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My Biggest Surprise in the US: Sadia's Story

I received an email recently from a student in California - Sadia Awan from Pakistan. Inspired by some of our posts on this blog about arriving in the U.S. and how foreign students are treated in America, she shared her story of going through airport security for the first time. It was a shock, she says, but a positive one. Here's her story:

The day I received my visa to go and study in the U.S. after getting a Fulbright scholarship from the State Department, everybody told me the same thing: security is very strict, and it's almost humiliating at the airport security checks when American officers deal with people from Pakistan.

I was so concerned, and had fears in mind too. On August 7, 2010, the day I landed in this land of opportunities at Atlanta airport, I was into a new world, new culture, new system, and new incubator, and was wondering what kind of red carpet treatment I would be getting at the security checkpoint.

It was a very busy early morning at Atlanta airport, with 3 international flights’ passengers waiting in the queue. I was literally shocked - POSITIVELY - when the officer just asked me one question while looking at my passport (after getting my finger imprints). "So Ms. Awan are you going to San Francisco for studies?" I said with a smile, "Yes." And behold, he said "have a great time in the U.S."

That’s it.

OMG I pinched myself several times while walking towards the baggage claim area. Sadia, is this what you were expecting? I was on cloud nine for such an easy walk away.

And then the journey really started. Atlanta to Cincinnati and then to San Francisco, my final destination. No raised eyebrows at any of the security counters.

Later, during my Christmas holidays, I went to other cities to explore more: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix. Again the same treatment - the same response by very friendly security officers. They didn’t think I was an alien from Pakistan. They didn’t think I could be a potential terrorist because I am a Muslim. Americans, you won my heart the way you treated me unbiased and very American.

[Read more about how Muslims are treated in the U.S.]


Millions of students come every year to the U.S., to explore a new life, to learn how to taste success, and they all have dreams to pursue in life. But after 9/11 we saw a different world. All of a sudden the world changed, and people from certain foreign countries were treated with questioning eyes, silent doubtful stares, unspoken hatred, loud investigations. But I was not one of them.

Whenever I tell anyone about preparing to go to U.S., I will say with reassurance that they will be treated nicely in America. DON’T PANIC at all.

All they need from you is to be legal, be honest and be patient, and they will not stand in your way.

From the first day, that American officer at security check won my heart with his silent positive behavior. He did all the official work that he was supposed to do, and he was so good not to show any of his doubtful expressions while looking at the green passport of Pakistan.

Now I have two homes in the world - Pakistan and America. I love both of them the same. I feel secure and treated well with arms wide open in both my homes. I am so lucky to have the best of bests in America. Yes, I was shocked when I came here, but I was shocked POSITIVELY. And it’s such an awesome feeling to be in a home away from home. I hope all international students get the same kind, warm welcome in the United States of America.

Sadia is studying in San Francisco with the CCI, Community College Initiative program. She hails from Karachi, Pakistan and is studying human resources and project management.

CORRECTION: This post originally cited Sadia as being a Fulbright Scholar. The CCI program is administered by the Fulbright Commission or the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy.

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