Bridging Impossible Distance: Part 1/Introduction

April 5, 2016, 4:20 p.m.

“This is part one of a series that is broadly about how cultural differences inform our experiences here at Stanford. I will be drawing largely from personal experiences, both mine and others’, and will attempt to speak on topics ranging from Western exceptionalism, evaluating value systems, and the impact of religion. Comments and discussion will be greatly appreciated and responded to.”


I used to get a fight or flight response whenever it was near time for my dad to come back from work. I’d start shaking. I’d become nauseous and my stomach would try to digest itself. I stammered and became incoherent. I’d lose my sense of balance and coordination. He’d arrive home, and I’d snap to attention. I’d take his bags, hope to be allowed to take his boots off, and hope he wasn’t too upset from his workday. I’d do anything, anything, to not have to be in the same room with him. If I couldn’t avoid it, I’d hang around trying to look busy and productive, helping my mom, reading, and trying to be a good girl and a good daughter. But no, I was lazy. I always did the wrong thing in the kitchen. And I was always reading the wrong things. I say used to. I still get a fight or flight response whenever I have to interact with my father. I’m still a lazy, awful daughter. I don’t know the value of hard work. I don’t know the value of family. I’m not woman enough, because I can’t cook as well as my mother did. I’m not modest enough. I’m a young woman away from home. Do I realize how bad that makes them look, that they allowed their daughter to go away and live on her own in a place with no relatives? Do I realize how much rides on me returning from Stanford, still Muslim, still covering my hair, still dressing modestly, still a virgin?

Every time I call home, I’m hounded by my mother that I don’t call often enough (she wants me to call every day). She reminds me every time of the sacrifice that she made so that I could attend Stanford. She reminds me how much my siblings’ chances rely on me returning from Stanford unscathed, and still playing the part of a good little Muslim girl, despite how badly I always played that role. She reminds me that I should be thinking about getting married. She reminds me not to get involved with boys, because that will forever tarnish my reputation and it will be that much more difficult for me to get a good marriage. After all, I’m already suspect, living away from home. It’s known, after all, that young women who go to boarding schools come back with strange ideas and commit unnatural acts with other women.


When I try to talk about these experiences to teachers, or counselors, or even friends, the responses are always very similar. The word abuse comes up a lot. I’m encouraged to cut ties with parents. I’m encouraged to spend lots and lots of time in therapy. I’m encouraged to overcome these traumatic experiences. I’m told that one day, my parents’ brainwashing won’t have such an effect on me. And yes, it’s meant to be encouraging and sympathetic. But sometimes, it comes off as condescending. It comes off as demeaning. It comes off as arrogant. It comes off as an objective evaluation of subjective value systems. It comes off as just another way I don’t quite belong anywhere.

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