Meenah Tariq gives us insight on where she started and how the Fulbright ultimately changed her life.Although leaving Pakistan to study for my MBA at Babson College was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, the Fulbright led to two fantastic, out-of-this-world, amazing years, which have had a humongous impact on my life.
My Fulbright years have changed me irrevocably. They were two amazing years featuring a lot of firsts; the first time I had left home, the first time I lived anywhere outside of Pakistan or even traveled alone.
I had a huge list of things I was looking to gain from the Fulbright, and I left Boston with more than I could have ever asked for: more knowledge, more experience of the world, an expanded skill-set, a larger network, a lot more friends, a mountain of memories, and greater insight into myself and my own strengths and weaknesses.
During my two years, I met hundreds of people from all walks of life. I attended a multitude of conferences, Fulbright as well as non-Fulbright, and was able to visit Canada and about 25 U.S. states. I met people from different religions, nationalities, ages, orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Day by day, every single “label” I’d applied to people, whether consciously or unconsciously, was stripped away. My Fulbright years have taken away any excuse for prejudice that I could ever have had. And for this I’m immensely grateful.
When you are questioned about every facet of your existence, it leads to a whole lot of introspection.
On the flip side of the cultural exchange coin, I was questioned constantly. My classmates had thousands of questions, my dorm mates wanted to know everything; even strangers in coffee shops, in the park, sitting next to me on airplanes. I like to think that I left Americans with a better understanding of the complexity of people that are Pakistanis. From language to clothing, women’s rights, food, religion, weddings and other festivities – even odd questions like whether we had roads or not – there was a lot to talk about and explain. All these discussions had a personal impact. When you are questioned about every facet of your existence, it leads to a whole lot of introspection. And for me, it led to not just understanding myself better, it led to change too.
On the professional front, my MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College has opened up a whole, new world to me. I landed my job as the Accelerator Head of Invest2Innovate, a start-up accelerator, even before graduating from Babson! As the Accelerator Lead, I create direct impact in the business and personal lives of Pakistani entrepreneurs struggling to launch or grow their start-ups. Invest2Innovate accomplishes this through a comprehensive training program which we deliver, much like an intensive, condensed MBA program. I’m actively working daily to make a difference in the lives of these entrepreneurs, and enabling their startups to positively impact the economic growth of Pakistan. I have never been happier with the work I’m doing.
Teaching entrepreneurship was one of the career objectives I had detailed when applying for the Fulbright scholarship. It so happens that I also currently teach entrepreneurship to seniors at the National University of Sciences and Technology’s Business School.
I also teach entrepreneurship to seniors at the National University of Sciences and TechnoIogy’s Business School’s, which was one of the career objectives I had detailed in my Fulbright scholarship application. I modeled my course on the curriculum followed at Babson and applied the methodology my professors had used. Not only am I extremely happy to be able to fulfill my Fulbright promise but it has been an immensely rewarding journey so far – transferring my knowledge and the skills acquired to these young individuals about to embark on their own journeys.
I have come back to Pakistan with a lot of drive, energy, and a healthy dose of idealism. I’ve also come back with a stronger sense of empowerment and a semblance of personal accountability. This experience changed my life and how I view the world. It led me to realize how small my world used to be and how limited my expectations were of me and of those around me. Ultimately, my Fulbright experience made me realize there was so much more I could be doing.
Ultimately, my Fulbright experience made me realize there was so much more I could be doing.
In the end, I’d like to conclude with something that perhaps embodies the impact the Fulbright had on my thought process. I wrote this on my personal blog early, last year:
This freedom is not freedom from people because it was never people that held me back. This freedom comes from within me. It is the realization that the world is huge, and I am infinitesimal. The understanding that what I considered my universe was but a tiny piece of the whole, and for once, the whole is within my reach. I hope that someday, when I’m back home and at a different phase in my life, perhaps feeling bogged down by a thousand other things, I will be able to recall this feeling of freedom, and remember that it has to come from within.