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."
"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.
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."