I would say I’m a pretty strong gal when left standing on my own. I guess it was because of this overconfidence that I totally underestimated how I would feel at my freshman orientation being the one and only “scarfgirl” at my small, charming liberal arts college. The day before orientation, I had meticulously planned out my outfit and practiced wrapping my hijab by watching tutorials on YouTube. I was ready – or so I thought.
The next day as I made my way around campus and did most of the introductions, I was filled with relief and panic at the same time. There was a big difference in how random people I came across perceived me and how my peers perceived me. After 30 seconds of talking to me, most people seemed to realize I wasn't some freak and wiped the alarm off their faces. This made me want to smile and cry at the same time. Half of me was thinking, "See! You've still got it! They know you're normal! Nothing that actually matters has changed. Just keep talking to people." The other half was terrified. "Is this how it's going to be from now on? Why are you embarrassing yourself? Stop introducing yourself, go find a dark corner to sit in, and never come out." Looking back at it now, the best decision I made that day was to make myself vulnerable and keep talking.
Did I think about transferring to a school with more people like me? Yes, on more than one occasion. I was under the impression that it would be so much easier to go to a school with more"scarfgirls"like myself. Removing yourself from a situation, however, does not eliminate issues; it just changes what the issues are about. Secondly, I didn't have the audacity to be a part of such a double standard. I wanted people to see past the scarf. I was still the same person with or without it but how could I expect people to stop looking at the scarf when I was looking, too? So, I changed my mind-set. I ingrained it into myself that everyone has their own set of struggles and this was part of mine, but I would conquer it. I had to make myself and others see past the scarf.
Resilience is what kept me going. I believe you are what you make of yourself and that won’t change no matter where you go. As discouraged as I was in the beginning, I knew what I had to offer the school that I chose and I knew what I expected in return. I got involved in as much as I could, made my presence known on campus and developed amazing relationships with people from diverse backgrounds with more stories to share than I could ever imagine. I gave people the ability to associate me with other things besides the scarf.
Now, as I’m winding down my sophomore year, I hope people think of me in a variety of ways. As a great friend, an ambassador, a crazy pre-med student, the coffee addict or that girl working in the library who finds and checks out your movies while complaining she doesn’t have time to watch movies, and lastly, as that girl wearing the scarf. I’m all those girls and more. It just depends how you look at it.Second image courtesy of Muslimmatters.org