just have to get through this next hour,” and I’d repeat this every hour to get by.

As the days turned into weeks, the weeks turned into months, I started noticing changes in my life. I could now talk to my classmates; we could joke around and communicate freely. I started making friends and I had caught up on all the topics I wasn’t taught before. Then, I was able to focus solely on medicine.

I paid no attention to the six-month mark that came and went. By then I’d found my stride. I’d found happiness.

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As I continued the program, I started to truly enjoy Pakistan, especially when I was able to move out of the dorms and get my own apartment. With that move, I got my independence and confidence back. I could do what I wanted when I wanted.

By then, I was in my fourth year of medicine (in Pakistan, medicine is five years long) with a large group of good friends and a small group of very close friends. It just so happened that I found love in one of those very close friends. In fact, the guy wanted to marry me because dating is not permissible in his religion (Islam).

But I wasn’t ready to get married. I was just getting ready to start my career! I felt like my life was finally starting, and I wanted to be on my own for a while before settling down. So initially, we both decided to go our separate ways, but it turned out that we were too in love to stay apart. After about three months, we decided that we would give it a shot and make it work.

Again, I was blindsided by this notion of staying in Pakistan. Although I’d enjoyed my time studying there, the thought of living in Pakistan was unfathomable to me. Little did I know that he was determined to make me fall in love with Pakistan and its vast lands.

My love for him overpowered my desire to leave Pakistan. He made me see its beauty. I have seen what it truly means to be Pakistani. The country holds such an ethereal beauty that is impossible to describe, and the people are so kind and caring. The land that was once so foreign now feels like home.

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Although I never expected it, I am so grateful I got the opportunity to move to Pakistan. This was never where I thought I’d end up, but I’m happy it wound up being it. I gained a home, a degree, a love, and peace; this place has given me far more than I have given back. I realized that the only way to challenge one’s self and grow as an individual is to step out of one’s comfort zone. It is rarely the first choice, but it is often the best one.

 

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This is the story of Dr. Urooj Aamir

Today, Dr. Urooj is finishing up the last few months of her residency in Pakistan. Growing up, Urooj wanted to be a doctor. Going to a medical college in Pakistan was not something she was looking forward to or even planning, but when she gave it a chance, she fell in love with the country and chose to stay. Between calls and rounds, Urooj likes to spend her time hanging out with her fiancé and colleagues, or working out at the gym. She is currently planning her wedding, set to take place in 2020. Fun fact: Her lifelong ambition is to open and run a bakery/restaurant. Some foods will be catered towards a healthy lifestyle, but honestly, we all need a little indulgence! She now sees that everything happens for a reason and the bonds formed in this place are ones to be cherished for a lifetime. Sometimes we think we know what’s best for us, but the truth is, God has his own reasoning and time, all we have to do is be patient and accepting.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on September 3, 2019.

| Writer: Urooj Aamir | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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