Nasir Jalal carefully pulls a tattered journal out of his backpack, taking from it a picture of his wife and two children and a poem he wrote about them.
Although Jalal’s family is here now, he lived without them until last April, his biggest challenge after making the decision to come to CSU to earn his Ph.D., he said.
“I think it was more difficult for him than me,” said Runeela Jalal, Nasir’s wife. “He was all alone. I was with my parents, and I had something to do. I missed him, but I had so many things on my mind.”
A challenge from day one, 17 years ago
In 1991, Jalal’s interest in studying abroad was brought to the forefront of his life. He applied to Purdue University to pursue medicine, but when he was accepted, he had to turn down the offer because he was unable to receive the financial aid he needed.
He applied for the Fulbright Scholarship three times and the Common Wealth Scholarship — which would have allowed him to study in England — once. In 2006, Jalal was finally awarded the Fulbright, putting his long-time dreams directly in front of him.
And Jalal’s determination is not unjustified.
Without hesitation, Jalal said it was important for him to come to the U.S. for two reasons. One: Pakistan is fostering a developing economy and education system, and having a higher education makes it easier to get a job. Two: personal development.
“I believe in knowing things and knowing things in a better way,” he said.
Having to work harder
Because of limits that Jalal encountered in applying to study abroad, economic class is no small topic for him.
He grew up in Lahore, Pakistan in a middle-class family with three siblings. His father was a teacher, and his mother was a nurse.
“It was always like trying to make the two ends meet,” he said. “Growing up in that situation made me realize what the problems of the poor are.”
But when Jalal was 18, he learned a valuable lesson about being poor, he said.
He had friends in school whose families were better off than his, which made him feel inferior. But once he got older, his father and relatives showed him how to feel otherwise.
“It’s not bad to be poor, you just have to work harder,” he said, reflecting his father’s lessons.
Struggling with war
Although the pages of Jalal’s journal are filled with text about his family, this isn’t the only struggle that’s found there.
Jalal said there was a time in life when he faced religious discrimination in Pakistan for being a Christian, noting the oddity that he now sometimes faces discrimination in the U.S. for “being brown.”
“For me, (the journal is) a vent to let go of my feelings at times because science doesn’t connect on an emotional level,” he said.
Part of the reason Jalal faces such discrimination here, he said, is because of the way news media portrays the war in Pakistan.
He said Americans don’t get to hear about the vast numbers of innocent lives that are taken in Pakistan because the media does not want to risk losing citizen’s support.
But if people knew this, he said, they would raise their voices.
“I feel like when you tell people you are from Pakistan, they are scared,” he said. “But 99 percent of people from ‘failed states’ are peace-loving people.”
Although Jalal seems to feel strongly about the subject, he speaks of the war in a relatively casual manner.
“There are bomb blasts sometimes, but life goes on,” he said, noting that some of his relatives have been within 500 yards of bomb blasts.
Right now Jalal is working on a project funded by NASA that investigates the effects of cosmic radiation on human DNA as part of his Ph.D. project. He plans on graduating in 2012 and returning to Pakistan.
But Jalal does not want just any old job. He has other things in mind.
He said currently Pakistan has very good cancer treatment hospitals but that there is no cancer research being conducted, something he hopes to change.
He would also like to establish a school in Pakistan that will be free of cost until the high school level. This, he said, will help break down the social classes that the current system creates.
“Schools now in Pakistan develop a class. They give people an idea of rich or poor at a young age,” he said. “I want to end that culture.”
Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at email@example.com.