Where did you live before you moved to the UK?
I spent the first eight years of my life in a small village called Bala Sharif, near Mianwali in Pakistan. In 2010 my father gave up a senior position in local government so that my siblings and I could get a good education in the UK.
What was it like moving to the UK?
We settled in a small house in Ilford and it was a real culture shock for me and my two younger brothers. Actually, pretty surreal. I couldn’t speak English very well. The weather was obviously very different. I was overwhelmed by the orderliness of English life — I mean, I wasn’t used to having electricity all the time. At Woodlands Junior School, I was bowled over by how modern and vibrant the building was. Everything ran so smoothly. I couldn’t believe that school also meant I could play musical instruments and play sports at borough competitions, which I excelled at when I was young.
What did your parents do for work?
My father — who opened his own guest houses this year — got a job as a restaurant manager. The restaurant stayed open until around 1am so he was working long hours while my mum stayed at home. From quite a young age I would gladly help out in the restaurant on busy days: I served food, manned the till and really enjoyed the practical experience I was getting. As the oldest of four children, I saw myself as the responsible one.
What was school like when you were younger?
Once I got to grips with the language, I really enjoyed school. I’ve always been more of an all-rounder than a strictly academic person. I think you learn as much from talking to people and engaging with the world around you as you can from books. I love music, particularly the way it represents different cultures. My parents supported me learning the guitar and the saxophone. They always found the money for the equipment and travel I needed.
Would it be fair to say you had a lot of hobbies?
At secondary school (Isaac Newton Academy) I was always taking part in at least three clubs per week. I ended up running a few too. Sometimes I tried to pack so much into a day I found I was always running about fifteen minutes late. Punctuality is still my main struggle — there’s never enough time to do everything.
And you were quite sporty too, weren’t you?
I’ve always really valued my sport. I love cricket and javelin but really excelled at handball. When I was in Year 10, my coach — who was playing for a London club — encouraged me to come to an after-school session and I realised I could hold my own with kids in Year 12 and 13. Being quite tall and able to jump high, I played at left back. At London games I was spotted by a scout and was soon playing for the UK’s most successful club: London GB on the Under-16, then Under-19 teams. It was incredible to be training at the Olympic venue in Stratford with access to all the facilities there – the gym was great! My dad always made the effort to come and watch matches when he could.
And where did you go from there?
When I was 13, I won a scholarship to attend a five-week summer school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. It’s like America’s answer to Eton. It was the best five weeks of my life. It really opened my eyes to what these kinds of boarding schools have to offer. The calibre of facilities and teaching was on a different level. While I was there, a major robotics company called Boston Dynamics ran a competition at the school — getting involved with that and listening to the CEO was such an amazing, inspiring experience.
So how did you end up at Eton?
Eton was my dad’s idea. I remember he called me from the restaurant to say he had been talking to somebody who was trying to get their kids into Eton and asked me to look it up. I had a look online but couldn’t find much information about Sixth Form scholarships on the old website. I worried I had missed the application deadline but then found details of an Open Day and decided to get involved. My father always told me that you have nothing to lose by taking the opportunities you are given.
What was it like to apply for the Orwell Award, with the hope of gaining a fully-funded place at Eton?
My Dad, even with his limited knowledge about Eton, helped me prepare my application form through what life had taught him. I was very happy to make it to the initial shortlist of 20 candidates from across the world, after which I went to Eton for a stay of four days where I went through a rigorous set of tests and got a vivid insight into boarding life at Eton. I admired the facilities: my teamwork skills were assessed in a room which had whiteboard walls and tables, with a two-way mirror from which I was observed planning an assembly with three people I had not met before.
What was your first impression of Eton?
When we walked through the gates for the first time, my sister said: “It’s just like Hogwarts!” That’s what kids see, but also pretty true. All the beaks in bow ties… It’s very different from the environment in which I was raised. The history of a place that has educated so many prime ministers feels pretty special. It was an adrenaline rush. I knew instantly I wanted to be a part of it.
How did it feel to receive an Orwell Award?
When we got the letter letting us know if I’d won the place or not my dad was shaking. He had to get his friend to open it and read it first. I think the first paragraph read like a rejection so his face fell, but I had won the place. I got a full scholarship. My friends were shocked and thrilled at what I had accomplished.
How long did it take to adjust?
When you first start at Eton it does take a while to orient yourself. When I joined the school, I waited at a few wrong doors and struggled to find the correct pigeon holes. You really have to get organised – fast! But everybody is very happy to point you in the right direction.
Inclusion is of vital importance to the College. How would you describe your experience at Eton?
I did have some concerns about coming to Eton from an ethnic minority. What I’d read in the media did give me an awareness that I didn’t fit the mould of a traditional Etonian. But I haven’t experienced any discrimination. Going to Chapel everyday was something I was not used to, but it was useful to have that time to reflect while also learning about another religion. As a Muslim I was supported through Ramadan, which I had thought might be a problem.
How do you spend your time at Eton?
I have taken A Levels in physics, economics and geography and have relished throwing myself into extra-curricular activities. I’m very interested in design and economics. I really enjoyed a project I undertook with a beak and a student to build Eton’s Largest 3D Printer. I’m still doing lots of sports; having two amazing gyms a few minutes from my room was great, and trying out the Field Game and Wall Game were memorable experiences – I hope I can return to play these with the Old Etonian teams.
And you’ve become heavily involved in societies as well, haven’t you?
I was chosen to be In-Charge of Eton’s world-renowned societies programme and travelled to many parts of the world, explored cultures and met some of the world’s most influential people in innovation, business and politics. I learnt how to improve myself and how to move forward.
What have been some of your highlights?
I’ve been on some amazing trips which my family would not have been able to finance without support from the school. A physics trip to CERN in Switzerland was extraordinary. I also had a geography field trip to Dartmoor where we stayed for three days in a marvellous location where Eton had been coming for years. By the end of my time at Eton, I couldn’t have imagined that I would have not only climbed the Alps, but also sailed the North and Baltic Seas, going from Amsterdam to Aalborg with Eton’s sailing group.
And what does the future hold for you?
I have now been offered the academic achievement scholarship by University of California and would like a career in hedge fund management. I want to incorporate my passion for scientific innovation and sustainability into that. And it’s important to me that I make use of my opportunities by contributing to developing countries like Pakistan’s socio-economic progress in the future. Giving the means to grow, through facilities and education, to people in rundown areas like Mianwali will be my top priority.