Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

The sweltering heat of the Middle Eastern sun would wrap its parched tongue around my heavily shrouded body. The afternoon could have been cooked on an open flame, leaving behind charred individuals busily going about their business. Despite such harsh weather, I remember constantly hugging my burka tightly around myself and searching for my mother and sisters amongst the masses of women in the same black garb. Being covered head to toe in black was a way of life for me, just like hiding my religious identity was or not seeing any women drivers anywhere. Malls and businesses would close for prayer time, and pork and alcohol were unknown. This is what my life was like just a few short years ago. I was born and spent the first nine years of my life in the country of Saudi Arabia. Now, almost a decade later, I have grown into a woman who has been carved out by the blunt and rugged landscape of Arabian life.

Living in Saudi Arabia, I belonged to a religious sect of Islam that made up less than 2% of the minority religious groups. The behemoth religious majority that we faced were the Islamic fanatics, the Wahabis, or people who believed in an extreme interpretation of religion and harshly reinforced religious law. There were always...

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