Daanyal Ebrahim (SFS’25) is an undergraduate student in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Daanyal is ethnically Indian and originally from Hong Kong. He is interested in studying either international history or international politics. Prior to attending Georgetown, he took a gap year working in Hong Kong and Fukuoka, Japan. He loves to travel and eat different cuisines, and enjoys cooking, listening to music, reading, and exploring the outdoors. He was part of the fall 2021 cohort of the Doyle Global Dialogue.
When I arrived in America, I was initially a little worried about the diversity (or lack thereof) at Georgetown University. Being from Hong Kong, I was used to being surrounded by friends of various ethnic and religious backgrounds; I suddenly found myself in a predominantly white, Catholic environment. However, reflecting on the past few months, that initial impression has changed.
I hail from a culturally-Islamic background: this means that while I don’t necessarily ascribe to the intricacies of the religion, I consider myself to belong to that particular religious community and practice its traditions. Growing up in Asia, faith and tradition are byproducts of familial traditions and upbringing; as a result, I feel that they are unchangeable, like certain parts of one’s identity. Meanwhile, in the United States, people have more independence, and culturally it is more accepted for one to decide their own faith and beliefs independently of family. I cannot say whether I have an opinion on whether one way of thinking about religion is better—I have always been fairly comfortable with my own background. However, in speaking with my peers at Georgetown who came from households with immigrant parents, I noticed that their values stem from the values that their parents carried out of their respective countries. They haven’t progressed as independently as the way my peers do in Asia. Due to this, the ability to explore one's faith at an institution like Georgetown is incredibly fulfilling.
Since this realization, I have noticed that the religious identity of the people and friends at this educational institution is much more diverse than it initially appeared. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that one's own identity does not and should not inherently depend on the color of their skin, no matter what it is, nor their religious affiliation or the place where they were born. This doesn’t make discerning one's own identity easy.
I was once approached by a gentleman experiencing homelessness on the Georgetown waterfront who told me that he would beat me up if I was Indian. I ignored the man and laughed it off afterward, as I assumed there was an underlying reason for the unsolicited hostility. I never had such an experience back in Hong Kong, which was a relatively safe and sheltered environment. I realized that despite the advances in diversity in American society, it is still a divided country in many aspects. One look at local and national political elections would tell you as much. I started questioning my own identity. Never have I introduced myself as Indian: I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I have never lived in India, yet I am ethnically Indian, which is evident from my skin complexion. Where am I actually “from”?
This leads me to the final aspect of my overall reflection of my time in the United States thus far. The one question that I have been asked overwhelmingly more than any other is “So, where are you actually from?” I was born and grew up in Hong Kong. I am an ethnically Indian, religiously Muslim, British citizen, whose mother grew up in Japan. I identify as Indian, as that is the culture I usually prescribe to, but I lived my whole life in Hong Kong, and that is my home. It’s difficult for me to relate to my peers here in the United States who have a very straightforward cultural background and identity. Many of them attend a foreign service school wishing to go into government service and dedicate themselves to their country. Meanwhile, I don't even know what country I wish to call my own, much less where I want to get a job in the future. My friends have been able to see their parents over the holidays, yet, due to international COVID-19 travel restrictions, that has also been impossible for me.
Despite our differences, the people here have been so welcoming and embracing of people like myself, who come from different backgrounds and experiences. The curiosity and interest in my upbringing and support for my multifaceted identity from my friends has made me more comfortable in being a somewhat international nomad. It shows that despite the difficulties in being an outsider coming into a different country, people's kindness and generosity will never cease to make you feel comfortable and loved, and that is the beauty of the Georgetown community.