A Happy Teenager: How I Integrated into a Different Culture
By Samar Kaiser
Greater London in the seventies
I recall my time spent in England with fond memories. Along with my family, I was a happy teenager living in Staines-upon-Thames in Surrey County, which was part of Greater London.
My father, who worked with Pakistan International Airlines, was posted there in the seventies. Staines, at that time, happened to be an all-white area. And contrary to the common belief that there would be discrimination, I experienced none.
I went to Matthew Arnold School which had just two girls of Asian descent, one Pakistani and the other Indian. Because of religious and cultural constraints, my mother objected to me wearing the school uniform skirt, so special permission was granted for me to wear trousers instead. When I went to school wearing a slightly different uniform, it was well-received by everyone. Soon this option was given to all girls. They could wear trousers or the traditional skirts.
Mandy, Ellen, and I were happy teenagers
In the mornings, I went to our neighbors’ house to accompany Mandy and Ellen on our short walk to school. This is how I got to learn about the British way of life. The only unnerving thing was their big dog which was all over the place, but soon I got used to it, and it got used to me.
I found the British girls to be well-mannered, with just the right mix of being friendly and a bit reserved. As we became familiar with each other we sat in groups, with me mostly listening to their talk, and they questioning me about my country and culture.
Sometimes peering out of the window of our house in winters, the outside seemed cold and dark compared to sunny Pakistan, but the inside was warm and comfortable. London was the go-to destination for tourists. Arabs, Europeans and the ‘desis’ دیسی (a slang term to describe the South Asians) all came to London and made it the happening place, giving it a cosmopolitan touch – especially during summers. The overall British mood which had earlier been dampened by rain was palpably brighter.
A Pakistani expat family in Britain
A Pakistani family living peacefully in an all-British area could be a case study of sorts. In my opinion, it was due to a clean heart without malice – there were no bad vibes. Secondly, I found that integration into British society is vital for a peaceful co-existence, and can be done while staying true to your religion and culture. Thirdly, knowing the social dos and don’ts is always helpful.
To Jackie I was Aunt Agony. With Debbie, I went shopping to the High Street. Georgina was the quiet type. From Jane and Lillian, I learnt a lot about life. With Mandy and Ellen, I walked to and from school. When the students wore poppy flowers to commemorate Remembrance Day for the war heroes, I wore one too. I always wished them on Christmas. To the old, I extended courtesy and kindness, and got a “thank you love” for a reply which created perfect harmony to co-exist peacefully.
Integration helps make the world a better place
My stay in London taught me that there was immense beauty in diversity. How boring would it be if all looked and dressed alike, ate the same food, and had the same culture. But the most important lesson I learnt is that thoughts are conveyed to others as vibes, and not necessarily through interaction. Integration or friendship cannot be rewarding or long-lasting without total sincerity from both sides.
Today, the world is fragmented by intolerance, declining social values and injustice. Gaps in social engagement result in conflicts within society, whereas integration helps in human development and makes the world a better place.
Click here for more of Samar Kaiser’s inspiring thoughts: The Miracle of Hope
Samar is the former chairperson of Pakistan Air Force Welfare Association, PAFWA (Masroor Base), and an air force wife. She is a devoted mother and passionate about helping the poor. A strong, independent woman, she is not easily swayed by popular hype in the media or in her immediate surroundings. Samar chooses to enjoy the company of good friends, but is equally comfortable with her own. Now that she has raised her children and they are independent adults, she fills her days creating art, writing, and reading. Her presence is calming and reassuring – a sentiment felt by those who know her personally and are fortunate to be included in her family and friends.
“Trees” painted by Samar Kaiser: Oil on canvas
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