There are days when Honolulu Waldorf senior Arsalan Danish feels every one of the 7,000 miles that separates him from his family.
"In Pakistan my friends and I studied poetry," Danish says, sounding like a 17-year-old going on 70. "When we went on hikes, we’d recited to each other poems that we had memorized. So when I’m homesick now, I have a book of Pakistani poetry that I read to myself. But I don’t really miss the poetry of home. I miss the people who spoke the poems."
Danish, who came to Hawaii three years ago via an international student exchange program, then returned just last year on a student visa, grew up in Quetta, Pakistan, not far from the borders of Iran and Afghanistan.
As a boy he had attended a quasi-military school, learning via interminable lectures and the threat of the switch.
From his parents — his father is the curator of a local museum, his mother a language teacher at a girls school — Danish inherited both an appreciation for education and a resolve to make the most of his opportunities.
As an ambitious teenager, that meant enduring nauseating 12-hour bus trips to and from Karachi just to process the paperwork for his exchange program application. Even Danish admits that he wasn’t quite sure what to think about spending a year in Honolulu, a place he’d heard of only once before in a Bollywood musical.
The experience would prove revelatory. In one whirlwind year in the islands, Danish developed a love of art through photography and film courses, learned a bit of Japanese, discovered the joys of Thai food — all products of his determination to "go with the flow."
When he returned home, Danish suffered what he terms "reverse culture shock." Life had gone on for his family and friends, but he had grown in ways he couldn’t explain. As Danish girded himself for two more years at his old school, his friends at the First Unitarian Church back in Honolulu were busy helping his family secure him a student visa and raising money for help cover tuition at Waldorf. Danish, raised Muslim, said his parents encouraged his involvement with the church as a cultural exchange.
Now in his second year at arts-friendly Waldorf, Danish has proved adept at all manner of creative endeavors, and he’s looking forward to the day when he presents his senior painting project to his mother, who has never seen the wondrous visions that reside in her son’s head.
One day soon, Danish will leave Hawaii to attend college on the mainland. And perhaps on some gloomy afternoon, he will find himself homesick for two different homes.
"Hawaii gave me the opportunity to learn about myself," he says. "I’ve never felt left out because of my culture or my religion or where I’m from. That transformed me."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.