Sabina Hajdarovic is currently a student at Loyola University Chicago. She is also an intern with MALA for the Fall 2016 semester. In her unique story, she explains how a trip changed her confidence, perspective, and outlook in regards to her personal heritage, whilst securing a sense of belonging and pride.
My name is Sabina Hajdarovic, I am a current undergrad freshman at Loyola University Chicago. I am a first generation child with parents who immigrated to America from Montenegro when they were just a few years older than I am now. We are Albanian from Montenegro; many Albanians are dispersed throughout the Balkan region in southeastern Europe. As I was born and raised in Chicago, I did not truly grasp the humble beginnings my parents came from until I visited Montenegro myself. I still have several family members that live there, and to experience their lifestyles and trying to envision my parents in their shoes was eye opening.
My parents have worked incredibly hard their entire lives, in my opinion I feel they have never really had a break. But the one thing they always told me about back home, is that life was much simpler and in that simplicity was endless beauty. They were raised with little, but how they viewed it was greater. This mindset of an appreciation for all that you have, no matter the amount, was instilled within me at a young age. I learned the importance of cherishing absolutely everything, and accepting both the ups and downs in life because everything is a lesson.
We are also proud Muslims living in an era of Islamic stigmatization in the United States. Although I do not appear as a ‘typical Muslim’ from the outskirts (light skin, blonde hair, and I do not wear a hijab daily), I cherish my faith and appreciate all that it teaches me. Islam has taught me to be strong, to be blissful, and to live life at peace. Optimism is an essential trait to my being, it is something I hold near and dear to my heart. I try to look on the positive side of all that I do everyday, because this life is too short to dwell on the negative. I have taken Arabic since my first year in high school, and besides the beautiful language I have learned it is the Arab culture that resonates with me the most. I absolutely fell in love with they way they think, talk, believe, and hold faith as a high priority in their lives.
I was fortunate enough to visit Qatar through Qatar Foundation International when I was 16 years old via a cultural exchange trip. Thirty teenagers from all over the USA and thirty teenagers from Qatar were able to interact and learn about one another’s backgrounds for nine days. This experience allowed me to explore my interest in the Arab world firsthand and as a western Muslim I was able to observe the differences in how they are able to express their faith versus ways in America. The generosity and kindness in the girls I met and still keep in touch with gave me a newfound open mindedness to how similar we all were despite living so far apart. I also enjoyed observing my fellow American friends who were not Muslim interacting with their Qatari friends and realizing the same thing. The stereotypes devised in the US about Muslims couldn’t be farther from the truth, their hospitality made me realize I need to be more gracious and accepting of people as they all were to me. Furthermore, the ties between the Arab life and my Albanian heritage made me feel closer to Islam than ever before.
I felt so content after this trip because it enabled me to view life in a new light we are all human at the end of the day and we all just want to be accepted and loved for who we are. Despite not looking like a ‘typical Muslim’ in the US, I was able to grow more confident in my faith background and express who I am to others because I felt content and did not let stereotypes inflict upon me anymore. I learned to appreciate where I came from and thus it helped develop my ever growing identity.
Reflection is key to individual growth and development that helps us clarify our thoughts and actions. As I reflect in this narrative, it will allow me to be able to understand the impact of aspects in my life that have carried me to who I am today. Storytelling is a mechanism for reflection, and I cannot wait to listen to various stories from diverse backgrounds through MALA. By listening to a narrative, we gain a new perspective that can only benefit our own.