– (Clifton Beach, Karachi)
I met Aneesa on snapchat of all places, after I had posted a video about how I was learning French and needed people to practice with. Pretty much as soon as I posted that I regretted it because it hit me then that I might actually have to TALK to someone in FRENCH…which at the time sounded pretty nerve-wracking to me!
So the lovely Aneesa whatsapped me, ‘cmon let’s skype en francais!’, and I discovered that she ranges from conversational to semi-fluent in five different languages respectively – I admit I then totally took every excuse not to actually have to speak in my pitiful Francais with her lol!
As I slowly but surely get over my foreign language speaking nerves, I am definitely going to skype Aneesa one day and amaze her with my parfait grammaire et vocabulaire..right?? right?! No really, I can barely speak correctly in my own first language hah
ANYWAYS the awesome thing was that it led me to finding out more about Aneesa and her love of travel and languages, and she so kindly agreed to do a mini series for us on her experience taking a GAP year overseas.
– Marryam x
(all images by Aneesa over at @heylookaneesa on Instagram)
A mother who fostered a deep love of languages, a travel-savvy uncle, and a volunteering gig with a Parisian exchange group at my local mosque came to together in 2010 to kick-start my desire to take a gap year.
My mother first introduced the idea – having grown up in England, she took a gap year and didn’t understand why I was so nervous by the idea when she mentioned it. It sounded to me – as I knew it would to others – like I would be putting off university to do nothing. It wasn’t like that, my mother convinced me. In fact, around the globe, the gap year has been around for ages; it’s only North Americans who are a bit behind the times.
So I decided to heed my mother’s advice and take a year to pursue the kind of education I wouldn’t necessarily find in a classroom.
It’s amazing how putting a bit of time aside to help out in the community can go a long way. Before I was even thinking about a gap year, I volunteered with the aforementioned adult exchange group from Paris that studied at our local mosque, making lasting connections that led to offers of “If you ever want to come to Paris, you have a free place to stay”. This laid the framework for a year abroad focusing on the five languages I had been slowly acquiring.
After several years of planning and saving, my solidified language-centric gap year plan looked like this:
– A semester at the Al-Huda women’s college, taking classes in scripture study, Arabic, and religion in Toronto
– Going back to my roots and attempting to better my pitiful Urdu through a three-week stay in Karachi, Pakistan
– Rebound to Toronto for a month practicing immersive American Sign Language to try and pass a screening into a college interpreting program
– A trip to Saudi Arabia for the umrah mini-pilgrimage, and, hopefully, a chance to practice some basic Arabic
– On to Europe, with my home base being in England, specifically Surrey and Windsor
– An immersive week in Spain, in the mountains near Grenada, to solidify my confident high school Spanish
– The focus of the trip, a six-week sojourn into Paris, France, to become fluent in – what else? – French
While I would like to maintain the glamorous image of myself as a solo girl traveler, I am proud to admit that none of this would have been possible without the outreach of my family and friends. The trip, though economical, was largely funded by my parents, with the majority of my tickets and trips researched by my travel-savvy mother.
I traveled to Pakistan with my grandparents, to Saudi Arabia with my father, alternated my stay in England between my grandmother’s place and my uncle’s, went to Spain with my amazingly accommodating uncle, and stayed in Paris with a friend of a friend (from that exchange group).
I cannot stress enough how community truly is everything.
In the larger journey of my année sabbatique, my first major trip was to Pakistan. I was nerve-wracked beforehand, having only basic knowledge of my motherland I had traveled to once when I was 4 years old. My parents didn’t speak Urdu at home, not much anyways, and I was the only one of my four sisters who had a basic competency in the language. I was determined to remedy my competence into proper conversational skills by insisting my Karachi relatives not speak to me in English.
– (Clifton Beach, Karachi)
At the same time, I was equally adamant that this trip expand my portfolio and experience as an amateur photographer. This crossed over into my fear of being treated like a tourist, toting my barely-there Urdu and large camera, something I would always worry about before every trip.
But I need not have. My family in Pakistan more than accommodated my request to practice Urdu and my desire to photograph the beauty of the city. My great-uncles quizzed me every evening on the new vocabulary I’d learnt in the day, while my older cousins and great-aunts would drive me around to the shops and the markets. Proudly, they would show off the beautiful and the extraordinary.
Traveling to Thatta, my oldest uncle hired a weather-beaten older man to show us around the Makli Hill necropolis. “The thing about Thatta”, I noted in a post, “it’s just there. Historic ruins, just lying around, deteriorating. And you come upon it, deserted, dusty, magnificent.”
What really stood out for during my excursions in Karachi, particularly to Thatta, was that it was all unexpected. No guidebooks to rave about the must-see sights, no pop-cultured places I hankered to visit. I simply let my family take me to what they thought I ought to see, with them casually mentioning beforehand to “bring a pair of walking shoes, and probably your camera, too”.
Bouncing back from a Karachi spring to a Torontonian winter in January, I waited eagerly for my next travel installment. It’s the curse of wanderlust – once a traveler, always a traveler, never completely at home.
Keep an eye out for the next installments of Aneesa’s mini series on her GAP year experience 🙂
– Shah Jahan Mosque, Thatta