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UC, Los Angeles

Mahnoor Wani

2020 BAGSF Essay

By age eight, I had already witnessed a shooting and had almost been kidnapped. Growing up in Pakistan, this was not an abnormal childhood — acts of violence including domestic violence and murder are unfortunately prevalent. To escape the violence, my parents made the difficult decision to move to San Francisco. In addition, my parents wanted to provide my sisters and me educational opportunities that they were denied in Pakistan. Both my parents came from extremely low-income backgrounds and were unable to receive an education. They worked diligently to acquire a level of success in Pakistan but abandoned everything to come to the U.S. My dad went from owning a small garment store to working as a waiter in a restaurant in San Francisco. His working hours were brutal and the income was scarcely enough. My family had to accommodate by living in a one-bedroom apartment (which we still live in today).  I started working at a dance studio as soon as I turned 14 in order to financially support my parents. I felt happy to have provided a bit of income to my family.  

In addition, I was academically behind compared to my peers in the U.S because I was unable to speak English.  While I was struggling to learn the alphabet, my peers were writing long paragraphs. I desperately wanted to improve because I wanted to be able to communicate with classmates and teachers without feeling embarrassed when speaking English. I also wanted to show my parents that their sacrifice of leaving their comfortable lives in Pakistan wasn’t in vain.  

In order to improve, I went to study at a local library every day after school. There, I watched English movies with Urdu subtitles and read beginner-level books. Watching my first movie without subtitles was a turning point in my journey. I felt proud and accomplished. At school, I risked embarrassment by pushing myself to talk to my peers with my broken English to become fluent. As a result of my hard work, my English improved considerably.  

My challenging experience as an immigrant in the U.S has taught me valuable lessons. Struggling financially has taught me to not take money for granted and appreciate the effort it requires to make money. Struggling academically has taught me to take advantage of every resource available and by doing so I can achieve my goals. Both these challenges inspire me to be a first-generation college student in my family to make sure the sacrifices my family made are not in vain and to financially contribute to my parents in the future.  

In the future, I hope to become a physician-scientist. I want to investigate the perplexing mysteries of the human brain to advance scientific understanding and apply my knowledge to address the health challenges facing low-income communities like my own. I wish to go back to my Pakistani community and provide my people access to the healthcare that they desperately need. I became interested in this field when I interned at the Orthopedic Trauma Institute. There, I absorbed new medical terminology and eagerly applied these terms to distinguish the different parts of the human brain. Every day, my excitement and curiosity about the human brain only grew. I was also given the opportunity to observe surgeries, which left me in awe of how surgeons have the power to ameliorate problems in their patients’ complex bodies. I enjoyed watching the staff in the operating room working together to accomplish highly difficult surgeries.  

 In the future, I can see myself working in a hospital: performing breathtaking surgeries while continuing to do research.