Global Conversations: Khalid Ayaz Khan
By Divya Murthy
Roaming the world with one home in his passport and another in his heart.
This is part of an ongoing series of stories for International Education Week 2017.
Khalid Ayaz Khan was on his fifth cup of coffee when I met him at the library. The bags under his eyes stood out in stark contrast to his school-spirited orange shirt and blue jacket and the welcoming smile on his face.
"I don't really like having a lot of free time," Khalid says. "I'm a night owl and I stay up till 3 or 4 a.m. whether or not I have work."
Work comes in droves for Khalid: the senior is in the home stretch of finishing an economics major at Syracuse University and was elected Chair of Diversity Affairs for Student Association this year. He's also the vice president of Thrive at SU, an organization that works to empower communities hit by natural disasters.
Khalid has spent the best part of his college career learning how to juggle all of these responsibilities and challenges — and it's no easy challenge to be an international student and a modern day nomad as he puts it. Born and raised in Saudi Arabia by Bangladeshi parents and Indian grandparents, Khalid moved to America after he turned 18.
Home is a tricky concept for him — and a legally expensive one too. The laws in Saudi Arabia don't allow expatriates to get citizenship, meaning Khalid has to apply for special paperwork because of his residency permit.
"I'm only allowed to live there temporarily even though I was born and raised there," he says. "If I want to go back home, meet my friends, roam the streets of my childhood, I have to get permission."
Though several members of his family live in Bangladesh and he visits every year, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is the home he connects with but can't go back to very easily.
But he's making the best of an American education, just like his biggest source of inspiration, his father, wanted him to. An avid traveler, Khalid had jotted down China, Europe, Australia, and India as places he wanted to study in before he chose America. And America managed to confound him — he didn't know what a academic credit was before coming here — and give him the time of his life simultaneously.
"I would have gone nowhere else, despite the cold," he says. "In Saudi Arabia, there weren't many clubs or initiatives, they just went with the flow. There wasn't any space for me to develop intellectually, which I had an itch for."
As Chair of Diversity Affairs, he now works everyday to develop and research ways to better integrate international students, the disabled and the LGBTQ+ community into campus culture.
"One of the things I've realized is that a lot of people are afraid to ask questions and interact with people from different backgrounds because they're afraid of being ignorant," he says. "You're curious and you're trying to learn about my background — which I really appreciate!"
In the little free time he has, Khalid stays up playing Fall Out 4 on his PlayStation and planning a trip to his dream destination, Turkey, which he finds to be a land that welcomes both modernity and tradition.
"I'm trying to do the best I can, as a senior," he says. "And I hope more people step up and promote diversity and inclusion on campus."