Here’s what it’s like to arrive in Richmond not knowing anyone, or anything about the city

RICHMOND, Va. – After her first day in Richmond, Mehwish Akram was ready to return home to Pakistan. The  journalist arrived in Richmond May 31 as part of an Pak-American exchange program. She traveled to Richmond alone via train from Washington, D.C. She did not know a single person in the city.

“[My first weekend] was the worst,” she recalled. “I did not know where to go, I do not know what to do, I did not know where to eat.”

Once she began to feel dizzy from hunger, Akram took action. She Googled a restaurant that might suit her taste. But when she arrived at the Iranian eatery, it was closed.

On her way back to her hotel, Akram came upon the Broad Appetite food festival. Seeing everyone laughing, talking and eating served as a reminder as to just how alone she was – truly a stranger in a strange land.

She ended up eating snacks in the hotel lobby, wishing she was anywhere but here.

When she called her exchange program and asked them to return her to D.C., her adviser suggested she stick it out and give Richmond a chance.

Akram is glad she did.

Things got better the very next day when Akram reported for her first day of work at CBS 6. She took the bus from the Hilton Garden Inn to the station. She said riding the bus was easy, something she was comfortable doing.

CBS 6 assistant news director Misti Davidson took Akram out and told where to shop for food and where to eat. Akram called the newsroom environment very welcoming.

“I got surprised when Misti took me too one Pak-Bangladeshi grocery store because there were all the stuff from Pakistan available,” she said. “I went to Best Buy, Wawa and Walmart. These are big developed malls and I can get anything of my interest there easily.”

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“I just loved the Indian restaurant Lemon cuisine right next to my office,” she said. “Pakistani restaurant “Noorani Kabab House and Iranian restaurant Iranian Coliseum [were great]. [I would tell other travelers] do not get as panicked  as I was. You can easily find things to eat of your choice.”

Over the weekend Akram attended the Virginia Association of Broadcasters annual convention at Virginia Beach. It was the first time she had ever seen the ocean.

“[This is] the big thing I will remember always as I have never been on beach before. This will be the memory I will cherish forever. Everyone was enjoying and the facilities and maintenance of beach are awesome,” she said.

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She said the main difference she noticed between her newsroom in Pakistan and Richmond were:

  • The friendly enviroment in Richmond
  • The multitasking  everyone on staffs does in Richmond
  • The focus on local, as opposed to national, news in Richmond
  • The ease with which reporters work in Richmond.

She said each day reporters in Pakistan come to work, there is a fear they may be killed just for doing their job. That threatening feeling, she said, does not exist here.

Akram said America is a lot different than what she expected it to be. She said she thought people here would know a lot about Pakistan. Instead, she found people she spoke with around Richmond do not know much about her home country.

She said she expected people were going to be bossy here,  but found Richmonders friendly and willing to help her adjust.

“Everyone is smiling,” she said. “When you see their face, they smile. That is not common in my country.”

She said what she was thinking about America and the American people before she got here was exactly opposite of what she found. She said she was impressed with the freedom of expression Americans and American reporters received.

“It was all good,” she said. “Now I don’t want to leave.”

 

16 comments

  • Priscilla Eatmon

    Welcome to the country! I think that is awesome you finally got to see the ocean. Living in Virginia, and specifically in Chesterfield, is pretty awesome. 2 hours from the mountains, 2 hours from the capital, 2 hours from the beach… there’s a vacation opportunity every corner you turn. If you are into it, check out some of the wineries in Virginia and of course the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond!

    Hope you enjoy your stay!

  • Bruce

    Her smile at the end of the short video says it all,and it’s very sincere.We welcome you to Richmond and we’re so glad you’re enjoying your visit!

  • Need employment!

    It is not the best place…..lost my job and home and lived in my car for 6 months and am having a hard time finding work. Need food and have had to sell my plasma for gas and food. It isn’t much and doesn’t go far. Looking for work outside the state. People don’t care and never helped us.

    • K

      That’s not good, ‘need employment.” I can’t imagine Richmonders not caring about your plight thought. Are you still in Richmond?

  • Need employment!

    I am staying with my son in his 1-bedroom apt and he doesn’t want me staying with him. I cook, clean and he stays in his bedroom playing gems and watching Netflix. He isn’t nice. I sell my plasma in order to get some money for gas and some food for both of us. I share with him and when he gets Subway gift cards from his grandma, he doesn’t share. I am waiting to hear about a job in Charlottesville, but they haven’t called me. I have a college degree and I don’t have any medical issues, don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I am a Veteran’s widow and have served as well. Everything I own is in three storage units which I can’t pay and they are double locked until I pay them. Participating with my Ladies Auxiliary for the Veterans is my saving grace.

  • mbaker9105

    Welcome to Virginia. Suggest you alternate weekends, one learning the Richmond Metro area, and the other exploring the nearby areas, Williamsburg and definitely a trip to Busch Gardens! There you will experience how Americans value family entertainment while experiencing a bit of many of our historical roots. My own families trace back to the 1600’s in Virginia, and probably 90 percent lived or are still living in Virginia. It is a wonderful, beautiful, historic State. You would be surprised at what you can see, enjoy, and learn on a one day trip. Enjoy!

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