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    Posted March 13, 2015 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    First-generation Americans

    Our American Dream


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     When Haroon Choudery was six years old, his family left their rural village in Pakistan and landed at John F. Kennedy Airport, embarking upon their new life in America. At first, school was hard, as Choudery only knew a few words of English. But school gradually became fun.

    “I started to relish the time I spent there and developed the enthusiasm for learning which still exists in me today,” said Choudery, who is now a Penn State University senior and a Gates Millennium Scholarship recipient.

    “While others were playing, I was working,” he said. “Seeing the sacrifices that my parents were making drove me to put just as much work into studies as they did into us.”
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    The bright lights, hasty scenes, and rambunctious sounds of John F. Kennedy Airport are forever etched in my memory. The vivid scenes contrasted the haziness of my future. What’s, why’s, and how’s ran through my mind tirelessly. I wanted to get answers from my parents, but I could see uncertainty in their eyes as well. Finally, through the herds of people, I saw a familiar face. My uncle had come to receive us and take us to his two-bedroom apartment – our new home. With our pockets light and our hopes high, my family got into my uncle’s car and rode towards the concrete jungle. We finally arrived at the small Brooklyn apartment, which would now house eleven people. Despite our difficult living conditions, the comforting warmth of hope filled the apartment once we settled in. Our opportunity was now liberated. We finally had a chance to make something of our lives.


    The year was 1999. I was six years old and my parents had taken the bold leap of faith to move their family from our home nation of Pakistan to the United States in the pursuit of a better future. America was alien-territory to me at the time; the only world that I knew during my first six years of life was limited to what surrounded me in the rural village of Bangial, Pakistan. At times it felt as though the plane that brought us to America was instead a time machine that teleported us into a futuristic society.


    Life was tough, but my parents worked tirelessly. My father, Shabbir, worked multiple jobs to support our family while my mother, Kauser, was a housewife that helped manage the household duties. No one ever said it was going to be easy chasing the ‘American Dream’ but my parents knew that hard work and education are ingredients that yield progression in America. They toiled away during the days and nights to ensure that their children were provided for. And for all of their hard work, they asked for one favor in return – our unwavering dedication to achieving academic success.


    At first, school was intimidating. I only knew a handful of English words and this restricted my ability to connect with my new environment. The first days of school were the hardest. I recall my mother walking me to school and once the massive brick institution came into sight, waves of confusion and apprehensiveness crashed down on me and tears flowed down my face. As the weeks passed, my anxiety loosened and I began to enjoy school. I began to befriend some multicultural classmates and became more fluent in English. Gradually, school became fun. I started to relish the time I spent there and developed the enthusiasm for learning which still exists in me today.


    A couple of years after moving into my uncle’s apartment, our family of five was able to move into a one-bedroom apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. We lived there for a few years but as our circumstances started to get more difficult, my parents decided to pursue an opportunity that was presented to them in the form of a poultry farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Within a matter of weeks the scenery changed dramatically yet again. We moved from the fast-paced, energetic vibe of the city to a run down farmhouse where the days were calm and slow.


    At school, I had to completely readjust. Our new school of two hundred students was minuscule compared to our previous school in Brooklyn. Our previous school was incredibly diverse but at our new school, my siblings and I were the only Muslim students. It was hard for us to fit in as it was, but the fact that our move to Maryland was only a few months after the September 11 tragedies reinforced our roles as the outcasts. For my brother and I, our workload outside of school had also increased. Helping our parents on the farm after school became a part of our daily routine. And during most of our school breaks, we would spend a large portion of our free time helping our parents on the farm rather than enjoying the vacations as most of our peers did.


    However, with all these difficulties and constant pressures I could begin to see a change occur within myself. While others were playing, I was working. Seeing the sacrifices that my parents were making drove me to put just as much work into studies as they did into us. Our difficult lifestyle eventually started to bear fruit. The studiousness and hard work that my sibling and I demonstrated was quickly getting attention from school faculty. We became known as standout students and were rewarded with academic recognition. This recognition helped us fit in and earn the respect of our peers. Many teachers went beyond their call of duty and became personally invested in helping us grow and achieve success by pointing us toward accelerated programs and opportunities.


    If it weren’t for the help I received along the way, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If it wasn’t for my high school teacher telling me to apply for an internship opportunity at NASA, I wouldn’t have been able to expand on my interest in engineering at an early age. If it weren’t for my high school guidance counselor urging me to apply for the Gates Millennium Scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to afford my education at Penn State University. If it weren’t for my good friend taking me under his wing during college, I would have found it much more difficult to adjust to the new lifestyle. Each of the people that went out of the way to guide me in the right direction wanted to see me succeed.


    I was the oldest child in my family and this allowed me to mentor my younger siblings by teaching them the lessons I had learned along the way, but I did not have this luxury. My parents could not offer me much in terms of educational and career advice, so I needed outside mentors to guide me along the right path. If I tried to forge a path on my own, the disadvantages that are associated with being an immigrant would have been detrimental to my progression.


    Thankfully, I never felt that there was a shortage of help. I am fascinated by how many people became personally invested in my success. I believe this is because the idea of the American Dream resonates strongly within most Americans. Many individuals in this country want to see the American Dream fulfilled. They get satisfaction from striving towards it themselves, but are equally satisfied by helping another willing individual accomplish the Dream that they so strongly believe in.


    Having arrived to America as an immigrant, I began my schooling career as a below-average student. However, my persisting effort and hard work was not aimed towards becoming an average student, but an exceptional one. I strived to not only perform my best at the tasks at hand, but to also seek out additional opportunities to showcase and develop my talents. To this date, I have had the privilege of participating in five prestigious internship opportunities, ranging from Orbital Sciences and LJT & Associates to eBay and PayPal. Each successive internship grew the confidence I had in my abilities and put to rest the insecurities I have had about my humble beginning. Having gone toe to toe with fellow interns from top-tier schools such as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, I no longer feel inferior because of my underprivileged background. Each experience opened doors to other opportunities because they allowed my talents and drive to be recognized. Now, more than I ever, I feel that the opportunities for me in America are truly endless.


    Not too long from now, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. The odds have always been against me but I am blessed to say that, with the help of those that supported me, I will be able to step across the stage as a Penn State graduate that is fielding multiple job offers. Looking back, the most important factor to my success was the emphasis that my parents placed on education. In this country, education and hard work are tools that have the potential to give anyone the opportunity to succeed and defend him or herself from poverty. The passion for education that I developed at an early age still exists within me today and is a key driver to my accomplishments. Because of my education, the disadvantages I faced at an early age are no longer holding me back as I am able to compete with students born to inherited wealth.

    Many of my friends often question why my work ethic is so unrelenting, but if only they saw the America that I see everyday, they would understand the incredible circumstances that surround us. It can be so easy to be blind to opportunities and good fortunes when you take them for granted.  I believe that in this country, it is truly possible to find success no matter where you begin your journey.  In a land where opportunity is available to all who seek it out, being born into prosperity is not the only way to attain it.  Education really is the great equalizer and in America, anyone is able to capitalize on this powerful tool.  It is clear to me why people from across the world risk everything to come to this country; America is a place that truly allows you to hold the keys to your own destiny.

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