Harrison Akins is an alumnus of the 2016 CLS Urdu program in Lucknow, India. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Tennessee, focusing on international relations and public policy. In the future, he plans to continue writing about terrorism, minority discrimination, intra-state conflict, South Asia, and Islamic culture and politics. Harrison grew up in a small town in East Tennessee, but after spending nearly a decade in Washington, D.C., he tries to spend as much time as possible in the nation's capital. When his nose isn't in a book, he enjoys playing the viola and trying to figure out how next to travel abroad.
In my work, I had been researching terrorism and political violence, especially in Pakistan and South Asia, as well as conducting fieldwork among Pakistani communities in Europe, making Urdu a necessary skill to have. For me, Urdu is a research tool, but also, the more I study Urdu, the more fascinated I am with the culture, the language, and the communities that speak it which instills in me a desire to learn more. Urdu is a beautiful language and a window into a beautiful culture.
Warmth from Strangers Abroad
Once, on Eid, I walked up to a centuries old mosque in Hazrat Ganj to admire the architecture. Seeing me in the courtyard, worshippers inside invited me in, gave me a tour of the mosque, and then sat with me and served me tea and pastries. We spent the afternoon talking about Lucknow’s history and culture and me telling them about where I was from. This warm hospitality towards strangers especially in Lucknow, I think, is represented in the concept takalluf, an Urdu word that means formality but, at its heart, represents a deep respect that Lucknowis have for other people.
Defining our Global Identity
I understand the importance of presenting the great multicultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic realities of American identity to the rest of the world. During my time in India, even when there were disagreements or misunderstandings because of cultural or linguistic issues, I always tried to understand the situation from the other side and resolve any problems without great conflict.
Perks of Speaking the Local Language
During the CLS Program and my own travels in India, I have found that as my Urdu language skills improve, my enjoyment of the country increased and dealing with inevitable challenges that arise from travel in a foreign country became easier and easier to deal with.